The Magic by Lbilover

Written for the 2013 LOTR SeSa. More movie than book verse, and influenced by one of my favorite books, A Little Princess.


Frodo Baggins lets himself in the front door of Bag End, a pleasurable flush of warmth spreading across his skin as he moves from winter-cold into the heat of the smial. He unwinds his green woollen muffler, removes his cloak, and hangs both on a hook. Then, blowing on his chilled, pink-tipped fingers, he goes into the kitchen and puts the kettle on for tea.


As he scoops tea leaves from a wooden caddy into the waiting pot, Frodo admires the windowpane, wearing a tracery of frost in a delicate but intricate pattern that puts to shame the finest lace. He remembers once as a child standing on tiptoe at the window of his bedchamber in his parents' hole, studying a similar frosty display then gently blowing on it, watching the frost-spangles dissolve under his warm breath only to reappear like magic as the glass cooled again.


The seemingly inconsequential memory stirs other memories less so. For that had been Yule eve, the last before his parents died, and he'd been filled with anticipation as only a child can be on that magical night, hardly able to bear the wait until morning, bound and determined to stay up all night so that he wouldn't miss a second of the excitement. Only of course, he'd fallen fast asleep.


It's Yule eve now, but Frodo feels no sense of anticipation. Not because of his parents - Bilbo had more than made up for that loss - nor his age, for even as a grown up he'd always loved the Yuletide season and the trappings that went with it. As he clumsily replaces the lid on the tea caddy, the uneven stump of his left forefinger serves as a stark reminder of precisely why he's lost his capacity for excitement, joy, wonder. Why Bag End wears no decorations this year save those that nature has provided. And yet, as he takes a pottery mug from a hook in the cupboard, a shaft of loneliness and longing pierces the shroud of dull grey he's worn since returning home to the Shire.


You don't have to be alone for Yule, he thinks, listening to the kettle's shrill whistle as it comes to the boil. You can change your mind and join Sam and his father. You know he wants you to.


But Frodo also knows that he won't change his mind and accept Sam's invitation, any more than he'd accepted the invitations from Merry and Pippin to Brandy Hall and Great Smials, telling them that he wanted to spend his first Yule after the Quest at home in his beloved Bag End. And surely it's enough to do that, a victory over those who tried to destroy all that was good, peaceful and pure in Middle-earth. What need for decorations and presents, for feasting and merriment, for the company even of his oldest and dearest friends?


If Frodo is being truthful with himself, however, there is another reason behind his refusal of Sam's invitation, and no amount of self-reflection or rationalising can lessen its importance. The general expectation in the neighborhood is that Sam will soon be proposing marriage to the lovely Rosie Cotton. Sam himself has not mentioned it, nor, as far as Frodo knows, are matters settled between them. But it seems inevitable that Rosie will be part of the Gamgee Yule celebration, and Frodo isn't certain he has the strength to witness Sam kissing Rosie beneath the mistletoe. Not when he would give anything to be in her place, absurd and impossible as the idea is.


No, it is in every way better for him to celebrate Yule quietly and privately. Alone. He can build a cheerful fire in the study, open a bottle of good wine, put his feet up and read a book. He tries not to think about the fact that he already spends far too many hours doing exactly that.


Frodo is settled at the kitchen table with his tea and a simple meal of bread and sharp cheese when Sam comes in, his cheeks ruddy from the cold so that his eyes glow greener than the stone in Barahir's ring. Immediately Frodo's spirits lift for Sam is the proverbial breath of fresh air sweeping through the smial. No, he's even more, for in his presence Frodo feels as a dormant acorn must when spring arrives and, pulsing with awakening life, it sends a seedling pushing through the cold soil toward the sustaining warmth of the sun.


'Tea, Sam?' Frodo asks prosaically, gesturing at the pot, careful not to reveal how badly he wants Sam to accept, to sit down at the table with him for a while.


But Sam says apologetically, 'I'd like to, Frodo, but I've still a job of work to do at home, getting everything ready for Yule. I only stopped in to tell you that I finished stacking the last of that firewood and to see if there's anything else needs doing before I leave.'


Concealing his crushing disappointment is harder, but Frodo is nothing if not experienced at hiding his feelings from Sam. 'No, there's nothing else needs doing, Sam, but thank you. And of course you must go home at once. Silly of me not to consider how busy you must be.'


'Are you sure you won't change your mind, about tomorrow, I mean?' Sam asks. 'We'd be that glad to have you.'


Frodo curls his hands around the mug, heat seeping comfortingly into his palms. He is careful not to fidget with his fingers, a dead giveaway to his state of mind, for he's realised how very, very badly he wants to change his mind. But he thinks of Rosie, of the mistletoe he is certain that Sam has hung around Number Three, and that hardens his resolve.


