Nothing of Note

by Primula

Chapter 54: Embers and Buttons

Having been up so late the night before, Bilbo was mildly surprised at himself when he awoke to the faint blue-grey of dawn approaching outside his open window. The only sound coming through was the faint twittering of the every earliest birds among his flowering shrubs.  Considering he had planned a nice late brunch after a thorough sleeping-in, he plumped his pillow and pulled the blanket up, trying to recapture the shreds of his dreams. The light was turning rosy before he gave up.  Pulling on the rumpled clothing dropped by his bed the night before, he very quietly tiptoed out to the kitchen to build the fire up and warm a kettle for tea.  Confident of his own early morning stealth, he peered down the hall at Frodo's door: it was slightly ajar, and dark inside the room just as it had been the night before. Thus it was he about jumped out of his skin when he rounded the corner to find Frodo already sitting at the table.

Frodo raised his brows at him in silent commentary.

"I didn't expect you would be up." Bilbo whispered.

"Obviously." Frodo whispered.

"It's very early." he whispered back, an obvious observation.

"Yes. Why are we whispering?" Frodo returned just as quietly.

Bilbo blinked. "So I don't wake myself up," he whispered, and reached up for the jar of tea leaves.

Frodo smiled and held up his mug. "It's already made," he said, in a more normal tone. "I woke up early, so I went ahead and started it going. I think I put in too much, though, better have some cream with it." 

Bilbo poured some tea, took a sip and coughed slightly. "Pass the cream."

"Sorry. I'm used to larger pots."

"Well, on the good side, at least we'll have no trouble keeping our eyes open today."

Frodo sipped at his own. "So. Why are you up so early?"

"I might ask the same." Bilbo poured in a generous amount of cream. "What did you think of that picnic?"

Frodo shrugged. "I'd have to think about it for a while."

"That bad, eh?  Pass me those old biscuits, over there."

"They're hard as rocks."

"Makes good pocket food. Doesn't turn to crumbles that way, and takes a long time to chew." He gathered up a handful. "I'm going for a walk."

"Then I'll come with you."

They both stocked their pockets with hard biscuits and topped off their mugs of tea.  Frodo followed Bilbo to the front entry where he unlatched the door and and stepped out into the freshness of the early summer morning. 

Standing on the front steps Bilbo paused to simply enjoy that certain type of quiet that only comes at dawn; an unruffled pond...snow that had never yet been stepped on.  Frodo stood beside him in silent understanding to share it.  Somewhere off in the distance, a dog barked.  Smoke was just beginning to rise from the chimneys, wisping up into the air until the first bits of sunlight could catch their fading haze far overhead.  Farmers were eating their breakfasts, heading to their fields before the heat of the day arrived. At their feet, the sleepy flowers in the garden lay cool with the slight dew of summer like birds with folded wings, their petals yet softly closed.

Twin wisps of steam rose up from the mugs they carried as they both started down the steps. Pale light made the whitewashed gate glow slightly against the darker road behind it. Without a word Bilbo opened the gate and Frodo gently closed it behind them. They walked down the road in comfortable silence until they reached the green, where the picnic had been only the night before.

What a difference a few hours can make, thought Bilbo. The dawning green seemed to have little relation to his memory of the night.  He recalled the star-scattered sky, the warm golden fires and soft, dry grasses. Now the cold dew-dampened ashes were slightly acrid in his nostrils, the sweet grass trampled and bent. It would recover quickly enough, he knew, but the contrast seemed to give it a starkness that it had lacked before.

He walked along the hedge line, over towards the dead circle of ash, musing. So much of life seemed to be like the fires... most hobbits were content to burn slow and steady, never losing their shape, logs that slowly grew less and less until they simply crumbled in one day and were gone.  Acrid and cold and useless, sinking back into the earth and leaving no lasting mark. And what of himself? He would consider himself content with that slow burning, usually, but there were other times... times when he longed to burn hot and fast, to crack and spark and leap for the stars until he was drawn out into nothing. To burn brightly, to leave a lasting memory where he once was.

