BagEnd
Fic: Birthday Present - 'Ash Nazg' Challenge - Hobbit Smut Fan Fiction Challenge Community
Phurveyors of Phreferred Pheriannath Phorn
teawith
hobbit_smut
teawith
Fic: Birthday Present - 'Ash Nazg' Challenge
Author: teawith
Title: Birthday Present
Challenge: Hobbit Smut ‘Ash Nazg’ Challenge
Word Count: 3,412
Rating: PG
Pairing: Frodo/Merry (implied)
Warnings: Character death.
Summary: Everything at Bag End is perfect, isn’t it? But wouldn’t you know - the devil’s always in the details.
Notes: Roopie belongs to Baylor, I hope she doesn’t mind me mentioning it. I would think this is mostly Book canon – the Ring certainly thinks so...


“Merry,” asked Frodo idly of his best friend, one day, just before lunch, “Do you miss dear Bilbo as much as I do?”

Although it suddenly occurred to him that perhaps he’d been a little hasty in his question, for he’d remembered that Merry didn’t like to talk about Bilbo. Frodo hurriedly looked up from the accounts he was perusing, and saw that Merry was indeed troubled. His eyes were clouded, and he was frowning. It made Frodo’s heart beat faster, and fill with love for his best and most favourite cousin, who had always understood him, even at his worst, after his parents had drowned, and then after Bilbo had passed on. Who realised how much Bilbo had meant to Frodo, how he’d been as close as his father to him in a way, after taking him in and adopting him as he had done. Merry knew how much it had hurt Frodo when Bilbo died. In many ways, Frodo didn’t know what he would do without him. He had been so glad when Merry had decided to move in to support him, at least for a little while.

“It’s all right, you know,” he said quickly, not wanting to upset Merry further, “I wasn’t really dwelling on it, I know you’ve told me I shouldn’t. It was just an idle thought, because I was looking at these old accounts, and his handwriting is all over them.”

Frodo tipped the account book so that Merry could see the round copperplate hand of Bilbo, sprawling large across the page. It looked very bold next to Frodo’s own cramped style.

“Good gracious,” said Merry, “There is a lot of it, isn’t there? He’s left his mark all over the place. I hadn’t even thought.”

And Frodo smiled at that, at the sharp brightness of Merry’s tone, knowing he’d been forgiven, although he also knew that Merry would make him pay for such a gloomy observation before the end of the day. Probably with a particularly energetic game of roopie, or a devastatingly accurate thrashing at quoits. Perhaps once Pippin had arrived.

But Frodo knew too that he’d be laughing fit to burst by the end of it, laughing until his stomach hurt, and he knew it would serve him right. He loved Merry so much. He always had the best ways to get his own back.

***


Heavens, thought Pippin, as he dug his heels into his pony’s sides, I’m going to be late.

The prod from a horny hobbit foot made the pony crab sideways a little, and Pippin swore. He might have known. All the best animals had been taken out already, since it was market day in Hobbiton, and although that had certainly been Pippin’s excuse for visiting, it wasn’t actually his reason for riding over. But, what with one thing and another, he’d been late to the stables, and now, given this addle-footed nag, he’d even be late to lunch. It wouldn’t do.

Pippin didn’t want to miss Sam’s cooking, of course. And Frodo might be a little put out that he was late. But really it was Merry he was worried about. Merry would be upset. He always seemed to be upset these days. If things didn’t go perfectly to plan, then he went all quiet, or, even worse, became jolly and full of life - only it was a rude sort of life, too overblown and large. Like the last apples of autumn, round and red, and yet too sweet and full, ready to fall off the branch any moment into rot and decay. Pippin didn’t know what he could do about Merry when he went like that, and it left him a bit anxious. Which was distressing, because Pippin wasn’t at all the sort of hobbit who was anxious in the normal run of things.

So he patted his bulging saddle-bags to reassure himself, and his pony calmed under the touch.

“Stupid beast,” Pippin said, soothingly, “I wasn’t petting you.”

But he still smiled. It was a good omen, Pippin decided. Merry would like his present, and then everything would be all right. And Merry wouldn’t glare at him for being late. Or make him eat three times the number of scones he would normally want, just to make it up to him. Pippin hadn’t even realised he had a upper limit on scone consumption until Merry began this odd turn of behaviour. But anything for a quiet life, Pippin mused, thinking longingly of the old days. Although what exactly about them had been different, he found hard to put his finger on.

