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A/N: Have you ever wondered why the Elves’ gift to Frodo, his lovely green suit, is never mentioned again?
“Get whom, Sam?”
The three hobbits froze, Merry in mid-mutter. They stared mutely at each other, then turned to face the bedroom door. Frodo stood leaning on the threshold, supporting himself with a hand on the jamb and looking at them curiously.
“Mr. Frodo!” Sam exclaimed, “You heard what Mr. Bilbo said! You’re not to be walking by yourself!” He leapt to his feet but Pippin was nearer, and quicker.
Merry saw apprehension flash across Frodo’s face but it was gone before he thought Pippin saw it. Yet perhaps Pippin had, for he slowed his headlong rush and carefully slid under Frodo’s good arm, capturing his hand and wrapping it over his shoulder with exaggerated care.
“It must be dreadful to get old,” Pippin remarked conversationally, looking at the others with mischief sparkling in his eyes. “It is a good thing my poor, elderly creaky cousin has me to guide his faltering steps.”
“I’ll ‘poor, creaky’ you, my lad,” Frodo growled, but he accepted Pippin’s support to Merry’s side.
“Crotchety, too,” Pippin observed. “I’ve heard the next thing to go will be the mind.”
“Too late, then,” Merry commented, making room for Frodo to lower himself cautiously onto the divan.
“Sam,” Frodo complained, “are you going to sit by and let these disrespectful hobbits abuse me?”
“Abuse you in what way, sir?”
“You too?” Frodo asked tragically. When no one looked repentant, Frodo gave up the pretence with an exaggerated sigh. “All right, lads. I’m settled. Now, what were you talking about with such grim expressions?”
“Shouldn’t you be asleep, Frodo?” Merry temporized.
“I was asleep. I’m awake now. I thought I heard Aragorn’s voice.” Frodo looked around the room. He blinked at the fire and his friends noticed that his pupils were extremely dilated, even more than should result from the dim light in the room. “Is he here?”
“No,” Merry replied tersely.
“He’s in the Hall of Fire,” Pippin added. “I’ll get him, shall I?” He tried for a fast retreat, only to waver under Merry’s merciless gaze.
“It’s not that late. Why aren’t you all at the Hall?” Frodo asked as Pippin sank into a vacant chair.
“The Elves were singing, and we didn’t know the words,” said Sam wistfully. “It was beautiful to hear, but well … without knowing what they were saying…”
“Oh. Bilbo would have translated for you, had you asked him. But I am happy to have you to myself. So… Sam, I repeat my question. Get whom? And Pippin …” Frodo extended a finger and swiped at Pippin’s face, coming away with a line of white, “why are you covered in…” He sniffed his finger then licked it, “Sugar?”
“Have an apple tart, Mr. Frodo?” Sam asked desperately, producing one he had squirreled away. “I saved one for you, knowing as how you like them.”
“Bless you, Sam! The ones with the crunchy toasted bits? Hand it over!”
With Frodo successfully diverted, talk moved to the doings of the hobbits’ day. Frodo listened, his expression wistful as he heard of the many wonders he had yet to see and asked many questions, until at last he sagged against the back of the divan and yawned.
“I am sorry, lads, but I’m so sleepy… I can’t seem to stay awake. Would you mind very much if I went back to bed?”
“We’ll talk in the morning, Cousin,” Merry assured him.
“I did think Aragorn would be coming to see me again,” Frodo fretted, leaning more heavily against Merry. He yawned again, starting to stretch both arms out automatically. “Ow! Drat it!”
“Silly hobbit,” Merry scolded, reaching across to cradle Frodo’s injured arm. A glint of silver chain caught his eye and beneath that, a hint of gold. Merry deliberately forced his gaze to Frodo’s face. “You look tired, Cousin. Go to bed. If you are good, maybe we will bring you more sweets.”
“Very amusing, Merry. I do wish Aragorn would come by…”
“Why?” Pippin asked. “You will see him tomorrow.”
Frodo flushed, colour tinting his pale cheeks. “I …er… I owe him an apology, I’m afraid.”
“What did you say, Cousin?” Pippin asked with cheerful maliciousness.
“I… I called him… Well, never mind that. After the trick with the pipe-weed…and, well, he said that…” Frodo trailed off, his colour deepening. “I’m afraid I insulted his ancestors, too. And any future heirs.”
“Thoroughly covered the topic, then?” Merry contributed. “Good!”
