Twice Given

by Poncing Ponies

Disclaimer: Not mine, JRRT's.

Author's note: Thanks very very much to Kati and The Watcher for the beta.


Frodo woke up that morning, thinking nothing could improve the sweet, cloudless day. Nothing that is, until he was running breathlessly, arms flying in the air, towards a cart full of fireworks driven by an old man dressed in grey. Frodo had tormented himself so long with the prospect of Gandalf's return to the Shire that he had been forced to remove it completely from his mind, until eventually he forgot to agonize over every minute the wizard delayed.

Frodo strove for maximal Hobbit speed to get to the greeting mound, and either by kind calculation or fortunate chance, Gandalf halted his horse at the same spot. Frodo stood on a hill carpeted with grass and was afforded a good view of the wizard. As Gandalf raised his head and Frodo began to catch glimpses of his eyebrows beneath the wide brim of his pointed hat, he felt suddenly shy. Hot with eagerness to welcome Gandalf and yet panicked by what Gandalf might think of him now that Frodo had changed in the missing years, in the end he only managed to say, rather petulantly, "You're late." And to blush hard at the whining tone of his voice.

Gandalf looked up slowly, setting his devastatingly bright eyes on Frodo's face. Caught in the center of the wizard's gaze, Frodo watched Gandalf's lips move behind the wild growth of his whiskers and could only think in awe, as he always did: that must be a magically talented mouth. He caught something about a 'Wizard's timing', 'lateness' and 'precision', but it was the twitch at the side of those thin, soft-looking lips that brought him back and set him off, tossing back his head with laughter. Hearing the low, rumbling laugh from Gandalf, Frodo was relieved. He threw himself across his friend, for Gandalf could not have become a stranger if they could still share these jokes with no shape or point, only so many teasing glances.

Gandalf marveled at the size of the Hobbit landing in his lap. Frodo had grown no taller, of course. And his face was eerily the same as when Gandalf had last seen him in his mid-twenties, even if the heart-melting childishness of his looks had transformed into a wholesome handsomeness. But he was much heavier and felt denser in Gandalf's arms. He felt the firmness of Frodo's stomach soon enough as he set the Hobbit down beside him. Even though he did not mean to, his hand seemed to naturally stray onto Frodo's shoulders and back. Frodo stayed where he was put, with one hand wound about the side to keep from toppling out of the man-sized cart, and began to ask questions.

Such a strange temperament for a hobbit, thought Gandalf, he hardly fidgets, keeps quite politely on his end of the seat, despite his obvious anxiousness for news of the greater world. And a Hobbit who wants to know what happens outside of the Shire! Frodo will have to be watched, though he seems to be he is much in love with Hobbiton. Gandalf could not help but want to keep two eyes firmly on Frodo, lest he be swept off to some adventure without Gandalf.

"And where are you going, wizard?" Frodo said, growing bold at last, a gleam in his eyes that made Gandalf wary, for here was Hobbit cunning at work.

"To your Uncle Bilbo's house, where else?" Gandalf answered, guiding the cart through the green countryside.

"You mean my house," Frodo took over the reins from Gandalf's, whose fingers clenched, reluctant to let them go. "There's my name on the post box, too."

"Silly young hobbit," Gandalf wrestled the reins back from Frodo's hands. "I should speak to Bilbo and caution him against leaving his inheritance to such a young upstart."

"Say what you like, Bilbo is quite sold on me," and the shadow that passed through Frodo's eyes, like a cloud over a deep pond, disturbed Gandalf's heart. "He is willing to leave me all his treasures, but he persistently refuses to let me go with him."

And the hobbit looked so sullen and lost at this prospect of the future that Gandalf's brows pulled together into a sympathetic frown. Gently he gave over the leather tether and willow stick to Frodo, for he knew the hobbit loved driving his cart and sought to comfort him in what small ways he could.