***


It were mad, really, Sam decided. What the gentry got up to, their odd starts and strange turns. It were more than an ordinary hobbit could keep up with, and no mistake. His Gaffer was right, there was no telling with some folks, and it wasn’t his place to question his betters, he knew that. But still…

Why did Master Merry wander the hallways of the smial at all hours of the night?

Bad dreams, Sam reckoned. Or, at least, it surely didn’t look as though Master Merry were awake as he walked, or as he sometimes stroked odd bits of furniture. Sam had called out to him a time or two, but he’d got no reply. He muttered to himself too, although Sam could never make out what he was saying. Not that he’d been listening, Sam assured himself. That wouldn’t be right. But he did follow him at times, just to make sure he didn’t hurt hisself. Surely no-one would argue against the rightness of that.

But it did make Sam ponder, even now, as he were taking young Master Pippin’s coat. Master Merry was looking ever so wide-eyed and cheerful, but Sam knew better. The poor lad must be fit for nothing more than to sleep the clock round, which probably explained that over-bright look in his eye. And the too-tight familial arm he threw round Master Pippin’s shoulders as he drew him within to the parlour.

No, it weren’t right, and since Master Merry was all but living here at Bag End now, after dear Master Bilbo had… Well. And him being such a comfort to Master Frodo, an’ all. Sam wanted him to be happy. To be the carefree young hobbit he should be, and not to have such bad dreams. There weren’t a lot he could do, of course, Sam knew that, but he was determined that he was going to try and help. Even if all he could think of at the moment was to brew Master Merry valerian tea before bed, and to hope that he drank it.

He was still pondering when Master Frodo called for the lunch to be brought into the dining room. Sighing, Sam put it out of his mind for now. All he knew was that things weren’t the same. Change never was for the good, or so his Gaffer said. Sometimes Sam thought he might even agree with him.

***


Dear Merry, thought Frodo, as he watched him fuss over Pippin, and press yet another sandwich onto his plate. He’s always so thoughtful, and makes a wonderful host. Much better than I am, really.

It certainly was very comforting to just let Merry take over, and arrange everything. He’d looked after the funeral, for example, and he’d arranged the most stupendous feast to send Bilbo off with. It was going to be talked about for years. He always knew exactly what things Frodo liked, what brought him the most pleasure. And Frodo almost spared a blush at that idle thought, which he would have been hard put to explain at the dining table.

Instead, he roused himself enough to lean forward and lift up his mug, still half full of ale, and raise it in a toast, while the mood was on him.

“What do you say? To friendship, my dearest of cousins,” said Frodo, smiling, and wondered why Pippin looked a little relieved when Merry sat back and smiled blindingly back at him. You’d almost think that Pippin was concerned about something, although what it could be, Frodo couldn’t think.

“Oh yes, toasts! That’s marvellous!” Pippin agreed, and raised his own mug to clink it with Frodo’s. “And after toasts comes presents, don’t you think? Since it’s market day, and everything.”

Frodo chuckled and watched Pippin’s enthusiasm carry him on.

“Or… Or… Because it’s a Wednesday! Or possibly, just possibly, because it will be my birthday next week...”

“Really, Pippin? We’d all quite forgotten,” Merry joked, and Frodo smiled again. Dear, dear, Merry. What would he do without him.

“Well, I could always go and find out if there are deserving families who need them more. If you’re not certain,” Pippin grinned back. “I’m sure Sam here could tell me if there were deserving families in the area, couldn’t you, Sam?”

“Oh yes, sir. If you had a mind.” And even Sam was smiling now. This was just what Frodo liked. His best friends all around him, a wonderful meal in front of him, and a surprise yet to come. What could be better than that?

***


His birthday! It would be wonderful, and there would be sandwiches, and cake, and toasted muffins, and all his friends, and whatever it was that had been bothering Merry would be all fixed. There was very little that couldn’t be fixed by a four course meal with all the trimmings, after all. Pippin decided he was as happy as a lark as he beamed round at the assembled company. He realised now, after several ales, how silly it had been for him to worry. It was such a good idea to give out his presents early like this, to his most especial friends. He was so glad he’d thought of it. And Merry was laughing now, and that was wonderful too, and Pippin had chosen particularly carefully for him, given his odd behaviour of late – there was no dusty old mathom inside the colourful tissue paper. Not that Frodo, or even Sam, didn’t deserve nice things, but somehow it didn’t seem to matter as much as it did for Merry.

