"What's wrong, Sammy-boy?" Gaffer looked at his youngest son with amused eyes.
The younger Hobbit had been distracted all morning. Oh, he was doing his work properly, but the boy was slow, occasionally even stopping as if in deep thought. At the rate the seven-year-old was working, his chores wouldn't get done until the following day. In fact, he was so distracted Gaffer had to ask his question twice more.
Finally, Sam looked up. "What? Gaffer did you call me?"
By now more exasperated than amused, the older Hobbit shook his head, frowning. "I was wondering what's making you so slow, boy. What do you have on the brain?"
"I..." the child paused, almost hesitant to tell his problem to his father. With a sigh, he spoke, prompted by the older Hobbit's continued frowning. "I was wondering what I could get Frodo for my birthday, Gaffer."
Blinking in astonishment, Hamfast Gamgee, the Gaffer to most, nearly sat down. He had certainly not expected such a silly problem to be bothering the boy. With a sound more growl than anything, Gaffer lightly cuffed the boy upside the back of his head. "Birthday presents? Why, Samwise Gamgee, I'd think you had rocks in your head. Keep your mind on your work and leave such silly matters for after supper." He shook his head, frowning severely at the child. "It's not as if Master Frodo cares much what a little boy gives him, any way. He might not even show up to your party."
Sam turned pained eyes to his father. "Of course he'll show, Gaffer! Frodo's my best friend in all the world. He'll come and I want to give him such a nice gift, only I haven't anything to give him."
"Back to work, boy, or you won't need to be giving nobody any gifts, birthday or otherwise."
Satisfied that he'd put an end to the uncomfortable discussion, Gaffer moved off to clip the grass around the hole's large tree. His son watched him with troubled eyes. He was supposed to be weeding the flower garden, but the child didn't make a single move, hands buried gently in the good soft earth.
He was troubled by his father's odd threat. Had he done something wrong? Why would Gaffer be so upset about Frodo coming to his birthday party next week? Had... had maybe Frodo done something wrong? No! Sam shook his head to clear such thoughts. Most like, Halfred had mentioned the window incident from two nights previously. That was unfair, since his brother has said he wouldn't tell on Sam.
With a frown to match his father's gloomy expression, the boy threw himself completely into his work, actually managing to finish the garden by luncheon. He didn't speak as the older Hobbit came to collect his tools, inspecting the cleaned metal and wood. Still quiet, Sam headed down the road to his own home, following his father as he'd done for years. He was turning the question over in his mind, trying to determine how to confront Halfred, or at least his father.
At the hole he got his opportunity.
Halfred had made it home just a moment before Sam, so he was already seated at their old, well-worn table. None of the other children were present and Gaffer had gone into the back to check on Bell, who hadn't been feeling well that morning. The younger Hobbit slowly slid into the seat next to his older brother. After a short pause, staring up at the eighteen-year-old, Sam finally spoke, softly.
"Did you tell Gaffer about the window?"
"Did I... what?" The teen looked down at his little brother with confusion. "What happened to the window?" Quickly, Halfred scanned the greased-paper windows with critical green eyes, seeing nothing amiss. "Speak up, Samwise... what'd you do?" His voice was as soft as the seven-year-old's to prevent their father from over-hearing.
Sam looked up, his own green-gray eyes worried. "I didn't do anything. I meant the other night, Halfred."
Looking puzzled, then surprised, the older Hobbit shook his head, rolling his eyes. "That? No, I didn't tell, silly." He frowned down at the little Hobbit lad, reaching over to ruffle the boy's strawberry-blond curls. "But I meant what I said, Samwise. I catch you peeping and I will tell." He was suddenly curious about his brother's question. "Why?"
The lad shuffled his feet, nervous for a moment. Just as quickly, he determined that Halfred might be able to help him. With a pleading look in his eyes, Sam peered up at his brother, hopeful. As he opened his mouth to speak, his father's entrance interrupted him; Sam snapped his mouth shut, looking down at his soup bowl and stirring the contents absently.