'No, no,' he says. 'I'll be fine here at Bag End. You mustn't bother about me, Sam.'


'It's no bother, but if you're sure...'


'I am. Quite sure.' Frodo is proud of the firmness of his reply. 'You go on.'


'All right. But if you do change your mind, you know where to find us, I reckon.'


Sam's voice is gently teasing and a reluctant grin tugs at Frodo's lips. 'I reckon I do.'


'Well, good night then, Frodo.'


'Good night, Sam, and a Merry Yule to you and your father.'


After Sam is gone, Frodo sits on, crumbling bits of bread on his plate while his tea turns cold. He tries to identify the emotion struggling for preeminence inside him, and when he does, realises with shock that it is disappointment. Disappointment mixed with hurt that Sam accepted his decision lightly, even made a joke of it, instead of trying harder to change Frodo's mind, as the old Sam Gamgee would have done. His reaction is irrational, ungrateful, given all Sam has done and suffered for him; Frodo knows it, but there it is.


You're losing him, an insidious little voice whispers in his mind.


It's for the best, he tells himself. Sam deserves better than tending to a broken hobbit. Yet to Frodo the thought of losing Sam is like the end of the world - or the beginning of the Sea.


~*~


Frodo stays up too late and drinks too much, trying to drown out that little voice. The study fire subsides into a sullen glow, and eventually the creeping chill rouses him and he stumbles off down the still, silent hallway to his bedchamber. Fingers stiff with cold, he changes into a nightshirt and crawls, shivering, into bed. The sheets are icy and he wishes he'd thought to prepare a warming pan. But he has another means of warming himself, one he employs nearly every night. Curling into a ball, he pulls the bedclothes tightly around him, and in his mind they become Sam's arms, holding him against that sturdy body, offering him the shelter and comfort of his embrace as he had times out of mind on the Quest. It works; Frodo's quaking and shuddering gradually subside and drowsiness steals over him.


The edge of sleep can be a tricksy place Frodo has discovered, cunning and deceitful as the lights in the Dead Marshes that can lead the unwary to grief if he follows them. But it isn't drowned faces he sees in that dangerous netherworld, it is himself and Sam kissing beneath the mistletoe in a Bag End transformed, as if by magic, into a dream of Yuletide splendour. It is both achingly perfect and crueller than any vision Galadriel's mirror could show, for such perfection cannot last.


'Sam, don't go,' he says, desperately tightening his hold around Sam's neck. 'I love you.' But it's too late; the vision dissolves and vanishes as the frost had beneath the warm puff of his breath, and Frodo falls fast asleep.


~*~


He wakes to thin winter sunlight and the noise of birds squabbling over the suet bags Sam has hung in the garden. He sits up, yawning and stretching, and winces at the slight dull throbbing behind his eyes. Too much wine, he thinks, and grimaces. He feels vaguely ashamed, for it is Yule morning and this is not how the Master of Bag End should greet it.


I must do better, he tells himself with determination. I will do better. He throws back the covers and slides out of bed, reaches for the patchwork quilted dressing gown draped across the foot. As Frodo picks it up, two things come forcibly to his notice. The first is that he hadn't laid out the dressing gown last night. The second is that the room is comfortably warm, for a fire is burning on the hearth.


Sam, oh Sam. Frodo swallows against a sudden lump in his throat. Even on Yule morning, Sam had come up to Bag End to tend to him. No doubt the kitchen fire is lit as well, and there will be a pot of hot tea ready under a cozy and scones warming on the hob.


This gift from Sam's loving heart lights a tiny flame of hope inside Frodo that he can nurture throughout the day. Perhaps, he thinks as he dons the dressing gown and knots the belt around his waist, he will go down to Number Three after all - after lunch, so as not to intrude on the intimate family celebration that will be going on this morning. He needs to thank Sam, and it will stop him from worrying about Frodo spending the day alone. Yes, he decides as he walks across the room, he will go down to Number Three. Surely he's strong enough to deal with whatever happens there...


Frodo comes to an abrupt halt. He has nearly trod on something lying on the carpet just outside the door. He bends and picks it up. It's a gingerbread hobbit, decorated with currants and white icing. How odd, he thinks. It's not like Sam to drop something without noticing. But even as he thinks this, a queer certainty tells him that it had been left there for him to find. He breaks off an arm and nibbles on it with a hum of pleasure as ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon explode on his tongue. He doesn't get more than a few paces down the hall when he comes upon another biscuit. He picks it up, rather enjoying the little mystery, though it will undoubtedly lead him straight to the kitchen, and keeps a close eye on the carpet as he goes on. Sure enough he discovers a third biscuit. And then a fourth and a fifth.


