“Can you tend to him, Rosie?” Farmer Cotton asked his daughter. “I’ve got to see to the sheep - I’ll be back soon, but he’s in a bad way.”
“Mr. Frodo?” Rosie said, her face melting into pity.
“Aye, he’s calling for Sam, who isn’t anywhere to be found,” Cotton said. “You’re as close to him as it gets, are you not?”
Rosie blushed. “I suppose I’ll have to do til Sam comes back.”
She put a kettle on for tea and went to see to Frodo, who lay in his bed in the guest room, drowsing and feverish. When Rosie came in with a bucket of cool water, he tried to sit up for a moment. A haze seemed to veil his eyes, for it seemed at first he thought Rosie was someone else, and he looked disappointed when he lay back down - and bewildered, as if not quite certain where he was, and terrified, as though he feared the loss of something very precious. “Oh, Mr. Frodo,” Rosie said softly, and lay a cool damp cloth upon his fever-flushed forehead. “I know you miss your Sam, and I do too. But he’s fine, he’s out doing good work. He’s replanting the Shire with trees, and he’s using that good Elven earth. Oh yes, he told me about the Lady of the Wood. To think that hobbits of the Shire would get a chance to speak with an Elven queen, I’d never have thought to see it in my time.”
Frodo was trying to speak, and his lips seemed cracked and parched. Gently, so carefully, she drew a little cup to the cool water and pressed it to his mouth. His shaking hand came up to guide it enough to drink. He spilled most of it, but still got a good soothing sip. “Don’t try to speak, my dear,” she said, laying her hand over his. He was so warm to the touch, she hoped her hand would feel refreshing and cool. “Oh, I know you’re hardly believed by most of the small-minded folk around here. But my Sam would never tell me a word of a lie. I can see he has come back changed. Oh, not for the worse, not at all. He seems - more himself than he was before.”
Frodo smiled weakly as he lay back. He had enough strength now to lift his hand and rub grumpily at the scar on his shoulder, the wound that would never completely heal. “It’s not right, is it, what I just said?” Rosie went on, catching herself. ”My Sam, I mean. Please don’t let on that I know-” and here she leaned forward to whisper conspiratorily to Frodo. “I think, when he comes back, he will speak to me. Ask for me. I know it’s been on his mind, and mine as well. I’ll say yes, of course. But even then - my Sam? Not mine alone, Mr. Frodo, I know he’s yours too. After all you’ve gone through, the two of you - to have someone else take him away from you? I couldn’t live with myself.”
This seemed to startle Frodo and calm him at the same time, and he lay back on the pillow and let his eyes fall closed. It seemed that his breathing was a little deeper and easier as he lapsed back into sleep again. Rosie went to tend the tea for when he awoke. She knew a little of herbcraft, and could possibly help to ease his bad dreams.
Sometimes in his sleep Frodo made an odd gesture, grasping with his fist over his chest, as if reaching for something he had once worn there. Rosie knew he often wore a white gem there, but he didn’t have it on now, and it wasn’t her place to go rummaging through his things to find it. And Sam was not there to put his hand in the Ring’s place as he had often done - but Rosie was, and she reached for him instinctively, without full understanding of all the reasons but with a sort of knowledge of her own.
Beneath her hand in his, Frodo’s heart shuddered madly in his chest, like hooves pummeling the ground. “Whatever it is, Mr. Frodo, it’s gone,” Rosie whispered. “Whatever still hurts - oh, it’s just you now, and our Sam, and me, don’t you see? Whatever you’ve lost, you’re alive. It’s good to be alive, isn’t it? Please tell me you think so.”
He drew in breath in the dim light, and let it out with a sigh, the candle-flame flickering and then blazing up brighter. “Of course it is, Rosie,” he said, his unused voice slightly croaking at first. “Of course it is. It’s good to be home, and in the care of such good friends. Thank you.”
His eyes glistened and seemed to give off a pale light. Rosie could not put words to her feeling, there was too much of it, for she imagined she could see a glimpses of Frodo’s struggles written there as long as she clutched his hand tightly and felt warmth returning to his skin with her grasp - not just her own, but from within him as well.
Something strange moved within her then, something that felt like she imagined Elven music must sound - something far-off and beautiful, both unspeakably joyous and infinitely sad. She was almost afraid to shatter the moment with speech, but her soft voice spoke through her before she could call it back. “If you wished, Mr. Frodo, when our Sam comes back . . . when he asks for my hand . . . I think, after we talk, when we walk together beneath the moon, beneath the trees . . . you ought to ask for his, if you hadn’t thought of it already. And I will set both of my hands in yours. Yours and his. If you wished it.”