Frodo leaned against Merry, hiding his face for a moment in Merry’s shoulder. “It was unforgivable. I wasn’t raised like that. Bilbo would be mortified.” He looked at them again but continued to nestle against Merry. “Aragorn has been the soul of kindness and courtesy, not to mention saving all of our lives. He didn’t deserve to be called a–”
“A what?” Merry prompted.
Frodo drew back and looked at him through narrowed eyes. “Oh no, young hobbit. I’m not adding to your language skills with words like that.”
“I probably could guess,” Merry declared airily. “Dear Cousin Bilbo has been teaching me all manner of new words. Did you know that, in Elvish, a most expressive curse‒”
“Merry! Not another word! And I’ll have a few words for Bilbo, too, if he’s been teaching you to swear in El‒”
“Calm down, Cousin,” Merry soothed, “Bilbo hasn’t been teaching me. I just misprounced something and he turned all red. I really don’t know what I said.” But I intend to find out–might come in useful, Merry continued the thought unsaid.
Pippin grinned, enjoying the deliberate aggravation Merry was causing their elder cousin. It had been so long since they had dared banter with Frodo… For so long it seemed their every word, their every thought, had been focused on keeping Frodo alive long enough to reach Rivendell. That cold knot of terror inside him after Frodo’s wounding had yet to dissolve completely, but exchanges like this morning’s purging and teasing like this were helping.
“You ought to go back to bed, Mr. Frodo,” Sam said. “You’re near asleep on your feet.”
“All right.” Frodo yawned again. He shifted to rise, but sank back against Merry. The other three watched as his long-lashed eyes drifted shut and he sagged bonelessly against his younger cousin, his head cradled on Merry’s shoulder, sound asleep.
Merry caught him before he could slide to the floor. “That settles it. Look at him! I’ll pour every bowl of soup down the privy and throw every bite of food into the ravine before I let Aragorn dose him again.”
“Aragorn said it is for his own good,” Pippin whispered anxiously.
“It’s over,” Merry hissed. “No more drugging him.” He jiggled his cousin carefully and Frodo’s head waggled on Merry’s shoulder. “Frodo dear, wake up. It’s time to go to sleep.”
“Bed,” Merry insisted. Frodo mumbled something and slid forward, head drooping. Quickly adjusting his hold, Merry guided the limp form down on the divan and settled Frodo’s head into his lap. A faint snore drifted up to him.
“I’ll wake him.” Pippin stiffened a forefinger and leaned over Frodo, but Sam’s hand fastened on his wrist. Pippin looked up at him, eyebrows raised.
“You know The Rules, Mr. Pippin,” Sam told him sternly.
“No poking,” Pippin recited regretfully as Sam released him. “No tickling, tugging off covers, or nose-pulling. No pouncing or prying open eyelids. No throwing objects at him from across the room.” Frodo gave a snort that sounded almost like agreement and Sam looked down at him, an affectionate smile on his lips.
“I could blow in his face,” Pippin offered. “Puffing air on him is allowed.”
“He’ll swat you if you do. And seeing how he’s a-laying on Mr. Merry, he’d use his bad arm then he’ll be awake all right.”
“Right. Good thinking, Sam. Merry, you wake him.”
Merry wound a finger around one of Frodo’s dark curls. He tugged gently, watching with amusement as Frodo’s face crinkled up in annoyance.
“Hmm! Get … off…hm…”
Merry gave up and began stroking Frodo’s hair. Frodo sighed, a faint smile crossing his lips. In sleep, his face was pale and relaxed, his eyes moving slightly under closed lids. He looks so young, Merry thought, even though I know he isn’t. But he looks scarcely older than Pippin. Bestowing his sleeping cousin a long-suffering glance, Merry looked up at Sam. “Do you think we can get him into bed?”
“Daren’t try lifting him by that arm. Chair-carry?”
“Only way, I suppose, unless we want to get one of the Big People. And I’m not asking any favours of Aragorn, Pippin, so you can just forget that.” Pippin closed his mouth, brow furrowed.
“No, Frodo. He’s not here.” Merry looked at the other two and grimaced, lowering his voice further. “I could have told Strider there were better ways than trying to trick him. Our dear Longshanks is long overdue for his lesson. Help me get him up, will you?” With infinite care, Merry and Sam eased Frodo into a sitting position and propped him against Pippin while they stood and grasped each other’s wrists to form a seat. With Pippin whispering advice and cautions, they slid the “chair” under Frodo and lifted him, leaning him against Sam.