He slips them into his pocket - though tempted, he's no child to cram sweets in his mouth, however delicious - and discovers the sixth gingerbread hobbit opposite the parlour door with its round head pointing toward the opening. Frodo interprets that as a message to go inside, so he does. And stands transfixed, like one lightning-struck.


It's his taunting vision of the previous night come to life, for Bag End has indeed been transformed into a dream of Yuletide splendour. The sight of it is dazzling, enchanting, and fills him with the sense of wonder that he had believed lost to him forever.


'Am I still asleep and dreaming?' Frodo says aloud in a dazed voice as he advances slowly into the room, half fearing that it is another cheat, that it will vanish and he will find the room cold and empty. He walks to the nearest table, to a lit pillar candle set in a circlet of holly and ivy, and holds his palm over the flickering flame. Heat licks at his skin and he jerks his hand away.


This is no vision; it's entirely real.


Frodo's eyes are everywhere at once, taking in the lengths of greenery, gaily adorned with red and gold bows, draped along the walls, windowsills and mantel; the vases of holly, their ripe red berries bursting with colour; the thick birch Yule log burning on the hearth; the food-laden table covered in green cloth and decorated with pine cones, holly and laurel; and everywhere candles, filling the curtained room with warm golden light. He might be back in the carefree years before the Ring changed everything, and his heart swells with happiness so intense that it's almost pain.


Only one hobbit could possibly be the purveyor of this magic, and Frodo wants to run straight down to Number Three that very instant, without even pausing to change. He doesn't care what the Gaffer or Rosie or anyone else will think when he shows up tousle-haired and wearing his nightshirt and dressing gown. He needs to see Sam, to thank him for this incredibly wondrous gift.


'Merry Yule, Frodo. I see you found my gingerbread hobbits.'


Frodo whirls around and stares at Sam, standing on the threshold and grinning like a fool. 'Sam! What are you doing here?'


'Why, where else should I be?' Sam replies in surprise.


'But your father, your family.' Rosie, Frodo mentally adds.


'My gaffer's gone to the Cottons. Marigold and Tom will take good care of him.' Sam looks suddenly serious. 'But who is going to take care of you, Frodo? You didn't honestly think I was going to let you spend Yule all alone, with no proper decorations nor food neither? And to set matters straight, since you seem a bit confused on the point, you are my family, too, and there's no one, no one at all, more important to me than you.'


'Oh Sam.' Something breaks free inside Frodo then, like an ice-choked stream yielding to spring's thaw; emotions course through him - relief, gratitude and, above all, joy - sweeping away the dull greyness so that dazzling light takes its place. He doesn't even realise he's moving until in a few swift strides he's across the room and in Sam's waiting arms. 'Oh Sam,' he says again, and bursts into tears.


They are necessary tears, healing tears, and Sam simply holds him and lets him cry himself out. Eventually Frodo hiccoughs to an end, and rests his damp forehead against Sam's chest, into which he's shed enough tears to water a garden - or a gardener's generous, loving heart.


'I'm sorry,' Frodo whispers. 'I'm just,' he hiccoughs again, 'so happy.'


'If this is you happy, Frodo Baggins, I'd hate to see you sad,' Sam teases, and hugs him tighter. 'Now, will you look up?'


Frodo does, into hazel eyes soft with loving understanding, but Sam shakes his head slightly and says, 'Not at me, at that.' He gestures upward with his chin.


Frodo's gaze follows the gesture, to where a sprig of pale green with white berries hangs from the gracefully arched door frame. His heart gives a leap of joyous anticipation. 'Mistletoe,' he says.


'And you know what the price is for standing under mistletoe.' Smiling, Sam reaches up and plucks a berry from the sprig.


'I do.' Suddenly Frodo is smiling, too, so hard his cheeks ache. 'It's one I'll gladly pay.'


Although kissing Sam beneath the mistletoe in his vision had been wondrous beyond belief, nothing can prepare Frodo for the reality of Sam's lips moving warm and urgent against his own. Much is said without words, promises given and received, 'I love yous' exchanged, but when at last they separate, Frodo has to ask. 'What about Rosie?'


Sam has his arms snug around Frodo. They tighten briefly then relax, and he says, 'Have you been listening to gossip, love? You ought to know better. It's most always wrong, ain't it.' A twinkle appears in his eyes. 'But for that I reckon you'll have to pay the price again.' He reaches for a second berry.


~*~


That night, Frodo stands at his bedchamber window, where a delicate tracery of frost adorns the cold panes. He leans forward, blows gently until the frost dissolves, and waits. A dozen heartbeats pass and then, suddenly, it blossoms anew.


'Look, Sam,' he says to the hobbit standing close at his side. 'Magic.'


~end~