West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Ties That Bind
Bilbo and Hamfast have a long-overdue conversation during a dangerous storm.
Author: Blackbird Song
Frodo sat at the window, gazing in rapt fascination at the snow that fell, cast forcibly, it seemed, as though someone were throwing bales of feathers upon the ground. The snow was nearly up to the windows, and the wind was blowing, howling as it shoved it away and down the hill toward Bagshot Row. It was beautiful and terrifying, the worst storm Frodo could remember.
"Frodo-lad, put your coat on. We're going to Number Three."
"We're going out in this?"
"Yes, we are, lad, and hurry up about it! This storm isn't going away any time soon, and the Gamgees won't do well in it without enough wood to keep them warm." Bilbo bustled toward the hallway. "Come on, lad!"
Frodo stood and followed Bilbo, reluctant to leave his cosy spot at the window.
"Hurry up, Frodo! By the time you have your things on, there'll be another three feet on the ground, at this rate!"
Frodo struggled into his heaviest coat and buttoned it over a thick scarf as quickly as he could.
"Good lad. Now help me with these..." Bilbo thrust three coats into Frodo's arms.
"Bilbo, I can hardly see! How'm I supposed to...?"
"They won't get far if they're frozen, now, will they? I've got the rest of them, and they have a few... It should be enough."
"Enough for what?"
"Enough to bring them over here, of course! And if Hamfast weren't so bloody stubborn, they'd have been here before the storm ever came in the first place," added Bilbo under his breath.
"How are you going to get him to come here now, then?"
"I'll drag him up here, and you'll help me, if it comes to it," growled Bilbo. "Now, come on, Frodo! Not a moment to lose..."
Frodo soon found himself trying to make his way through snow that was thigh-deep in many places. It was a hard slog, and conversation was impossible between the wind, the snow and the coats. By the time they made it to Number Three, Frodo's feet were so cold he could barely feel them, and the inside of his head smelt funny from the snow he'd inhaled along the way. He joined Bilbo in pounding on the door.
"All right, all right!"
The familiar, irascible voice was a balm to Frodo's sore ears. The door opened at last.
"Now who in his right head would be out on - Oh! Mr. Bilbo and Master Frodo... Come in, come in..."
The door closed behind Frodo and he dropped the coats on a nearby bench, crying out when his elbows straightened.
"Master Frodo, sir!" Young Samwise trotted over. "Are you all right?"
Frodo bit his lip against the tears that shot unbidden from his eyes. "Yes, Sam," he managed. "Just kept my arms bent the wrong way for too long. Oh, Sam! Don't touch me! Hurts..."
"I'm sorry, Master Frodo," said Sam, shrinking back to the family huddled around the meagre fire.
"What brings you here, Mr. Bilbo? Why'd you bring all them coats?" The Gaffer peered at Bilbo, barely veiling his suspicion.
"I've come here to bring my favourite gardener and his family to Bag End, and I brought young Frodo here to help me do it," said Bilbo, cheerfully.
The Gaffer scowled at him, openly. "I gave you me answer yesterday," he said evenly.
"Hamfast, I'm taking you and your brood to Bag End if I have to tie these coats around you and drag you there! I've warned Frodo about this, and he's quite prepared to help me do it, aren't you, lad?"
Frodo was having trouble moving his arms, much less imagining himself helping to subdue an unwilling Gaffer and drag him through the blizzard to Bag End, but he pulled himself together and gave a stout, "Yes, I am" in response.
Hamfast looked Frodo in the eye for a long moment as Frodo felt him sizing up his will to do as he claimed. Eventually, he nodded, slowly. "Aye, it ain't right for the little'uns to catch their death, nohow," he said, with a glare at Bilbo.
"Right, then," said Bilbo, briskly. "We brought extra coats, and I'm sure Frodo'd like to be relieved of the burden of carrying them, so Daisy, Mari, May, Hamson, Halfred, Samwise... Have I forgotten anyone? Oh, yes! Hamfast!"
"I'll wear me own coat, begging your pardon," said Hamfast, pointedly.
"Very well, then. Everyone else, put on your coats and then bundle up in one of these. Hurry, now; there's not a moment to lose. Frodo, help little Marigold and young Sam."