The Gaffer slipped into his seat, ignoring Halfred's frown and Sam's preoccupation. He was too wrapped up with his own thoughts and the necessity of eating quickly in order to get back to work. The garden could use a bit of tending beyond Sam's knowledge, and the older Hobbit was puzzling over how to fit the training into his busy schedule.
As Sam was going slowly, deep in his dilemma, his father finished eating first. With a frown, he stood and shook his head in disapproval. "Finish up and follow me, Samwise. I'll be looking for you so don't linger." With another frown, the Hobbit left the hole at a fast pace.
Sam didn't waste the sudden opportunity. Quickly, he threw a hand out to grip his brother's larger, muscular arm, halting the older boy's attempt to leave. "Halfred, wait. I need help and Gaffer doesn't understand."
A sudden, unexplained fear flashed across the teen's eyes, but was gone so quickly, it could have been misread. He frowned, tugging his arm from Sam's surprisingly strong grip, crossing his arms almost as if in self-defense. With a gruff rasp, he growled out, "What don't he understand that I do, Samwise?"
Halfred backed up a step, as if slapped. His eyes held wariness, his frown severe. "Why would I know more about Master Frodo than the Gaffer, boy? It's not as if I spend time with him." He searched Sam's eyes, trying to fathom what the boy had figured out... what he knew.
"I can't tell Gaffer; he already yelled at me. Said... said I was..." he faltered into a deep sigh, eyes falling to his grubby feet as he shuffled them along the wooden chair rung. Slowly, with a hint of bewilderment in his voice, the child lifted his eyes and started again, "He acted like I was stupid, Halfred, and like Frodo was mean."
Eyes widening, Halfred forgot his own distress to immediately throw himself at his brother's side, kneeling by the lad's chair. "What? What's Frodo done to you, Samwise? Tell me... I promise I won't be angry with you. Just tell me?" He caressed his brother's thigh, desperate to wipe away the misery he saw in those deep green-gray eyes, to comfort his brother in whatever trial he was going through. Mentally, he was cursing the boy's master, determining the best way to get Sam away from Frodo for good.
"Frodo didn't do anything, Halfred..."
The soft voice surprised him; it hadn't been the response he'd expected. With a frown, confusion in his eyes, the eighteen-year-old shook his head, petting his brother's leg again. "Nothing? Then..." his petting stopped and Halfred drew in a shaky breath. "Sammy, are you... are you troubled by... uh... thoughts... feelings that... you don't understand? That Gaffer says is wrong?" No! Don't let it be... please... not Sam... and especially not Frodo! His thoughts were desperate concerning his little brother and the boy's young master.
Sam tilted his head. "I... I think so, Halfred. I... Gaffer said he wouldn't... but I want him to..."
Bowing his head, hand limp on his brother's chubby leg, the teen drew a deep, shaky breath, trying to gain control of the mixed emotions, the disgust and disappointment and anger. Finally, softly, he whispered, "Sam... has Frodo offered to... uh... touch you?"
"Touch me?" That was a confusing question. "Um... not lately." His voice held the hint of the warring questions in his little mind.
Lifting his head, Halfred looked directly at the seven-year-old. "But he has before? Touched you?"
Suddenly, Sam's smile shone forth and he laughed. "Of course. Frodo and me touch all the time, Halfred. We like touching."
The words, innocently spoken, drove a shaft of pain through the older boy's heart. He felt as if he'd been punched in the stomach. Slowly, Halfred withdrew his hand, equally slowly stood up. Placing the gentlest of caresses on his baby brother's curls, the teen's mind whirled with ways to get even with Frodo for his sick, twisted ways. "I see, Sammy."
"You..." Sam tilted his head, frowning in confusion. "You're not mad, right? You said you wouldn't be. And I need to get him a birthday present for my birthday, but Gaffer says Frodo's not coming to my party, Halfred, and I just know he'll be there! And I want him to come and get a present... and it has to be a good present." He finally stopped, mildly surprised, after the fact, that he'd been allowed to ramble. Confused, the boy looked up at his brother's face.
What he saw was pain and determination. Halfred kept his hand absently on Sam's curls, thinking, turning everything over in his head. He didn't want his brother hurt... hurt anymore than he already was, that is. Self-disgust welled up at how he'd failed to protect his brother, failed to stop Frodo from hurting him.