"Sometimes, my dear Hobbit, we will disregard the ones we love in order to love them better, at a distance," said Gandalf, thinking upon his own recent reluctance to visit the Shire. He felt as if the

dust of the wider world clung to his cloak's hem and he sullied the Shire with his presence, bringing it unfavorable fortune. Yet, it was only here amidst the Hobbits, that Gandalf could find respite from his journeys and worries. Gandalf thought of the tales of the giants of old, who in order to remain invincible left their hearts buried beneath ancient wells and lived far away from the organ that gave them life. He might have to ask Samwise Gamgee to go digging in the yard of Bag End and help him find his own heart.

Frodo of course could not guess the hopeless affection Gandalf felt for him and was hardly soothed by the wizard's statement. A rare angry grimace flashed over his face. "That is exactly the sort of thing I would expect you to say. Bad riddles. With nary a laugh in them!"

Quite affronted by that, Gandalf glared at Frodo. "Well, if you think so poorly of my conversation, I'm sure I can find my own way to Bag End. Or would you tell me the hole sprouted arms and dug itself into a new hill in the middle of the night? As Hobbits are wont to do, when an unwelcome guest arrives."

Frodo looked at Gandalf with an attempt to narrow his huge eyes fiercely. But he seemed so much like a rabbit trying to menace a wolf that already, in his heart, Gandalf forgave Frodo his remark. There was more behind this patchy dialogue. Frodo seemed determined to catch meaning in the murk and bring it to Gandalf's attention. And just why this preoccupation with an old wizard's comings and goings? Gandalf would have thought that beautiful young hobbits had better things to do!

"I'm not a liar, if that's what you imply with that mean line about hobbits," Frodo said, but his voice was not harsh, only quiet and sorry. "Most hobbits keep faith with their promises, unlike wizards I've known, who play with words, like dwarves with metal."

"You know a Wizard, and I'm not the best example of my fellows." Gandalf smiled with some confusion, for Frodo was using an odd tone with him, a high lilting accent, as if he had been spurned. This Gandalf did not like. Frodo could not know Gandalf's feelings or intentions. He could not know why Gandalf abandoned the Shire, traveling far and wide in his attempts to counter the growing Shadow to the South, tramping around the wilderness for indeterminable lengths. "What is this about? I came as soon as I could."

"You said you would visit every year!" Frodo cried and cringed at how like a wail his complaint was-not surprisingly, for his heart hurt from all the waiting he'd had to do and the doubts he'd had to answer for himself. "But for nine years you did not! And when Bilbo sent you the invitation to his eleventy-first, you did not reply until the sixth letter! Then you wrote that you would come presently, as soon as your pressing business was completed. So I hoped through the months and weeks, and you, foiling all the plans I had for that time, turn up a mere week before Bilbo's Party-when we shall have no free time to do anything!"

Gandalf was silent for a while, thinking, then blinking, he looked to Frodo and his voice was warm. "If I could, I would have been here with you and Bilbo many times during those nine years. But tell me of those grand schemes you'd plotted. What did they entail, Frodo?"

"Hide and Seek in the woods, with you lost for hours and the hobbit children giggling loudly in the shrubs." Frodo gave a rather watery smile. "Picnics by the river where Bilbo could fail to catch fish and you fail to cook them. Napping and chatting in the afternoons, with you and Bilbo smoking such a lot of pipeweed that the house looks a misty mountain at dawn. Storytelling at Dinner and Supper, with you and Bilbo vying for Merry and Pippin's oohs and ahhs."

Tender feelings welled up in Gandalf during this. "I did not know, Frodo, that you missed me so. Or I would have put down the most urgent tasks and come to be with you." This Gandalf said in all honesty, for the answer to all his questions had been answered implicitly in Frodo's short account of his fondest wishes for them.

Frodo seemed shocked by that. He began to mutter exasperatedly under his breath. "... seasoned fox ... shan't let him know ... teased forever..."

"What was that, my dear Frodo?"

Frodo shot an irritated look at Gandalf and said, much too loudly: "... I wasn't pining after you!"

Gandalf's shoulders began to shake violently, and for a moment his beard caught reflections off the ripples in the river that plated his entire person in merry silver as he laughed. "I wouldn't dare to suggest such a thing."