He nudged a bit of cold burnt log with his toe, where it lay only half-consumed. That was the danger of it, though, he thought.  That he might burn so quickly he would be spent before he was quite used up. And then what would be left? A cold, spark-less bit of hobbit to kick around underfoot until he simply faded away?  Someone who always lived only to remember when they once burned with that adventure... No, he thought with a strange determination. I shall be quite used up.  I will keep on burning, I will flame and spark until my very last bit of life lays glowing, a gold-traced ember in the ashes of older deeds around me.  No sitting and fading away like the Old Took...No...

He glanced up at Frodo, who was wandering along beside him, his tea only half-emptied, lost in his own thoughts.

And here was someone with whom he could share such ideas. If he wrote it all down as a verse, the fire and life, Frodo would understand what he had meant by it. He wouldn't just say 'Oh, how interesting,' and mean nothing by it. He wouldn't brush it off, humoring his old relative. No, he would say 'I've felt that same way, many times... let's talk about it...'  He gave the log one last nudge and continued around in a long arc towards the road.

As he walked he chewed on the edge of one of his biscuits, pleasantly tasting the baked flour, butter and salt.  He emptied the last of his tea, in spite of the bits of poorly-strained tea-leaf that flecked the dregs.

"It seems so different in the morning, without the fire, doesn't it?" said Frodo, trying to chew on one of the hard biscuits.

"Yes." Bilbo replied with a slight smile. "Yes, it does."



Back inside, and warmed through by a more proper breakfast,  Bilbo sat in the sunlight of the parlour window mending his buttons. He carefully threaded his needle and sewed the loose ones on good and tight, so they wouldn't become any looser. He had noticed that they were jut a bit too bendy the day before when he went to button up his weskit. Ever since that ill-fated squeeze through a closing doorway so many years before he had been most conscientious about his buttons all being present and accounted for.

Frodo lay on the thick red-patterned carpet, a carefully copied map of Eriador and a bit of translated verse spread out before him.  As Bilbo pulled the first button snug and knotted it, Frodo shifted onto his side and propped his head up with one hand. "Bilbo?"

Bilbo bit off the thread. "Plah," he said taking a bit of thread off of the end of his tongue. "Yes?"

"Do you ever feel...out of place?"

Bilbo furrowed his brow slightly at this. "Out of place? In what way?"  He held the weskit up and peered at his handiwork in the light of the window. It was ever-so-slightly too far towards the edge, but it would have to do.  At least it wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.  He hated losing things...

"Just... well. As if you didn't belong someplace."

"In Hobbiton?"  Bilbo squinted at the length of the thread left on the needle, frowning. Was he homesick for Buckland, perhaps?

"Anyplace." Frodo looked down at the map on the floor. "I mean, I don't have any real friends here, except for you. And it's not that I have any real friends back home either, though at least there isn't all this attention there. I don't know....if I can live this way. Being watched, and peered at, and talked about. I'll miss you when I go back home, I know I will, but..."

Bilbo lowered the weskit and gave him a measuring look. "You would rather go climb into your hole and just hide there, and have everyone leave you alone?"

Frodo looked relieved. "Well... yes. So you feel that way about it too? You never seem bothered by it. They talk and stare and you just carry on as if you hadn't even heard or seen them."

"I hear them, and see them too. But I don't worry about it - and you shouldn't either. It's not always like this.  They'll move on to other things, many of them by tomorrow morning I expect. Most of them live for the moment, or for the season to a great extent."

"But why is it so important in the first place? I don't understand why they care."

Bilbo wet the end of the thread and twisted the frayed bits back together. "Because their world is small, and any change is a... " He hunted for a way to describe it. "a threat to their feeling of safety. Not that they are threatened. In fact, the Shire has been peaceful for so long, I'm not sure they really know what it is to be truly threatened."