The uneasy silence alerted the teen to the fact that his brother was waiting for a reply. Softly, opening his pained eyes, Halfred spoke. "I'm not angry at you, Sammy. I couldn't be angry at you. A present for Frodo?" The bile rose in his throat at the idea that Sam would give anything to such a twisted freak as his master, but he couldn't let Sam see such emotions. The little boy wouldn't understand them. "A present... how about you make him something... like a vase for the flowers you keep picking for him? I can show you how." The idea of doing anything for Frodo twisted his gut, though, and his offer sounded less than enthusiastic. Halfred slid into his seat once more.
Something in his voice, his manner, alerted Sam to his brother's changed mood. Looking at the teen, the little boy grew worried. "Gaffer wasn't happy when I said I wanted a present for Frodo, and you aren't, either. Why? What's wrong, Halfred? What'd I do?" Sliding from his own worn chair, the seven-year-old moved to his brother's chair and climbed into Halfred's lap. He looked up at the older Hobbit with worried eyes, the gray dimming in the green that seemed to mark Sam's emotions. Sam hugged Halfred, hard.
With a fierce groan, Halfred hugged his brother back, determination solidifying in his mind. He wouldn't let Frodo hurt Sam anymore. He'd confront the other teen, and if that didn't work... he'd tell Gaffer or Bilbo what was going on. Bilbo might favor his ward, but, like Gaffer, he knew what was right for normal Hobbits and wouldn't approve of Frodo trying to twist Sam.
"You didn't do anything wrong, Sammy-boy. I promise you didn't. We... it's just not... totally normal for a teenager to be such good friends with a child, is all, love." He lifted the boy's round face, trying to smile into those worried, yet trusting eyes. A sudden jolt went through him.
How easy it would be to mold Sam any which way. He could tell him anything, do anything, and the boy would believe him, would trust him. The sudden power, and all of the responsibility it entailed, frightened Halfred like nothing else. Was that what Frodo had discovered? The power of molding a little boy into whatever he wanted him to be? Is that why, despite the guidance and opinions of the entire Shire, Frodo persisted in the strange friendship... for power? Bile rose again in the older Gamgee's throat.
He had to protect his trusting, naïve little brother.
"Sam," Halfred's voice was a choked whisper. He had to clear his throat to try again, louder. "Sam, I'm going back up to Bag End with you this afternoon. I'd... I'd like to see how you've done with your work. Would... would you show me?" He'd have to send a message to his own employer to explain that his brother needed him or something, otherwise he'd be in trouble for skipping the afternoon's work.
Excitement filled the little boy and he wiggled around happily, throwing his chubby arms around the neck of his equally, properly chubby brother. "Oh! That'd be great, Halfred! I'll show you the gardens and everything! I've been weeding and stuff, and you'll be so proud, and it looks so pretty!" He smiled up at his brother in genuine delight. "Can we go now? I'm not hungry anymore, I promise."
The boy had hardly eaten anything, but the teen didn't argue. Instead, he picked up the bowl and drained it himself, feeling the warmth spread through him as he drank his brother's leftover lunch, not wanting it wasted. Grabbing an apple and some cheese, the older Hobbit wrapped the food in a kerchief, pocketing it for later. He knew Sam would get hungry, no matter what he said at the moment, and wanted to be prepared. Finally he nodded. "Okay, let me send Daisy with a message and we'll go right up."
The oldest of their sisters was outside hanging laundry. She turned when her youngest brother ran up to her, smiling with excitement. With a laugh, the fifteen-year-old resisted the urge to ruffle his curls, glancing over at her older brother instead. "Did you enjoy the soup?"
"Yeah," Sam nodded, grabbing her hand happily and swinging it slightly. "Very good. Halfred had two bowls, 'cause I'm not hungry. We're going to Bag End to see the garden."
Before Halfred could explain his provisions for the boy, Daisy pulled her hand loose and thrust both to her hips, frowning severely at the pair. "Samwise Gamgee! You get right back in there and eat your own soup! I didn't take and make that all morning for you to just turn your nose up at it. If mama were better, you'd be eating her soup, so I take it as a downright insult that you won't eat mine! And you, Halfred Gamgee!" She whirled around and jabbed his chest with a sharp finger, making the older Hobbit wince. "To let him get away with not eating; why, he'll be begging off the Bagginses not an hour from now, and we don't need Mister Bilbo thinking we can't feed our own. And..."