Pippin was almost bouncing with excitement as he dived into his saddlebag. Hurriedly he brought out Frodo’s present, and the smaller one for Sam, before looking for Merry’s. There it was! He was extra specially careful as he drew the gift out. It would be terrible to break it at this late stage, and very deliberately didn’t think about what that might do to Merry’s mood.

Beaming with pride, Pippin placed it on the table and stepped back. It was lovely to see Merry all bright-eyed with cheer. Pippin held his breath as Merry unwrapped the tissue paper, and then the fine linen handkerchief he’d been given first to wrap it up in. Sam made a strangled sound as the present was slowly revealed. Pippin watched, and then laughed with pleasure as Merry changed colour, from rosy pink to white, and then flushing a heavy red, before he gasped and sat down.

“It is a beautiful pipe, isn’t it, Merry?” said Pippin, in triumph, “I found it in Bucklebury you know. At Tobias’s – I know how much you love his work. But I managed to buy it before anyone else had seen it - Tobias himself promised me that it was unique and that no-one else would have a pipe like it. So you can relax, and let everyone admire it, and the wonderful smoke rings you’ll be able to blow. Merry, you do like it, don’t you? Don’t you?”

Merry looked up, and were his eyes glittering? Pippin almost felt a lump come to his own throat at that. Birthdays were wonderful things. He did so like making his friends happy.

“Yes, Pippin,” said Merry, in a hoarse voice, “I do like it. It was just so unexpected, that’s all. Although perhaps I should never assume anything. I’ll remember that in the future. Thank you.”

And Pippin beamed again. He’d never seen Merry so overcome. Sam too looked like he couldn’t believe his eyes. What a success! How lovely! He raised his own mug in another toast, and then took a satisfied pull. This had been a very good idea indeed.

***


It were very late, for the fire was burned down to glowing embers in the grate, and the candles were merest stubs, although that was still plenty of light for Sam to finish off his duties. The plates made a shrill squeaking noise as Sam scraped them off, preparatory to giving them a good soak overnight. It were enough to give him a headache, he reckoned, or why else would his poor head throb so?

He ignored the flutter in his chest, and the dull heaviness of limbs tired at the end of a long day, yet still twitching with an odd tension. He ignored that because what else could he do? Perhaps it was a telling thing, that he’d come here, into the small scullery, with its large stone tubs and wooden drying racks. It was the quietest part of the smial, Sam thought. A place a body could think. A dark shadowy nook, with only the reflected candlelight from the kitchen to illuminate his work.

And he weren’t hiding, whatever anyone thought. No, of course, he weren’t. He was just trying to think.

It didn’t stop him jumping a bit though when he heard the kitchen door creak open. And he’d been meaning to have a go at that hinge with a drop of oil, one of these days. A person could have a right funny turn at the noise, if he didn’t get them hinges seen to…

But it was only Master Merry, coming in for his valerian tea, like as not. Sam nearly called out to him, because it was only Master Merry, when all was said and done. But something stopped up his throat as close as if he’d been choked, something in the set of Merry’s shoulders, in his wide eyes. Something that tickled at Sam’s memory, like a trout might tickle his fingers in the stream. And something just as cold. It were worse than when Master Merry was sleep-walking somehow. Sam had never felt afraid then, just a kind of overwhelming pity, little though Master Merry would want that.

So he kept quiet, and instead watched as Merry looked around, at the dim kitchen, at the pans set for scrubbing, at the black kettle on its hook. Sam wished he knew why he wanted Master Merry to leave again, without seeing him. Why he wanted that with all his heart. But it was with a fine sense of inevitability that Merry turned to the little scullery and smiled slowly, easily. Sam clutched the pot scourer to himself and bobbed his head.

But Merry only strolled over and leaned against the doorjamb. “There you are, Sam.”

And his voice was the same as always, rich and warm, with that faint Buckland burr. Somehow that made it worse.

“Sir,” he tried, his own voice rough, and higher than he’d like.