"You needn't say a word, Gandalf," Frodo grumbled. "You know that you are my very favourite, besides Bilbo. I made a pest of myself, begging him to repeat the invitations to you. Enduring Bilbo's teasing. He always says 'Aren't I good enough company for you, favourite nephew? What do you want with that wandering wizard?' Please, Gandalf, let me be your favourite and tell me all your secrets. And even though you've missed so many of my birthdays in succession, each time I see you, you never let me get away before you know every dream in my head."

"Do you feel that I pry into your affairs too much, Frodo?" Gandalf said as the horse slowed down. When Frodo did not reply, the wizard remained in thought, even after they came to a stop before Bag End. Frodo loved him, to be sure. But just what kind of love was it? And worse yet, why did Gandalf feel such an intense desire to know precisely the nature of Frodo's newly revealed longing for his company?

Frodo sighed at the sight of Gandalf, sitting motionless as a statue in the cart, and he jumped down to start unloading the fireworks.

"You've done it to him again, Frodo," Bilbo called out as he came out of the hole. He was followed by Sam, who quickly went to help Frodo. "He'll be stuck like that for hours."

"I'll go ready his room," Frodo said rather quietly and walked away with Sam, heading for the door.

"Hail, Gandalf," Bilbo said with a sly grin and a sarcastic manner. "How are you, my dear Bilbo? I am well, Gandalf. How are you? Why, Gandalf, you're as lively to talk to as the Town Hall!"

Gandalf shook himself out of his reverie, feeling quite sheepish for losing himself in thoughts about Frodo (Frodo!). He followed Bilbo into the hallway, replying regularly, 'no, thank you,' to the numerous offers of food.

"But, Gandalf!" Bilbo set the teapot down with a clatter. "You must eat presently, for it is time for Lunch."

With a start, Gandalf eyed the sun through the windows and though he hated to admit it, saw that the shadows were indeed directly beneath the trees. He ought not have rushed the ride and interrupted a Hobbit Lunch, but he had been overly eager to get away from Frodo's oddly intense accusations of faithlessness. And now he was ensnared, for on precisely the word Lunch, Merry and Pippin rushed into the kitchen.

They came brandishing cutlery and plates, lifting the chains of spoons, not keys, from their belts and sat down, one on each side of Gandalf. And even before Hobbit buttocks touched wooden bench, Gandalf felt a dizzy spell coming up at the prospect of sitting between these two. Sam came to the table with trays full of food, cheese sandwiches, vegetable soup, cold ham and jellied meats, and goblets of juice. Slurping milk and grabbing at cakes, the younger hobbits waited until their mouths were full before beginning to speak.

"Good to see you, Gandalf!" Gandalf made out through the mashed potatoes in Merry's mouth.

"We missed you, Gandalf!" might have been what Pippin meant behind his salad.

"Where is Mr. Frodo?" asked Sam, when he finished loading the table and sat down beside Bilbo. "He's not skipping Lunch again, is he? That's not healthy!"

That got Gandalf's attention.

"Skipping Lunch," Bilbo shook his head, wrangling a bread roll. "When word of this gets out, he'll be known as the queerest Hobbit in Hobbiton. Alas, there goes another bit of my old glory."

"I won't tell anybody, Mr Bilbo!" Sam nodded earnestly, passing a big knob of butter to Bilbo on the tip of his knife. "Mr Frodo must have his reasons."

"I wonder," Gandalf drank the last spoonful of his soup. "Did you know, Bilbo, he asked me for a birthday present in the letter enclosed with your invitation?"

Bilbo shrugged. "If I were one of those hobbits set in their ways, I'd say it was preposterous, asking for a present on his birthday. But I am not, so who am I to judge? But it is odd. Ah, how I love

Frodo, he is always so ... surprising!"

"You dote on him," Gandalf said and pushed his plate (full of fruit) to his left (for Pippin to grab) and his bowl (of honeyed cream) to his right (for Merry to lick off his fingers) and lit his pipe.