Frodo breathed deep, and laid his curly head back against the pillow, and for a dreadful long moment Rosie thought she had far overstepped, and Mr. Frodo must be very scandalised and offended, and what had come over her to make her even think such a thing, much less speak it out loud, though it may be the most true desire of her heart. But kind Frodo did not let her suffer too long, for he lifted their joined hands to his lips and kissed each finger of hers. “Your generosity shames me, Rosie. I’ve been given kingly gifts, but none compares.” He turned to her, and there was a light of joy and mischief returned to his eyes from a long journey away. “I can say neither yay or nay until our Sam is with us. That would hardly be proper. Well, not that it will ever be proper.”
“Of course,” she said. “And you’ve been ill and must rest. I only . . . you must know you are dear to me in your own right, and not only because he loves you. If I’m too forward, so be it…”
Frodo held up a hand to quiet her fears, the one with the poor shortened stump of a severed finger. She leaned forward, and sighed tightly as he touched her hair. “Rosie, I thank you. I have been away in my head, far away, in places both fair and terrible. You’ve come in after me to fetch me home. You are not too forward, you are brave. You and Sam are worthy of each other, and I only fear I am not worthy of either of you.”
“How can you say such things of yourself?” she said, a bit scandalised herself. “And I have not done a bit of what Sam did. Why, I’m so afraid of scandal I can’t even lie the night beside you to comfort you.”
Frodo laughed then, and Rosie took joy in the healthy flush of his cheeks in the lamplight. “We’ll wait til Sam gets back then, for that.”
“But not for this,” said Rosie. With a quick glance at the door she pressed forward, her breast brushing the edge of the mattress, and she turned Frodo’s face towards hers, smiling, careful but bold. A hand of hers laid she aside of his face, fingers in his hair, his warm cheek in her palm. He turned his face up and she tasted him.
Chaste was their kiss at first, and then less so as Frodo and Rosie found how well they fit together and how natural was their gentle dance of lips and tongue. Rosie drew away at last, after a time, and her face was flushed and her eyes were merry. “Do you know,” she said, “I think that might have come so easy because we are both accustomed to kissing Sam, and it’s his ways we’ve both learned.”
Frodo laughed - and Rosie rejoiced to hear it, it was the first whole-hearted burst of it she had heard from him in far too long. “Did we hide it so very poorly, then?” he asked.
“Not at all, from anyone but me, for who besides you studies him so closely, with so much love?”
“Then if he accepts your indecent proposal, Miss Rosie, he will already have quite the head start in pleasing us.”
“I would never have mentioned it to you if I thought it was likely he’d say no,” said Rosie. “Lasses can be uncertain of our chances too. And his heart is so great that I’d rather have half of it than the full measure of any other.”
“I could not bear to see him torn in two,” Frodo said. “And I often fear I am not whole.”
“Oh, don’t even talk like that, Mr. Frodo,” said Rosie indignantly. “Think of how happy he will be to learn he mustn’t give either of us up.”
“Nothing matters more to me than his happiness, Rosie,” Frodo said quietly. “You must understand that I’ve been damaged. I’m not the hobbit I was before - all that. I will have illness, and sorrow, and anger. I will at times put a stain on your joy, and I don’t know if I can bear that.”
“Pish,” she said, turning up her nose. “We’ll see what Sam has to say about such talk.”
“I can imagine it. All too well,” Frodo said, allowing himself a little more laughter - this time at himself, perhaps.
They smiled together, hand in hand, and then Rosie pressed her forehead to Frodo’s and kissed his lips briefly once more. “I must leave you for the night, if you don’t need anything more? I’m glad you’ve drunk your broth and your tea at least. You will need your strength for happier days to come. I don’t want you thinking anymore about how ill you are. I want you thinking about when Sam comes home on Bill’s back, all bronze and gold from the sun, all the young trees growing up so straight and proud and strong because of him and his bit of earth. And it’s all because of you, Mr. Frodo, you and him, and you saved our world and you saved each other. But if you don’t want to think about that, don’t.” She looked up from below her lashes with the most coquettish gaze he had yet seen. “Think about our wedding night.”
And with that - and a squeeze of his hand and a toss of her curly hair - she was gone, leaving behind the scent of lavender and tea.
Though Frodo’s heart was soaring with hope and his body tingling with her touch, he fell very quickly to sleep, and had a deep, restoring rest.