Straightening a crick in his back, he turned on his seat to face the lad better. "They'll move on once they think it doesn't affect them. That was the main reason I introduced you to so many -  was to show them that there isn't any big change, or problem in your being at Bag End."

"Problem?"

"Not a real problem. More of a... discomfort. Like cracker-crumbs in your bedding, or maybe more like a crooked picture on the wall that can't be straightened. Hobbits... we want order, we want everything to continue on just as it has always been. You are a change in their world, Frodo. A small change, but a change nonetheless."

Frodo methodically folded up the end of the paper he had been writing on and unfolded it again. "Does our world change so little?"

"The world is changed, all the time. You should know that from the histories you've read. But here it's rarely in any way that is... unexpected. It isn't like that in other places. Even the picnics and parties around here are planned far ahead - why, if I were even to have an unexpected party it would probably set them talking just as much."

"Do you really think so?"

"I do."

"Then it isn't just me." He absently refolded the bit of paper, then folded it over again until it was too thick to bend..

"No, it isn't you. In fact, it's more likely that it's me." He smoothed his hand over the weskit and sighed. "As I've said, all the talk in the world won't change the truth, and they will get used to it in time. Yes, in time." He took up his needle again, threaded it and poked it into the fabric beside the next button.

"I still feel... I don't know. As if I were halfway across a brook, a foot on either side and no place to stand. I want to stay here, and I want to go home. But I'm not sure I belong in either place. It's as if everything is shifting, somehow."

Bilbo stepped out on a limb. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer. It was hard enough hearing that Frodo didn't feel Bag End was where he belonged, but it needed to be pursued. "What do you consider to be home?"

"What do you mean?"

"What... makes your home?" At Frodo's somewhat blank look, he offered "Is it your belongings? Your comforts? What you do each day?"

Frodo gave this thought. "I don't know. Not really my belongings, I don't have many, though I would be sorry to lose some of them, I must admit.  I think I miss... all the trees being nearby perhaps, especially at twilight."

"And the land itself?"

"I suppose so, yes."

"When I was away from the Shire, do you know what I missed?"

"What?"

"My own hobbit hole. The Hill. The simple comforts that come from having a regular  routine. Warm cakes and buttered toast. I missed the land; the smell of the flowers and grasses, the look of our own particular trees. I missed seeing my garden at twilight through a properly rounded window, with a warm cup of tea in my hand. I missed Bag End."

He toyed with the brass button that tilted under his thread and sighed slightly, pulled far away into memory for a moment. Remembering how he had felt so alone; Thorin's stern face, and Dori's kindness, and Gandalf...  With more difficulty than he expected, he pulled away from the memory of Gandalf's blue eyes to look down into Frodo's instead.  There were moments...

"So the question is, do you think Buckland's plants or twilights are so different from Hobbiton's?"

Frodo's eyes were lowered. He traced his finger over the edge of Eriador, then along the thick line of the Baranduin. "No, not really. There's even the Water, so I don't miss the river." This seemed to be a surprising thought to him. "I thought I would miss it, but you know, I haven't. And your garden is beautiful: you have more flowers here than ours, at the Hall.  We needed to use every bit of space for vegetables, and squash blossoms aren't the same."

"So what is it that you do miss?"

"I miss...." he paused. "Well, I'm not sure. The children, perhaps. Some of the hobbits. Being able to go out without attracting attention. Going out to look at the stars."

"And when you are over there, what will you miss about here?"

Frodo glanced up from the map and smiled briefly at him. "You. I'll miss you. And the garden, the library of books, and Sam's chatter..."

"We have the same stars here in Hobbiton. Did you know that?"

That brought a fuller smile. "You don't say."

"I do say." Bilbo smiled back. "And you may go out and look at them every night if you like."

"I may do that. Every night... You know, it's the end of the month day after tomorrow."

"The month has flown by."

"Harvesting is going to be really getting underway soon. They'll be looking for me back... home."