"Whenever I can," Bilbo was not in the least troubled. "He's a good scholar and does his chores willingly, helps me write out my chapters and even balances my books. Never runs around 'picking up stray vegetables' with these two." Bilbo pinched Merry and Pippin, who would have complained had not their mouths been stuffed with the offerings of Bilbo's generous table. Bilbo went on, "And Frodo even helps Sam out around the estate. Truthfully, I rather enjoy his 'moods'."

"It must take one Baggins to appreciate another," Gandalf muttered, puffing at his pipe. When Sam sat open-mouthed at the smoke floating up to form question marks above the wizard's head, Bilbo laughed, spraying some crumbs.

"Well, I'm done," Gandalf stood up when his pipe was finished and looked out the windows again. "It is now 1 o'clock, so I suppose that will give me two more hours before Lunch ends."

"Then I'm afraid we won't be able to talk until Tea. I'll need a nap after Lunch," Bilbo patted his hand. "Are you sure you don't want to stay for the rest of Lunch?"

"I'm quite full, and a bit tired," said Gandalf, "I'll just go unpack in my room and perhaps take a nap myself."

"Mr Frodo must still be there. Would you take him, um, this pie, that is, if you like, Mr Gandalf, please?" Sam asked tentatively. Gandalf smiled at him and took the proffered plate.

Frodo was busily arranging a milk jug full of daisies beside a pitcher and basin on a table when Gandalf stepped in. He turned without comment and began to sweep the floor. Gandalf watched him push the dust across tiles for a while. He noticed now how slender-limbed Frodo was for a hobbit and how ruddy his full cheeks were.

"Why do you want to be a man rather than a hobbit, Frodo?" Gandalf said suddenly, as he sat down on the bed.

Frodo dropped the broom with a little yelp and turned startled eyes on Gandalf. They were especially bright, like the sky after a hard rain, and the wizard wondered with a shock if he had been weeping.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Frodo turned his face to look out the window, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Bilbo told me you've been skipping Lunch," Gandalf said evenly.

"I, um ..." Frodo lowered his head guiltily, his dark brown curls dropped over his neck and chin.

"And you asked this of me." Gandalf took out a small package from his cloak. The parcel was covered in crimson paper and tied with green ribbons of silk. Frodo's eyes widened as he saw the beautiful present.

"Well, come and unwrap it." Gandalf patted the mattress.

Frodo needed no more urging. He clambered up the big bed, which Bilbo had ordered long ago especially for the times when Gandalf visited, and scooted close, eyeing the gift and biting his bottom lip between his teeth. When Frodo glanced up at Gandalf's face, the wizard looked neither happy nor upset but simply wore a neutral expression as he handed Frodo the rustling parcel.

"It is very fine," Frodo said in a whisper as he touched the neat bows, savouring their shine before beginning to untie them. "Thank you, Gandalf."

Gandalf let out a weak breath and patted Frodo's curls. "You are very welcome, Frodo."

With infinite care and patience, Frodo untied the ribbons and pulled away the wrapping. His breath caught when he saw the pair of embroidered slippers. Dainty silvery things that looked as if they were spun from cobwebs and dew, decorated with a pattern of coral and shells.

"Made by the Elves who dwell near the sea before the winds of the world turn favourable for sailing West," Gandalf told him. "Soft and silky enough even for hobbit feet that had never been shod before. Do you like them?"

Frodo dropped his eyes and stared at the shoes in his lap. "Yes, I suppose. They are very pretty."

Gandalf drew back, gloom clouding his face and making the generous features look sharp. "You don't like them."

"I ..." Frodo reached out for the sleeve of the wizard's robe, tugging to appease him. "I asked for your mathom. As I said, something like a pair of your boots."

And Frodo looked at Gandalf's feet with a burning hunger in his eyes.

"But why?" Gandalf felt the urge to tuck his feet out of sight.

"Because I wanted a token from you!" Passion overcame misery, and Frodo blurted out the truth. "I wanted those awful leather prisons that have traveled with you. Those sacks of heels and laces, in which you tread through Middle-earth and beyond. The boots you walk away from me in!"

"Frodo, for shame!" Gandalf retreated awkwardly toward the head of the bed as Frodo stood up on the mattress and menaced him.