"I ain't so little as that no more, Mr. Bilbo, sir," said Mari. "I'll be twelve soon, I will."
The Gaffer refrained from harsh words with his youngest daughter. Of all his lasses, she reminded him most of Bell, who had not lived to see Mari learn to talk.
Sam regarded his younger sister with a mix of awe and jealousy until Frodo startled him out of his reverie.
"Let's have your arms, Sam."
"Yes, sir," said Sam, eyes cast down.
"You don't have to call me 'sir', Sam. I won't be of age for another six years, yet."
Sam kept his eyes lowered. "No, sir." He flinched when Frodo helped him into the second coat. "Sorry, sir,"
"Sam, what's the matter, lad?"
Frodo put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry I shouted at you, Sam."
"I didn't mean to hurt you, sir," said Sam, miserably. "I were only trying to help, and I bollixed it right up."
"Sam-lad..." Frodo embraced him. "I know. And please understand that the touch of a feather would have pained me then." He held Sam as he breathed hard against his shoulder. "Come on, Sam. My cousin and your father will have both our hides if we don't hurry."
Sam drew away from Frodo. "Yes, Master Frodo."
Frodo politely did not notice as Sam scraped his sleeve across his eyes.
The journey back to Bag End was more difficult, thanks to the vicious wind in their faces and the extra inches of snow on the ground. Relieved of the weight of the coats, Frodo was able to help Marigold as Bilbo saw to Daisy and the Gaffer to May. Hamson and Halfred forged a path for them to follow, but even so, Marigold couldn't keep up. Her small stature and long skirts bogged her down in the snow and there was nothing for it but for Frodo to carry her. Crouching down, he offered his back. "Up you get, Mari-lass," he shouted.
Mari couldn't hear him, but understood the gesture well enough and climbed on as best she could.
Frodo trudged along, making the best of it, but found himself falling farther and farther behind as the snow seemed to pile higher and higher. "Bilbo! Gaffer! Sam!" His cries went unheard, the wind whipping them out of his mouth and behind him, away from the others.
"I can walk," said a small voice in his ear.
"No, Marigold! You'll die out here." Frodo shuddered at the truth of those words. Mustering the strength to walk faster, Frodo cried out again, louder. "Bilbo! Gaffer!"
"SAM!" He was joined by a full throttle cry from Marigold. And then, as though a light were abruptly extinguished, He couldn't move. "Mari, get down. I'm going to fall..." He knew no more.
The girls got the biggest guest bedroom, since there were three of them. Mari had offered to keep watch over Frodo, but the Gaffer had pointed out that it weren't right for a young lady to spend the night alone with a young gentleman as wasn't her husband. "Or her brother!" Hal had chimed in, narrowly avoiding a cuff from his father.
Sam had stepped in, then, and volunteered to sit by Frodo's bed that night. Upon due consideration, his father nodded slowly. "All right, Sam,' he said, an approving look in his eye. "But you mind you wake Mr. Bilbo or myself if he gets any worse."
"Yes, Da. I will."
"Then go on in to him, and be sure and mind your manners!"
"Yes, Da." Sam left with a spring in his step.
The Gaffer smiled after him. "Does a body good to do his duty," he said.
"His duty? He risked his life to run back and forth to help Frodo and Mari, and he's all of fifteen. You have quite a promising lad there, Hamfast."
The Gaffer eyed Bilbo sharply. "That's as may be, but he's a dreamer and no good ever came of that."
"You mean no good ever came of that for you," said Bilbo.
The thick silence prickled Hamson and Halfred into saying their goodnights and retreating to their room.
It settled all the heavier when Bilbo and Hamfast were alone.
"I loved Bell," said Hamfast, quietly. "I think of her every day that she's gone and sometimes I don't know how I stand it..." He paused to calm the trembling in his voice.
"But you loved me, first," said Bilbo softly, just behind Hamfast's shoulder.
Hamfast whirled on Bilbo. "I loved you more!"
Bilbo held steady as Hamfast calmed himself.
"I loved you more than I ever loved her, and she deserved so much better'n that. She were lovely, she were..."