“All right, Mr. Merry?” Sam whispered, managing his half of Frodo’s weight with a great deal more ease than the other hobbit.
“All right. Good thing we don’t have to carry him far, though.”
“I’ll get the door.” Pippin darted ahead of them and had the bedroom door open by the time they reached it. Walking carefully, the hobbits turned sideways and sidled Frodo in. Pippin followed, hands half-raised, ready to assist them if Frodo stirred. When they reached the bed, Pippin pushed aside the huge volume he found there and patted the pillow.
Frodo did not stir. He curled up on his uninjured side as they slid him onto the bed and Pippin pulled the covers over him. “Good night, Cousin,” he whispered, kissing him lightly on the temple. “Sleep safe.”
While Merry shook life back into his arms, Sam reached down and caught up the jar of pipeweed. Pippin shouldered the book. “Leave the door open a bit,” Merry whispered as they left. “I want to hear if he stirs.”
“He don’t weigh hardly nothing,” Sam muttered as they resumed their seats. He turned the jar over and over in his hands but did not look at it. “I don’t agree with this giving him nothing but invalid food. That might be so for Men and maybe Elves, but a hobbit needs to eat. Aragorn don’t know everything about hobbits.”
“He has a point, though,” Pippin tried to put in. “You know how Frodo can be if someone tells him he has to do something. Bagginses are dreadfully stubborn that way.” Merry glowered at him and Pippin decided to keep his and Brandybucks comment to himself.
With nothing else to do, Pippin decided to continue his idle wanderings about the room. The room he shared with Merry was not as large as Frodo's, though it had an equally nice balcony. Poking his head out the balcony doors, he looked out into the night. Across the ravine, lights on the far path were shining like earth-bound stars. The rain had not yet begun but he could feel it coming; tightness and a weight in the air. He sighed and went back in.
Coming across Frodo’s green suit lain neatly over a chair (Sam’s doing, no doubt), Pippin shook it out the Elvish-made suit and held it up to himself in front of the standing mirror in the corner.
“Didn’t Frodo look fine in this,” he mused, turning from side to side to admire the effect. The green cloth had a subtle shimmer to it, like leaves turning in the breeze. With the weight Frodo had lost, it was only a little too large for his smaller, shorter cousin. Pippin hitched himself up on his toes, admiring his reflection in the glass. “I wish Pansy Mossybanks could see me in this… I wonder if he would lend it to me sometime?”
“You’ll have to grow a bit, Mr. Pippin,” Sam advised.
Pippin turned back to the mirror and smoothed the fabric, enjoying the softness of the cloth sliding over his hand. He left a little trail of sugar on the cloth and brushed at it quickly, managing only to smear it. “Miserable stuff clings to everything,” he complained with a martyred sigh, pulling out a handkerchief to remove the fine, clinging powder properly. Holding the suit up again, he turned to the side to admire himself and caught another reflection in the mirror.
“Why are you looking at me like that, Merry?”
* * *
Samwise and Pippin looked at each other. “What if the kitchen staff won’t help me?” Pippin asked.
“Just smile and be your usual charming, endearing self,” Merry ordered.
“But Merry, you told me–”
Merry ground his teeth. “Just do it, Pip. All right?”
“But you said I wasn’t to‒”
“All right! I already apologized, Pippin. Do you want me to do it again?”
“No. I’ll do it.”
Merry nodded in satisfaction. “Sam?”
“You’re sure no one will get hurt, sir? Including Mr. Pippin?”
“I’d like to be certain of that, too, Merry.”
“If we time this right, we can have everything back in place before anyone notices.” Merry smiled, his eyes lighting with a malicious glint. “Just get what we need and meet me back here in twenty minutes. Sam, before you go, will you fetch me those tools.” Merry smiled. “Aragorn will rue the day he decided to give offense to hobbits.”
* * *
“You stuck me with a pin! Sam, he stuck me with a pin!”
“He wouldn’t of, Mr. Pippin, if you hadn’t been a-wiggling like that.”
“I wasn’t wiggling! I was trying to avoid being stuck with a pin!”
Merry snipped off a green thread and stepped back. “Well, will he pass, Master Samwise?”
Sam sucked thoughtfully at his lower lip. “In dim light. As long as he don’t let anyone get a good look at him.”