Halfred had dealt with Daisy's indignant attitude once before, when he'd gotten her freshly scrubbed floor covered in mud: the harangue would never end unless she was soothed immediately. Seeing Sam looking stunned and near tears, the eighteen-year-old decided to field the rest of his sister's wrath. "He's just excited 'bout me coming up for the afternoon, Daisy-love." His voice was as soothing as their mother's could be, and it was easy to see that Halfred could be extremely persuasive if he'd work at it more often. "Tell you what. I've got to get a message to my own master, but I'll march Sam right back here after and make sure he eats an entire bowl..." the teen left his sentence dangling, hoping.
She took his bait instantly.
"Oh, no you don't, Halfred Gamgee. I know you lads always stick together. You'll go deliver your message then sneak on up to Bag End, hoping I'll get so involved in Mama's chores, I won't remember. Not a bit of it, I tell you! You take Samwise in to eat now. I'll go take your message. Now, what should I be saying?" Her hands were on her ample hips and her frown was fierce.
Halfred didn't mind, but her question made him pause. What to say? It couldn't make his father look back for neglect or Bilbo Baggins for overworking his employees, and it couldn't alarm his own master into sending offers of help to Bell or Gaffer. Before Daisy could ask again, however, he finally came up with a reply, saying "My brother wanted my help with something and I said I would. I'll stop by tonight at sunset and do all of the clearing up, so he can still get out on time."
His sister nodded in appreciation. "Well, that'll soothe ruffled feathers, it will. But, Halfred, you should let Gaffer help Sam with whatever it is he's needing. He won't like it if he hears, you know."
"Come, Daisy-love, Sam's needing his lunch and we've got to get up to Bag End before he gets in trouble for dawdling. Gaffer already warned him once." Halfred's voice was gentle, pleading, persuasive.
With a deep intake of air, the Hobbit girl frowned, eyeing her older brother worriedly. Finally, she removed her apron and petted Sam's curls again. "Fine. I'm taking your message, but you go get him fed right now, Halfred." With another frown tossed over her shoulder, she took off at a reasonable pace for town.
The older Hobbit lad sighed. "Well, Sam. We've got to go in again and eat. This time, you have to be the one eating."
"I... I guess I could eat maybe... half a bowl?" He smiled up at his brother, hopefully, trying the timeless wheedling of children everywhere. It worked. As the brothers linked hands, the older one nodded and chuckled, confirming Sam's request.
It wasn't much later when both lads were at Bag End, approaching the garden the younger had weeded that very morning. With cautious eyes, senses heightened with his private fears, Halfred looked around, trying to spot Frodo. It seemed the dark-haired Hobbit was nowhere in sight. The red-haired Halfred did not relax his guard, though. Only half of his attention was on Sam's babble concerning his work.
The child finally noticed.
"Halfred? What's wrong?" Sam tugged his brother's hand, hoping he hadn't said something wrong.
Surprised, Halfred glanced down, frowning softly. He answered without thinking, "I was looking for Master Frodo, actually." When he realized what he'd said, Halfred wished he could kick himself. It's not like he wanted to encourage Frodo to hang around with the much younger Sam.
Sam didn't seem to notice the tone, however. He clapped his hands, smiling broadly. "Oh, yes! He's inside when I work, Halfred. But you can knock and he'll come outside. Then he can see what I've done, too." As if imparting a great secret, Sam put a hand up to his mouth and tugged his brother down to his level. His voice was more audible than he was aware, making it almost comical. "I'm not supposed to talk to Frodo or anything when I work. But if you call for him, I'll be allowed." Eager green-gray eyes shone up into plain green ones.
Glancing down into those trusting, hopeful eyes, the older Hobbit felt himself caving in. He softly shook his head, sighed, and knelt, drawing Sam into a fierce hug. Confused, but delighted by the unexpected contact, the boy hugged his brother back, arms tight around the older boy's neck. Finally, reluctantly, Halfred drew back. He studied his brother's shining face and sighed once more. "All right. I'll call him out to see your garden, Sam."