"I wanted the intimate articles of Gandalf the Grey, so I can slip my hobbit feet in them and be with you, when you are off on your adventures--with nary a thought for a foolish, love-mad hobbit," Frodo clutched the neck of Gandalf's robe, blue eyes ablaze, with such bravery it shook Gandalf.

Frodo peered steadfastly into the wizard's eyes, feeling so daring that the crazed hammering of his heart felt like but a battle drum urging him on. And although he expected the most considerate refusal ever uttered in Middle-earth and his stomach already rebelled with nausea at the pain of impending heartbreak, all Frodo could think of was how close he'd taken himself to Gandalf's face, how near the wizard's mouth was, and how much his body was trembling at that proximity. Frodo breathed deeply through his nose and surged forward.

"Blisters," Gandalf hissed the word like a warding charm, his eyes squeezed shut, his hands tight fists by his side.

Frodo froze.

"Painful cuts, bleeding scrapes, huge blisters, cracked heels and ugly dry skin on the side of your smallest toes," Gandalf listed blindly. "Boots are infinitely unsuitable for hobbits. You'd scarcely get out the door before your calves cramped and your ankles twisted. Then Bilbo will chase me around waving his Sting, for giving such an inappropriate gift to his beloved heir."

Gandalf knew he ought to be relieved when he felt Frodo's hands slip away from his shoulders and heard the bed creak as Frodo slipped down onto the floor, but he felt such a loss deep in his chest. And the small sigh that Frodo heaved made his regret swell to high tide.

"You can open your eyes now," Frodo said.

But Gandalf did not want to, for he wanted to keep the vision he saw last--the intense look on Frodo's face, brows knitted as he professed his love. Gandalf knew that as soon as he opened his eyes, he would see a new Frodo, one who would never again look at him as he had a minute ago, a Frodo who would never again ask him for anything, least of all the returning of love.

Gandalf felt something slip out from under his lashes, and though the tears quickly disappeared into his beard, he snapped open his eyes, horrified. And then he did see Frodo, who was standing by the door, as if waiting politely to say, "Good-bye, see you at Tea."

"Please, Frodo, I'm sorry. Don't go. Uh ... have some pie with me?"

Gandalf paused and gritted his teeth. Even being one of the Wise, sometimes he said the stupidest things!

"All right," Frodo nodded, before Gandalf could take back the silly invitation.

They sat, a foot of space between them, on the bed Frodo had just newly sheeted and ate lamb pie, getting flaky pastry onto the pillows and quilt.

"I don't like you fasting," Gandalf said, sneaking a look at Frodo from the corner of his eyes. "Hobbits are handsome creatures when they are a little round."

"It's not that," Frodo gave a faint smile. "I just find not gorging myself at midday helps me with the numbers in the afternoon when I see to Uncle Bilbo's finances. They are rather tricky."

"Oh," Gandalf's cheeks heated a little.

"I didn't do it out of vain hopes of pleasing you, or anything," Frodo winked with a tight little smile.

Gandalf found his mouthful of pie hard to swallow. He let Frodo finish the last bits and told him that he was a little tired from his journey and wanted a rest. Frodo was helping to brush the crumbs from the bed, when his hand touched the abandoned Elven slippers and he hesitated for a long moment.

"Please take it, Happy Coming of Age, Frodo," Gandalf said into his pillow, lying curled on the bed with his back to Frodo and the door.

He heard the sound of paper and silk, as Frodo picked up the present.

"Thank you, Gandalf," Frodo walked around the bed so that Gandalf could see, through half-opened eyes, Frodo's hands firmly clasping the slippers. The sight made Gandalf wretched with longing.

"And because it is a habit for hobbits to give presents on their birthdays," said Frodo. "This I had prepared for you, for some time."

And Frodo bent down and kissed Gandalf, rubbing his lips over the wizard's mouth, swiping with his tongue and biting delicately. And Gandalf opened his own mouth, because while it is merely impolite to refuse to give a present to a hobbit, one must never ever refuse a present from a hobbit on his birthday, especially when it is twice given.

End

Read the sequel to this story in Thrice Returned by Nefertiti