Merry’s gaze flicked round the little room, taking in its stone sinks, and the mangle in the corner, and the buckets that waited to be taken out and filled from the well.

“I have a problem, you know,” he said gently, and Sam swallowed, his throat dry and dusty. “I think you can help me with it, Sam.”

“I’m always happy to help, sir,” said Sam, and be damned if his voice didn’t crack a little, long years though it had been since he last had to worry about that.

Merry smiled gently, and pulled his handkerchief from his pocket. “I only want you to wash this for me. I think it got a little dirty carrying my pipe over from the Great Smials. Would you do that for me, Sam?”

“Now, sir? So late, and all,” Sam tried, making no move to take it from Merry’s outstretched hand.

“I think it has to be now, you know. I really think it does.”

And Sam swallowed, before reaching out and taking the folded linen, and his skin was crawling, and he knew it weren’t Master Merry’s hanky, not once he’d seen it, he just knew it weren’t. He’d known at dinner, really, when Merry had first unwrapped it. And there was the ‘B’ stitched into the corner, all twining curlicues and fanciful leaves, you could barely tell it was a ‘B’ – unless you knew, oh yes, you knew – because you recognised it, because you’d sewed it, and your blood was in it, pricked from your thumb, where you darned so fine, and there… Yes, there

A damp spot now, just one teardrop, fallen onto soft, white fabric. It could absorb it all, absorb it and keep mum. It could, but could Sam?

“I saw you, Sam – you recognised this little insignificant square of cloth, the same as I did. And I want you to tell me when you saw it last. If you would.”

His voice was so very coaxing – he might have been trying to persuade Master Pippin to come down from a tree, or Master Frodo to put aside his papers and laugh again, and it made Sam so sad somehow, amidst all his fright. For Master Merry wasn’t so changed. He still loved and cared for his friends, his family. Nothing had really altered.

Except for this small piece of history, and the story it told.

“It were…” he began, before faltering, and then starting again afresh. “It were on the day Mr Bilbo drownded in the Water. So early he went out, for that last walk of his. No-one saw him but me, and he took his hazel stick, and his bottle green coat, and he had a handkerchief tucked in his pocket, like always. And when they pulled him out, he still had his coat, and the stick washed up in the millpond, but his handkerchief… Well, that had gone into the water, and washed far away. Washed down into the Brandywine, it looks like. And now it’s come back. Here to Bag End, where it was sewed, where there was no-one else but me to notice it, or to know what was in Mr Bilbo’s pockets, on that last day.”

“But you’re wrong,” said Merry, still in such a reasonable tone, so even and so warm, “Surely you know you’re wrong, dear Sam. For I recognised it, did I not? And how could I do that, if you were the only one who knew?”

Sam closed his eyes, and bowed his head. “Because there’s one other who might know, sir. If Mr Bilbo met someone on the banks of the Water, if he… argued with them, maybe. Or if there was something Mr Bilbo had that the other wanted. Hidden under a handkerchief, p’raps. Then that person would know. If that person pushed Mr Bilbo into the Water, or… held him under. Then that person would know.”

“It’s a pity,” said Merry, and now his voice was brittle, and bright, although still so very gentle. And it was closer too. Sam’s gaze lifted involuntarily, to catch and lock with grey eyes, under that familiar determined brow. “It really is. Frodo calls you his ‘dear Sam’ – but then he does that for everyone. Had you noticed? Everyone is ‘dear this’ or ‘dear that’. And he’d been getting restless, and Bilbo had been talking about Rivendell again. It wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t be happy like that. Wandering about the country, getting into scrapes, missing his meals. It really wouldn’t do.”

Sam swallowed, and thought about duty. Thought about the odd starts his betters could get up to, and still he would be expected to turn a blind eye. Thought about what his old Gaffer would say, and how much Sam had loved old Mr Bilbo. And his fingers clenched into fists.

“It won’t do you any good, you know,” came that voice again, somehow full of cold heat, and forged iron, “He’s too precious to me. I can’t allow you to win. And Bilbo had the power. All that power. He wasn’t even using it…”

For one more second, they stared at each other. It weren’t even madness in Master Merry’s eyes.

Then the shadows shifted and he was gone.