Bouncing in glee, clapping his hands, it was all Sam could do not to shout. Somehow, he knew that Gaffer wouldn't like Halfred calling Frodo out to see the garden, even if it was Halfred doing it. So, he kept his elation down to whispered squeaks of pleasure, practically bouncing after his older brother as the lad headed for the faded green door of Bag End.
Ensconced comfortably in his chair, Frodo was curled up and reading. The book was the genealogy of his own family, which was something of vast interest to Frodo. After all, Hobbits were extremely intrigued by family trees, or Longfather trees as they were known in the Shire, and wanted to know just how closely related to his guardian Bilbo he was. He was also looking for the direct link with Meriadoc Brandybuck, as he knew the young child was his cousin.
The room he sat in was comfortable and well lit, a round window letting in the summer sunshine. There were comfortable, deeply-cushioned chairs here and there around the area as well as a large, dark wood table in the center of the wall under the window. A great fireplace took up the wall directly opposite the table, though it wasn't lit due to the warm weather. Portraits of Bilbo's parents hung on the wall above the mantle, and other small nick-knacks were placed at eye-pleasing areas around the large room.
On a small side table next to Frodo sat a tray with the remains of a snack he'd been munching during his research. Next to that sat a small sheaf of papers, ink, and quill, some notes marking the otherwise pristine pages. An embroidered footstool was at the front of his chair, but the Hobbit wasn't using it. Instead, his feet were tucked up under him, his body skewed sideways on the velvet cushions, a soft pillow balanced behind his head on the very edge of the chair back.
Carefully turning a page, the dark-haired Hobbit reached out a thin, pale hand and snagged a piece of honeyed bread. As he brought it to his lips, he paused, puzzled at the sound he heard. Why would someone be knocking at the door? If there was trouble, Gaffer usually handled it, and he knew that Bilbo wasn't home at the moment. The elderly Hobbit had gone into town to talk to someone about arrangements for their September Birthday Party.
Lowering his hand, unaware of the honey dripping slowly onto Bilbo's prized genealogy book, Frodo blinked. There it was again, the knocking. Suddenly, he became aware of the destruction he'd inadvertently caused his adopted uncle's book. Jumping up, horrified, Frodo Baggins started to rush around, trying to clear the honey away without destroying more of the valuable family history. It was dribbled down his vest by the time he gave up. The nineteen-year-old was so flustered that it finally sunk in that he should answer the door after the fifth series of now impatient knocks.
As he rushed towards the door, he plainly heard a worried Sam crying out, "I know he's here! He was here this morning, Halfred. I promise he was."
Halfred? What would Halfred be doing knocking at Bag End? Frodo reached for the door, slowed now by his confusion. The other teen despised Frodo, so why would he want to come looking for him... unless he wanted to start something nasty again. The concern in Sam's voice only added to the sense that the older Gamgee boy was looking for trouble. Frodo sighed and opened the door with an attempted smile.
It failed miserably.
Sam launched himself into Frodo's arms in a quick hug, stepping back with an odd look on his face. "Frodo? You're covered in honey." He reached for Frodo's sticky hand as his brother shot the other teen a near poisonous glare.
"Um... what can I do for you, Halfred?" Frodo was suddenly extremely self-conscious, one thin hand laced with Sam's smaller, chubbier one, and the other clutching the half-destroyed family Longfather tree book. He was covered in honey and extremely rumpled from his inelegant, yet comfortable, posture when he'd been reading in the chair. Compared to him, Halfred looked near pristine, despite the work worn clothing he wore.
The eighteen-year-old shoved his hands into his pockets, moderating his glare to a less menacing frown, though his eyes blazed with fresh anger as his brother tangled fingers with the older Hobbit. "I came to ask you if you'd like to view the garden with me. Sam's very proud of what he's accomplished." The tone dared Frodo to assume Halfred himself wanted the rich Hobbit around.