Frodo’s lovely green suit did not fit so well on his younger, smaller cousin. Merry had addressed this problem by stuffing Pippin into a second shirt followed by two waistcoats. Frodo had lost a great deal of weight after the attack and his recovery, but the resemblance was there.
“And you got to do something about his hair, Mr. Merry. It’s too light.”
“Here.” Merry pulled the glass chimney off two of the lamps and pulled out his belt knife to carefully scrape at the wicks. “Lampblack. We’ll just … Sam, would you pour out what’s left in the teakettle? We’ll … scrape out the leavings. Good. Mix this … a little more tea … Here, Pippin. Rub this in your hair.”
“I don’t want to rub that nasty stuff in my hair. It smells!”
“Never mind that. It will darken your hair. Rub it into your foothair, too.”
Glowering, Pippin dipped his hand into the bowl and raked the dark substance through his hair. His brown-bronze curls darkened and drooped. “Happy now?”
“Better,” Merry said with a nod. “It is almost the same colour as Frodo’s.”
“Strider’s a right hand at measuring – the game will be up if Mr. Pippin don’t stand as tall,” Sam said thoughtfully.
“I can’t do anything about that,” Pippin complained, tugging at the layers of clothing. “All this is hot. I’m sweltering.”
“Good,” Merry said mercilessly. “The powder will stick better if you’re a bit wet.”
“He’s going to be a lot wet if we don’t time this fine,” said Sam with a glance out the balcony doors. Lightening danced amongst the darkening clouds and thunder rolled in the distance. “We haven’t much time, sirs.”
Merry herded them out onto the balcony and climbed up on a chair, steadying himself against the wall. Pippin closed his eyes and raised his arms to shoulder-level. Merry lifted a large, laden flour sifter above his head and began to turn the crank. Sam, meanwhile, finished pouring a stream of white powder into the fireplace bellows, stuck the plug back, gave it experimental pump, and began to blow out an even spray of fine white powder onto Pippin.
“Don’t sneeze, Pippin,” Merry muttered, fighting his own impulse to do so.
“Couldn’t we have used sugar? It would stick just as fine and sugar tastes a lot better than flour.”
“Close your mouth and you won’t taste it.” Merry eyed the white figure critically and held the sifter over Pippin again. “And the kitchens might have balked at giving you that much sugar. Now turn around and let us do your back.”
At last the hobbits stepped back. Before them stood an unearthly apparition, a pale, dark-haired figure in a suit of muted green, an ghostly figure in the flickering lamplight.
“Oh my,” Sam breathed, awe on his face.
“It is rather good,” Merry whispered.
“I want to see what I look like.”
“Sam, would you please angle the mirror…” The mirror which had previously stood in the corner was now leaning against the balcony balustrades, its supporting legs removed. Sam lifted it and manoeuvred it around until Pippin could see himself.
“The mirror’s fairly light,” Sam commented briefly. “Best we get on with it.”
“It itches,” Pippin complained, trying not to open his mouth very much. “And I’ve got flour up my nose.”
“You can have a bath when we’re done,” Merry told him. “Now, are you sure you know what to do?”
“Yes,” Pippin said. “Are you sure I can’t scream? Just once? One good blood-curdling scream–”
“Would give the game away,” Merry replied firmly. “No screaming. Just do what I’ve told you.”
Pippin sighed, causing the thick layer of white powder coating him to puff then settle again. “All right. Let’s teach Aragorn a lesson.”
* * *
It was a certainly a hobbit, standing on the edge of one of the sharp drops. None of the Fair Folk or their other visitors were so small. The moon, obscured by clouds, outlined the small figure. It was unquestionably a hobbit. But … it was pale, pale as the moon behind the thick layer of quick-moving clouds. Its face was in shadow but the pale skin glowed in stark contrast to its dark hair. Then it turned to face him and the light overhead caught on something Aragorn did recognize. Frodo’s gift from the Elves, the suit made for him and worn his first day back on his feet. Though he could not actually see the colour, the cut was unmistakable.
“Frodo?” Aragorn whispered. “Frodo, why are you…” The figure did not move. Lightening flashed overhead, blinding him momentarily and filling his returning vision with bands of black. His hand groped for his sword, only to remember that he did not wear it in the threat-free walls of Elrond’s House. He had only his knives. Stooping slightly, he slipped a throwing-knife from his boot and palmed it.
Slowly, the apparition raised its arm and pointed directly at him.
* TBC *
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