Sam never even felt the first blow.
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Comments
jewelsong From: jewelsong Date: November 3rd, 2006 02:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh my! This is excellent! I literally caught my breath when I got to the end! Well done indeed!
teawith From: teawith Date: November 6th, 2006 12:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you. I wanted it to be just the same. Everything the same, except with a hint of wrongness. I think they're the best horror stories - hope I suceeded a bit...
(Deleted comment)
teawith From: teawith Date: November 6th, 2006 12:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! Although I must admit, I wasn't as happy with it as I could have been. My hobbit voice is becoming harder these days...
cookiefleck From: cookiefleck Date: November 4th, 2006 01:30 am (UTC) (Link)
You broke my heart at the end but it was worth it... great story. *sobs for Sam*
teawith From: teawith Date: November 6th, 2006 12:27 am (UTC) (Link)
It didn't quite fit in with the fic as it ended up written, but I was going to have Merry throw Sam in the well once he was unconscious, since drowning Frodo's loved ones seemed to resonate in this fic. Although possibly that is TMI - very sorry, if so!
cookiefleck From: cookiefleck Date: November 6th, 2006 05:46 am (UTC) (Link)
Yikes! No, not TMI... I love Sam and I love h/c, even without the "c" - heh - so whatever you wanted to throw at me would have been fine. But I think you made an excellent literary choice to end it as you did... much more effective.

Hmmm, reminds me a little of Shirley Jackson (and that's a huge compliment!).
sophinisba From: sophinisba Date: November 4th, 2006 04:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow, that was fantastic! I got really caught up in it, especially the last scene. I love Merry dearly and I think for that reason I really enjoyed being scared of him. I'm so glad you wrote this!
teawith From: teawith Date: November 6th, 2006 12:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm not sure it came across as written, but I think I would always be the most scared of Merry, if he took the ring - he's so *efficient*. A truly scary prospect.
mariole From: mariole Date: November 4th, 2006 06:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow! Creeeeeeepy Merry. What will they all do after Sam disappears. Run, Pippin, run! You'll be next! *hides someplace far away*
teawith From: teawith Date: November 6th, 2006 12:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Only if Pippin works it out, which he might, after Sam dies... And then Merry will have to be more drastic, and... Well, it doesn't end well. How can it?
mariole From: mariole Date: November 6th, 2006 04:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Precisely so. More, more! *pounds table*
claudia603 From: claudia603 Date: November 5th, 2006 03:08 am (UTC) (Link)
oh my gosh, that last line was just a punch to the gut! Brilliant!
teawith From: teawith Date: November 6th, 2006 12:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Poor Sam - I hated writing it, but he had to go. This is a horror kind of story, after all...
addie71 From: addie71 Date: November 5th, 2006 07:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow. You broke my heart. So sad and dark. My poor sweet Sam. And Pippin. And Frodo.
teawith From: teawith Date: November 6th, 2006 12:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Just like Bag End ought to be, except... Well. It wasn't quite right, was it? *shivers*
trianne From: trianne Date: November 5th, 2006 11:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, feel so cold and shivery now - you did a great job! Poor Sam, if only he could have kept his conclusions secret. And poor Bilbo *hugs Bilbo*
teawith From: teawith Date: November 6th, 2006 12:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, but would Merry have believed him? Would Sam have been able to resist the Ring and keep mum even if he'd tried? We'll never know... And I'm glad someone cared about Bilbo - I had in my mind Merry basically heading right down Gollum's path, although he's a bit cleverer than Gollum, and might last a bit longer before he's discovered.
danachan From: danachan Date: November 6th, 2006 01:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I want to say something great about this but I keep finding myself at a loss for words, but I am going to try again and hopefully this will work. Anyhow, I love how it is so wrong but on the surface things are not very, well, different. That really works here and the story is just, well, great.
ourdramaqueen From: ourdramaqueen Date: November 13th, 2006 08:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ooooooh creepy!!! I love how it's the little things that no one can quite put a finger on that make all the difference... and Frodo blissfully ignoring them. Poor Sam! *shudder*
elanorgardner From: elanorgardner Date: December 15th, 2006 05:56 am (UTC) (Link)
It feels like a Ray Bradbury story to me. All bright and shiny, but if you look closely, something is just not right and then BOOM.

So sad. And so realistic. If Merry claimed the ring, it would be just like that. His love for his cousin would be twisted into something mad and perverted.

Wonderful work! Thanks for participating in the challenge!
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