Fortunately, Frodo saw the invitation for what it was: a chance for Halfred to watch his little brother around Frodo, to see how the interacted. It was simply one more stumbling block the Gamgee teen was willing to throw in the way of the unusual and extremely valuable friendship Frodo and Sam shared. He had no idea why Halfred has suddenly decided Frodo needed close watching, but there seemed to reasonable way to appease the other lad. After all, he'd never listen to any words of Frodo.
With a nod, the Baggin's teen backed up into the hole, inadvertently dragging Sam with him. "Come in, Halfred, Sam... I'll just clean up a bit and we'll go look at the garden." He paused, then added softly, "Sam why don't you show your brother where he can sit? There's food if you'd like some? Apples and cheese?"
As Sam opened his mouth to readily accept the offered food, his brother shook his head, frowning harder. "We've just eaten, Master Frodo, thank you, no. We'll just stand by the door and wait for you." Halfred's glare met Frodo's half smile, which died in the process.
Nodding silently, Frodo untangled his hand and headed quickly down the hallway, looking for a place to set the book until he could recopy the pages. He knew there was no salvaging it, after all, and so determined to replace the work as best he could. In his room, he changed quickly, using the cold water in his basin to wash off the sticky remnants of his snack.
Sam looked up at Halfred, raising his chubby fingers to his lips to lick off the honey. "It's good honey, Halfred. What's wrong? Are you mad 'cause Frodo took so long to answer the door? He likes to read and gets lost, like, in the books, if you know what I mean?"
Halfred noticed Sam's stickiness and sighed. "Come on, Samwise. We're going to clean you up in the kitchen. Show me where."
It was only as they moved off to that desired room when Halfred came to the horrified realization that he'd inadvertently encouraged Sam's intimate knowledge of the Baggins' hole. By asking Sam for directions, he was acknowledging that Sam would have such knowledge... and that was something he most certainly should not have. What a tangle! It would make it all the harder to convince Sam that he shouldn't be so free and familiar with Master Frodo's home.
In the kitchen, Sam let his brother scrub at his hands, a small frown of worry on his face. Finally, he couldn't hold back and spouted, "Halfred, please tell me?"
"Tell you what, Samwise?"
"Why are you mad at Frodo?" His voice was earnest, his eyes pleading. He wanted his brother to love his best friend as much as he did. Everyone should love his Frodo. Sam wasn't even aware of the overly possessive reference he'd started thinking of his master by.
Unaware of the thoughts in his brother's active mind, Halfred stopped scrubbing the small, chubby hands. He straightened, eyes worriedly studying the soft green-gray eyes of the child before him. The pain and confusion bothered him as much as the tone Sam had used. Slowly, sighing, Halfred replied, "I'm not mad at Frodo, Samwise. Not unless he's done something wrong. Has he?" His last question was soft, almost afraid of a positive answer.
Rather than instantly jumping to his friend's defense, the little boy thought about the question. It took several minutes more before he said, "I suppose he has, hasn't he?"
Halfred wanted to weep. He pulled his brother against him, hard, holding him tight. It was as if by holding him now, he could try to protect him from what had already happened. Kneeling, the older Hobbit fought angry, shamed tears as he hugged the child again. "It's okay, Sam. It's not your fault. He's..."
"What have I done wrong, Sam? Why are you upset?" The soft question came from the doorway, making the teenaged Gamgee lad jump in shock. The younger child, however, turned with a wide smile and tried to move towards his friend. He was prevented by his brother, causing the smile to slip into a troubled frown.
Frodo stood in the doorway, a puzzled, worried look on his delicate features. His ethereal blue eyes darted from Sam to Halfred, confusion evident. He had changed into clean clothing and had arrived at the door just as Halfred had mentioned him doing something wrong. That hadn't startled him, as Frodo and Halfred didn't get along. But to hear Sam confirm it was a stunner. His mind raced to try to figure out just what he'd done to Sam that would anger the other teen... and anger it certainly was; the intense emotion was very evident in Halfred's eyes. Sam suddenly seemed to recall the conversation topic himself, as he suddenly looked contrite.
Trying to figure out just what he'd been overhearing, Frodo's thoughts were interrupted by Sam's sad, serious voice. "You spilled honey on your book, Frodo. You've got to be more careful."