Bilbo very, very carefully made a stitch in the next button and steadied his voice. "Would you, ehm... consider... staying longer?"

"I would love to, dear Bilbo, but I really do need to head back. Maybe next time I come, I could stay a bit longer."

Bilbo pulled the thread taut and started the next stitch. "Two months?"

"Two months would be a treat, wouldn't it? Next summer..."

The thread was getting shorter. He looped around again with another stitch. "I was even thinking a... bit of a longer stay. Perhaps a whole season?"

"Oh yes, a whole season would be wonderful wouldn't it? If I came at the very first of summer...."

Bilbo pulled it taut again and quickly started the next stitch. "Why wait until next Summer? How about... this Autumn?"

"This year? Autumn?" Frodo blinked, mentally shifting gears. " Well, after the haying is done, yes it would be wonderful to get to stay with you for the whole season. Thank you...."

Bilbo stitched again so quickly he poked his finger. "How about two seasons? The Winter is so cold and wet, and your company would be most welcome by the fireside."

Frodo hesitated. Bilbo stopped stitching for a moment, afraid he had moved too quickly. He didn't realize he had held his breath until he let it out when Frodo spoke again.

"Well.... yes. I suppose Winter would be pleasant that way. I've never spent an entire winter in Hobbiton so it would be interesting to see what it's like here."

Bilbo breathed more easily and took one last stitch. "Very well! Shall I make up a room for you then, or would you rather have your own small smial?"

Frodo's eyebrows raised questioningly. "My room, of course. Why would I want to be off by myself if I'm visiting you?"

Bilbo knotted off the thread. "I thought I ought to offer at least. Don't want you too crowded."

Frodo had to laugh at that. "Crowded? Me? Do you remember the size of my room over there?"

"Yes, I do. But you also said you liked that it was yours, and yours alone."

"I suppose I did say that, but that's because I needed to get away sometimes."

"And here you don't?"

"Well...no."

"So....." Bilbo bit off the thread and smoothed out the weskit very carefully. His throat suddenly felt very dry. "Ehm. Would you consider those seasons a, a sort of trial time? To see if you would like to stay here....permanently?  As your home? I know you have friends there, and relatives..."

"I have relatives here too." Frodo said, then looked somewhat grave as he gave it thought.

Bilbo looked at the color of the fabric that lay in the circle of sunshine spilling across his lap, waiting. The rich burgundy looked almost scarlet, shining. Numbly, he watched the threads shimmer as they moved slightly from his trembling. His heartbeat sounded loud in his own ears.

Frodo finally spoke again. "It would be...  hard, in some ways. I'd be leaving the only home I've really known since I was small, Bilbo." His eyes sought Bilbo's, looking for understanding and reassurance. "It's where... it's where my parents are buried, and my grandparents, or some of them... and where I thought I would also be buried someday. But...." his eyes brightened again. "What a wonder it would be to get to stay here, in Bag End, for my own home, and to be with you as long as I like instead of always having to go back so soon."

Bilbo smiled. He felt slightly lightheaded from forgetting to breathe, and he smoothed the weskit yet again with a hand that still trembled slightly. All of the buttons were where they belonged, tight and smooth and only wandering a little. It was well.

Frodo continued. "I'll still need to go back, and very soon. They'll be worried about me if I don't return as I promised. I said I would be there to help with the worst of the haying."

"I know. I understand. Ah, look how quickly this past month has gone! And it will be our birthday in September before you know it. If I recall right, I drove to Buckland for yours last year, and the year before you came here. It's really too much bother with that arrangement."

"As soon as the chores are past... I'm sure I'll be able to come and...well, to live here."

Bilbo looked past him to the fire where two good oak logs were burning bright and hot on the hearth, then back to the blue-eyed lad that looked up at him, lit by sunlight and firelight both.

"Yes, you had better come and live here, Frodo my lad, then we can celebrate our birthday-parties together. It will be much more convenient and comfortable that way."