Laughing happily, Samwise Gamgee clapped his chubby hands as Frodo Baggins added another carved wooden block to the pile. "Gen... gen!" He bounced slightly then stopped as a deep throb of pain through his leg reminded him he wasn't able to move as freely as he'd like. After two weeks, he was more frustrated than anything with the limitation; a broken leg wasn't going to keep him from enjoying his day, however.
Frodo smiled and picked up another carved block. "This? What's it called, Sam?" He shifted his hand slightly so Sam could see the letter engraved on it.
The four-year-old frowned in concentration and reached for it. "See? Sam see?"
With a nod, the teenager handed the toy over. Since Sam had broken his leg at his fourth birthday party, the sixteen-year-old has been put in charge of the toddler. He was supposed to keep him safe and quiet, for the most part, teaching the boy to read and such. Right then he was using alphabet blocks Bilbo had carved.
The pair was sitting on a soft rug in from of the dark fireplace. Bilbo was contentedly smoking in his favorite chair, watching his cousin and the younger boy from down the road play together. It was a rather homey scene in fact, calm and full of peaceful contentment.
Sam felt the toy, studying it carefully. In the last week, the boy had seemed to get more and more thoughtful. He would quietly study something or simply watch Frodo and Bilbo at their lessons. Somehow, the rambunctious four-year-old had managed to tap a well of calm deep inside himself, enabling Frodo to keep the little boy still a bit easier. "Oh... bock is Oh." Sam offered the toy back to Frodo, who took it with a smile. The toddler knew that if he got it right, his friend would add it to the tower he was building. That tower was four blocks high already, a triumph to the child eagerly watching his much older companion. It was satisfying to see Frodo ever so carefully add that fifth block to the tower.
"Okay, Sam, what's the word? What do the blocks spell?" Frodo reached down to gently pet his small friend's curls.
Bilbo looked over from his pipe and fire. "Come now, my lad, that's much too difficult a word for our boy. You should start with something small and easy, like his own name. That would have meaning for him and he'd learn it much quicker."
With a laugh, the teen ruffled Sam's curls again as the toddler tried to figure out the word. "Oh, I think this one will have a great meaning to our Sam, Cousin Bilbo. Just you watch." He leaned closer, encouraging the lad. "Go ahead, you can do it, Sam. What's it say?"
The little blond carefully reached over and stroked a wooden block. His touch was surprisingly gentle for such a little boy, bespeaking an inner care and grace one might not see when just looking at the chubby child. Finally, he looked up and spoke with confidence, "Don know."
With a laugh the teen gathered the boy to him, careful of the splinted leg. Bilbo barked with a surprised laugh, then settled into chuckles that rocked his comfortable girth. Sam joined in the laughter, not knowing why they were laughing, but not minding one bit the joy he felt there.
A knock on the door interrupted the laughter and Bilbo heaved himself out of his comfortable chair to go answer it, muttering to himself questions about who would want to visit him. When he flung open the door, he was surprised to see Lily Cotton standing there, her son, Young Tom, had his hand clasped in hers. Bilbo was especially surprised to see that she didn't have either of her twin infants with her.
"Oh, Mister Baggins. I do hate to do this to you! But, I understand your nephew is watching young Samwise Gamgee while he's hurt and... oh..." She flushed and nervously switched her son's hand to her other one, forcing the toddler to move to her other side in front of her. "But you see, the twins are sick, and the doctor warned that Young Tom couldn't be in the hole with them because it's a dreadful fever..."
Bilbo looked down at the child, stunned. The Shire always had odd whispers for Bilbo, despite respecting his fabled wealth and prestige. Now, it seemed they were just eager to give him their children. What had changed? Laughter from the other room gave him the answer.
Frodo had changed it. He was an odd lad and didn't seem to get on with his own age group, but he was great with the children. These Hobbits had seen that at Sam's birthday party a couple of weeks ago. Now, in times of need, they thought to have him watch their boys? Somewhere the cynical thought that a free babysitter was the biggest attraction entered, and was as quickly pushed out of, the older Hobbit's mind.
"I can't promise for the lad about watching someone. He's got a responsibility to Samwise as the boy broke his leg while in Frodo's keeping." He did, however, open the door to the two visitors and let them in. "You'll have to ask the lad yourself, Mrs. Cotton."