The sheer innocence of the remark froze both teens momentarily.
The older brunette finally responded. "Sam... you're right. I was careless with Bilbo's book. Thank you for pointing that out. I'll try to be more aware." It felt odd to say such a thing, but he knew that praising Sam for his corrections might go over better with the other teenager. Apparently, however, it did not soothe Halfred enough. Frodo met the other teen's venomous glare; intuitively, he knew the child shouldn't hear whatever his brother was about to say.
"Sam? Could you leave us for a moment? Halfred and I want to talk... please..."
Sam paused, looking uncertainly from his brother to his best friend. He opened his mouth then let it close, shoulders drooping. With a small nod, the seven-year-old shuffled out towards the front door, glancing back over his shoulder as he left.
Frodo and Halfred didn't look away from each other. When the pair was relatively sure they were alone, the older teen softly spoke. His voice was steady and cautious. "You don't agreed with Sam about what I've done wrong." It was a simple statement, but left a world of unspoken thoughts. The implication was that Frodo wanted Halfred to speak about what exactly he felt the nineteen-year-old had done.
With one quick step, the Hobbit lads were practically touching. "I don't like your attentions toward my little brother, Frodo Baggins. You already know that it's odd for someone so old to have a friend so much younger. There are questions considering your... actions towards Samwise."
Halfred didn't allow Frodo to defend himself, however, simply barreling on. "My brother is a child, Frodo. A small lad too young and innocent to see how you're hurting him." He stepped even closer, his hand pushing into Frodo's chest to emphasize his point.
Eyes widening in growing alarm, the brunette shook his head. "I haven't hurt Sam! I'd never hurt him... Halfred..." He stepped back as the other boy pushed him again in the chest. Indignation colored his next comments. "Hey! Halfred Gamgee, I love Sam. If you're mad about his broken leg or that crying fit he had..."
"You disgust me, Master Frodo. You really do." Halfred's voice had dropped to a soft, menacing tone. "His leg was an accident, and Gaffer was responsible for the breathing attack. Do you think I'd hold a stupid grudge over something so innocent? You must think I'm as stupid as a Took!" He pushed harder on Frodo's thin chest, growling with the last word.
"Leave me alone!" Frodo finally pushed back, sick of not knowing why Sam's brother hated him. "I haven't done anything to Sam to hurt him. Everything we've done together, Sam's enjoyed as much as I have. So you just stay out of it, Halfred." He headed for the doorway, then suddenly turned as something else hit him. "And watch what you say about the Tooks. They're my cousins. Now leave." Frodo gestured, hand shaking in his angry indignation.
With a glare, Halfred paused, fists clenching. He took one step forward, the intent to do violence rising high in the angry teen. The look of defiance on Frodo's face egged him on, but the redhead stopped himself. Something warned him that, despite his claims otherwise, Samwise might be listening; he wouldn't appear the bad guy because he beat up his brother's friend. Instead, he stepped back and shook his head in disgust. "I'll make sure Gaffer knows just what happens in this hole, Frodo Baggins. I'll go to Mister Bilbo, too. I don't care what you think; Sam's a good boy and deserves better than you for a friend."
Whirling on his heel, Halfred quickly left, his feet sounding harsh on the bare tiles. Without a word, he grabbed the seven-year-old in passing and guided him out. He refused to answer any of Sam's questions, either, merely depositing him, wordlessly, at Gaffer's side, the older Hobbit looking confused. Then, Halfred Gamgee headed down to road towards his own job, plotting his next move.
"What was that about, Samwise?" Gaffer frowned at his youngest boy. "And why were you brought here by Halfred?"
Sam shook his head, strawberry curls bouncing with the movement. "I... I don't know, Gaffer. Halfred was going to come see my work, but he fought with Frodo instead. Why's he so mad at Frodo?"
The older Hobbit shook his head and turned back to his trimming with a grunt. "Mind your own work, lad. Halfred's got his own reasons."
That was certainly not a satisfactory answer according to Sam, but what could he do? The boy turned to start picking up the clippings his father had left in the bush trimming, his mind troubling over the confrontation he hadn't expected.
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