"And then you told me to marry and have lots of children cause you thought I had me cap set on Bell and what would Hobbiton think of two young lads who never married but chose to live together, but then you never did marry and I..."
"Don't!" Hamfast catapulted himself away from Bilbo. "There's a reason I don't come up here, much," he said, jaw gritted. "Every day I think of her, right? But every night I think of you, and every morning I wake up hard and aching cause you ain't there and I ain't here. Hamson had the right of it when he told me he wanted to move to Tighfield. I keep telling meself that I should go live at Andy's with Sam and the girls, but then I look up the hill and I can't bring myself to leave."
Bilbo sat heavily on the settle. "I've been so much more of a fool than I ever dreamed," he murmured. He put his head in his hands. "What have I done?"
It was a very long moment before Bilbo heard Hamfast let out a breath. It was a longer moment before he felt the settle dip. "You ain't done nothing. 'T were me as loved you. 'T were me as tried to overstep me bounds. No good ever came of dreaming."
"Don't you understand? I loved you. I made you go because I thought you'd be free!"
"Damn you, Bilbo Baggins!" Hamfast rose and went to the door. "Thank you for offering shelter to the children, sir. I'd best be off home, now. No telling what'll need doing there."
"Hamfast Gamgee, you are not going anywhere!" Bilbo's roar had six nervous faces peering out of their bedroom doors. He rounded on the Gaffer. "I'll not have it said of me that I let the father of six children walk out on the night of the worst blizzard in anyone's memory to leave them orphans! Besides, I have my hands full enough with Frodo. How in Eru's Creation do you expect me to put up with six more?"
The two elder hobbits glared at each other before a corner of one mouth began to twitch. A similar corner on the other mouth followed suit, and soon both of them were laughing uproariously, slapping each other on the back.
"You should have seen your face!" Bilbo cackled in glee and pointed at Hamfast.
"Yours were a sight, as well. I ain't seen you that angry since... Well, I ain't seen you that angry in all me born days!"
The collective sigh from the Gamgee children reminded them that they were not alone.
"Back to bed, boys and girls; this is just a strange dream you're having."
The Gaffer smirked at Bilbo's ruse. "Good one," he snorted.
"It worked, though," said Bilbo, "at least for the moment." He stepped toward Hamfast. "Do you suppose that you could find it in your heart to forgive a foolish old hobbit for hurting you so very badly?"
Hamfast sighed and rubbed his forehead. "I forgave you long ago. I just ain't stopped hurting, is all."
"Ham..." Bilbo closed the distance between them and took him in his arms. "I'm desperately sorry," he said, voice choking.
Ham hesitated before returning Bilbo's embrace. "There, now, Bilbo, me dear."
Bilbo stifled a sob against Ham's shoulder. "Ham, love..."
"Hush, now. At least we had it out, some."
"Please stay tonight."
"Don't seem like I have much choice, now, do I?" He smiled against Bilbo's hair.
Bilbo squeezed him harder. "I would look after the children if anything happened to you. I'm sorry I said that."
Ham was quiet for a long moment. "You were right to say it, Bilbo. Both because I were doing a foolish thing and because you ain't the settling sort." He gave a shaky sigh that sent an answering shiver through Bilbo. "I can't say I wish things hadn't come out different, but perhaps they did come out best."
Bilbo nodded, unable to speak.
Ham pulled back, and Bilbo looked into his eyes and saw him, all of him - past, present and future - and their lives played out before him in a searing ache. Bilbo cried out and felt his knees weaken.
Ham caught Bilbo and held him. "We may not have each other for much longer," he said, at last, "but shall we take such comfort together as we may?"
"Yes..." He reached up to run his fingers through Ham's curls. "It's been too long." Bilbo's voice broke.
Ham traced the outline of Bilbo's face. "Then we have a lot to make up for, don't we?"
Bilbo stepped back and held out his hand.
Ham took it and kissed it.
Bilbo turned and padded toward his chamber, fingers laced through Ham's. He glanced briefly into Frodo's room to see Sam seated on his bed, holding his hand. A sharp pang shot through him. Don't follow my example, Frodo-lad.
"What is it?" asked Ham.
"Oh, nothing. Just wondered if I'd put out the candle by the door..."
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