She nodded and hurried her oldest child towards the sound of laughter. On the threshold of Bilbo's den, she paused, hesitant to invade his masculine domain. From the doorway, she asked her favor. "Master Frodo? I hate as to disturb you, lad, but my twins are sick with fever... and... I have no time to go further to find someone to watch the boy. Would you? Just for a bit? Me mam is coming up tonight and will take him from there..."
Frodo looked over, surprised. He extricated himself carefully from Sam where they'd been playing with the fallen tower on the rug. Standing and smoothing his clothing, the sixteen-year-old walked over to the anxious mother. He could see worry in her eyes. Taking Young Tom's hand he nodded, his own eyes serious. "Go back to your husband and babies, Mrs. Cotton. I'll take care of Tolman for you."
She looked so relieved, tears misted in her eyes and she gave Frodo a surprising hug. "Thank you so much, Master Frodo. He'll be good for you, I promise." She knelt quickly and kissed her son's curls. "Now, behave for Master Frodo, Tolman Cotton, or your father will hear of it." Hurriedly she stood and turned, relieved, to Bilbo behind her. "I'd stay for tea but my Tom is watching the twins. A good Hobbit, but so lost when it comes to infants, especially sick ones. You'll understand, Mister Baggins?"
Bilbo nodded and saw the woman out, feeling as if a whirlwind had just blown through his hole. He watched her move off quickly down the road, heading back to her family. Finally, Bilbo shut the faded green door and turned back towards his den and the fire. He paused to watch as Frodo coaxed the shy Cotton boy towards Sam and the scattered blocks.
With a shake of his head, Bilbo headed towards the kitchen to prepare a tea for the children. He couldn't fathom how the woman had decided to trust Frodo with her son, out of all the women around the area. It didn't make sense. It was well known, after all, that Sam had broken his leg when being watched by Frodo. That would logically conclude that Frodo was no fit guardian of a rambunctious child. So why give him Tolman to care for?
Pausing, Bilbo's hand was covered with a cloth, reaching for the whistling teapot. Could it be? He quickly glanced back towards the sounds of laughter, which once more echoed from the other room. Had somehow the rest of the Hobbiton mothers found out about Frodo's quick actions to get Sam breathing again last year? Had that been the reason behind their sudden trust of the pale, too thin, lad from Buckland? Had Bell done that for Frodo?
Yes, she would do that for Frodo. Help him to be accepted in this tight-knit group. Bilbo smiled and took the pot from the fire, pouring it into the gaily printed teapot on the tray. He added sugar and creamer bowls, as children often liked their tea weakened, as well as nice tidbits of buttered bread, marmalade, scones, and some cucumber sandwiches he'd made to tide them over until luncheon. Picking up the tray, he smiled. Yes, Frodo was actually starting to fit in after four long years. His lad was finding a home for himself in Hobbiton.
Frodo smiled as Tolman Cotton began to relax.
Sam hadn't seemed to mind sharing his Frodo with the other little boy, showing off the pretty blocks Bilbo had made. The Gamgee boy, however, was staking his personal claim to the most of Frodo's attention by leaning into the older boy possessively. Apparently, Sam was willing to share but not give up his friend.
Young Tom reached curiously for a block, quite content to sit up on his own without the aid of a larger body to support him. He was too busy exploring these strange new toys the other boy had. He thought over the name the teen had called them by. "Block?"
"Yes, good Tom. Block. Very good." Frodo's praise rang through the room and Sam felt instantly alert. He looked at Tom, then at the blocks, then at Frodo. He wanted Frodo to say that to him, too. After all, Sam didn't begrudge Tom his praise; he just wanted part of it.
Thinking hard, Sam held up an S block. "B... block?"
Frodo squealed and hugged the boy to him. "Yes, Sam! That's right, block." He stressed the L sound that Sam normally avoided. "You are so smart!"
Sam laughed and hugged Frodo back, enjoying the attention. His Frodo was happy with him. He would do that again just to get more hugs. Picking up the block again, he held it up and proudly announced, "Block." He stressed the L, too.
Tom giggled and Frodo laughed, hugging Sam again. Sam joined in the laughter, and the happy sounds drifted out of the den towards Bilbo in the kitchen. The boys started picking up blocks one by one and repeating the word, eliciting more laughter and giggles all the while.
