Written for Claudia for the “Frodo and Bilbo Birthday Bash” Fic Exchange 9/22/09
Request: “I would like a post-Quest story exploring the relationship between Frodo and Sam, Merry, or Pippin.”
“A Time to Reap” They didn’t speak of the departure again, but each day thereafter, Pippin kept watch with his heart.
It was one of those ideal days during the harvest season, the kind that belied the coming of winter and allowed one to pretend the air would stay warm and the flowers would not wither and die. It was the sort of day that made one feel like a lad again, young and carefree, despite one’s age, or perhaps because of it.
The two companions travelled as they had before, although their quest was a much simpler one this time. Each carried a basket at his side and soon would fill them with the huge golden apples that grew abundantly in the orchards near the Great Smials.
“You really do look a mess, you know.” Frodo gave his younger cousin a playful poke with his elbow and made a show of picking dried leaves from Pippin’s curls.
“Although I suppose it’s understandable since you decided to take a spur-of-the-moment slide in those leaves the children piled up. It’s a pity you didn’t notice it was so close to the side of the hill.”
“It’s a pity you decided to follow me down,” Pippin laughed. “And I hate to tell you this, Frodo, but have you looked in a mirror lately? You have a dab of mud on your face, just there,” Pippin used his thumb to swipe at Frodo’s cheek, “and a sprig of goldenrod stuck inside your collar. Not to mention streaks of grass stains all the way up to your hips. Why, you remind me of a wee lad in search of a great adventure!”
“That, dear cousin, has always been your task in the family, not mine. Do not get us confused.”
The slow smile spread across Frodo’s face, accenting the youthful features he still claimed in spite of all he had been through, and delighting his cousin with its warmth. And yet, there was something more there now, Pippin thought, something a little darker. Had he noticed this particular shadow in Frodo’s eyes before? A little shiver ran through him.
“There are no mirrors in the woods, Pippin dearest. So I shan’t be concerned with my looks, and neither should you.”
“Splendid.” Pippin dropped his basket on the ground and plunked down cross-legged beneath a stand of apple trees. The gnarled branches bent low to the ground, heavy with the bounty of harvest.
Frodo watched him thoughtfully before reaching up to pluck two choice pieces of the fruit. He dropped one into Pippin’s lap and sank down next to him.
“I’m glad you came for a visit,” Pippin said, crunching deeply into his apple. He leaned against the tree and stretched his legs out with a sigh of contentment.
“I thought it was time,” Frodo murmured. He turned his apple around in his hands, gazing at it as if he was searching for something important hidden within the bright yellow skin.
Pippin pretended not to notice, but the same shiver surged through him again.
“I’ve missed you, and the rest of the family,” Frodo continued.
“We’ve missed you too! I wish Merry had been able to join us as well. Although I understand Uncle Saradoc is keeping him quite busy these days.”
Frodo smiled. “Merry will have a great deal of responsibility when he assumes his role as Master of Buckland. I’m sure Saradoc wants him to learn all that he is able to teach him before then.”
“And the same goes for you.” Frodo pulled back and looked Pippin up and down. “You really have grown up. It happened so fast, I barely had time to notice.”
Pippin gave a shrug of one shoulder before finishing his apple and tossing it into the field.
“One of these days you’ll be the Thain.”
“Yes.” Pippin’s response was soft and wistful.
Frodo leaned close and touched Pippin’s shoulder. “What is it, Pip?”
“Sometimes I feel like I did when I was in my teens, as though everything is moving too swiftly, like a runaway pony, and all I want is for everything to slow down, just for awhile.”
“I recall another conversation we had, long ago. You didn’t want things to change then, either. You felt Merry was growing away from you, leaving you behind. You were afraid then that you would never catch up to him.” Frodo leaned back and squinted in the sunbeam that filtered through the trees. “And yet here you are.”
“Yes. All grown up. I think we’ve agreed on that already, Frodo. What are you trying to tell me?” Pippin searched his cousin’s face intently.
“Just what I did then. That everything will work out as it should, and--”
“And there’s a time and purpose for everything. You sound like Da, now.”
“Paladin is a wise hobbit. Your father knows what he’s talking about and you should listen.”
“He’s trying to prepare me for more changes. Ever since we returned he’s been doing that. It’s almost as if he knows what’s going to happen next.”
“Some things are inevitable, but I think getting older helps us all to see things more clearly, Pip. As for myself, I know there are many things I see more clearly as time goes on.”
“Yes?” Pippin raised an eyebrow. “Such as?”
Frodo chuckled and draped an arm around his cousin. “Such as the love I feel for my family. And for the beauty that surrounds me each day. How pleased I am that we were able to save the Shire and the rest of Middle-earth from the evils that threatened them.” Frodo gazed into the distance and his eyes seemed to lose focus. “I think most of all I am thankful for the satisfaction of knowing all this will live on and prosper in the coming years.”
Pippin held his breath, expecting more, but Frodo was silent. They sat for a long time like that, one arm slung across each other’s shoulder, until Pippin looked into his cousin’s eyes, and knew. Frodo gazed back at him solemnly.
“When will you leave?” Pippin’s question came out as a half-sob, but he caught himself and struggled to regain his composure.
“Because I must.”
And after a short time had passed, just as before, Frodo was unable to creep away without the companionship of his closest kin.
“A Time to Reap”
They didn’t speak of the departure again, but each day thereafter, Pippin kept watch with his heart.