Rolling over on his tummy, Tom started piling blocks up in a tall tower. He was four high when the tower tumbled over from lack of proper balance. The boys giggled again and a contest to see who could build a bigger tower broke out.
Tom kept accidentally knocking his own tower over after three or four blocks. He didn't seem to mind, though, as everyone was having fun. Tom wasn't the sort to put more store in building things right, just the constructing and demolition part so far.
Frodo's tower had reached six blocks when he accidentally knocked into it. Blocks scattered, hitting the bottom of Tom's tower and knocking that over, again. A loud burst of laughter greeted this tragedy. With a giggle, the teen looked over to see how Sam was getting on.
The four-year-old was trying to stand and finding it impossible in the splint. He sank back down again with a frustrated whimper, a block clutched in either fist, staring intently at his five block tower. He wanted to build it higher, but couldn't reach from sitting down. With a sigh of disgust, he turned to Frodo and Tom. "Block..." he had inadvertently started using an L now, because Frodo had so praised Tom for it.
Quite willing to help out, Frodo took a block from his friend and carefully added it to the tower. "How's that, Sam? Another?" He smiled and added the one Sam handed over, making it the tallest tower Sam had ever seen. Frodo added an eighth block.
Bilbo smiled as he walked in with the tea tray, stopping short at the sight of the threesome with the blocks. Sam was sitting up by himself, a first since his accident, and clapping his hands calling out "Block," over and over again. Young Tom was on his hands and knees, rocking slightly in excitement, watching intently. And Frodo was carefully trying to add a ninth block to what seemed to be a precarious stack at best.
As the tray was set on a low table, the tower came tumbling down, thanks in large part to Frodo's help. A loud clapping from Sam and giggles from Tom brought a smile to Bilbo's face. He'd expected tears or anger at the stack falling. However, these three seemed to accept that it was just a game and that towers could be rebuilt once they'd fallen.
"Tea time, my lads, come and eat." Bilbo's relief at the comfortable atmosphere in the room was evident in his cheerful call.
With a whoop, Tom crawled over, finding it easier than getting to his feet. Sam was scooped up by Frodo and carried over to the low table, placed in the room just for Sam in fact. The children were excited and started chattering, both little boys vying for the adults' attention. Bilbo laughed to see how Frodo kept having to look back and forth to give his charges equal time in conversation. The eldest of the foursome served all round to spare the second eldest the added duty.
It was a short time later that all four had finished off the entire tea. Frodo had actually managed to snag the last scone, a twinkle in his eye for a memory four years old. Bilbo had made a play for it, but let his ward win, not being hungry for it at the moment. The master of Bag End heaved himself up and started clearing away. "I'll see to these things if you clean up the boys, my lad."
Frodo laughed and picked up Sam. "Of course, Cousin Bilbo. Come on Tolman. We're going to wash up so we can have another good romp, okay?" The visitor didn't complain, following, licking his marmalade-sticky fingers in happiness.
Much later that day all was quiet again. Tolman Cotton was sleeping curled in Bilbo's large chair, waiting for his grandmother to come get him. Bilbo was lighting his pip by the fireplace, looking contented with the unusual events of the day. Frodo was reading quietly, stretched out in front of the fire, trying to get in the studying he missed earlier when Tolman showed up. The remaining young man was smiling and rocking himself, reliving the fun of that day and the hugs of his best friend.
Finally, Sam decided it was time for another special hug. He picked up several blocks carefully, studying them and arranging them in a specific order. It was the first word he'd read, and the first one he'd spelled. In fact, it was the only word he'd read or had spelled out for him so far. The toddler was determined to get it right the first time. He wanted that hug.
As the two adults settled to their tasks, Sam continued working, trying first this order than that. Frodo was always good to him and he wanted to show his friend how much he meant. Sam couldn't do much yet, but he would try to please Frodo by getting this one thing right. It took much work, but at last Sam had finished, hoping he'd remembered it correctly.
"Fodo... Fodo, look Sam..." He tugged on his friend's sleeve just as Bilbo turned to see, too. Frodo looked over and gasped, then scooped up Sam and hugged him hard enough to cause a squeak to emerge. Sam didn't mind, though, he hugged back hard. He'd gotten his heart's desire He must have done the word right.
The blocks spelled out F-R-O-D-O.
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