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39
Regrets

The following deals with considerations of sexuality in adolescents, and with Frodo and Bilbo's own thoughts on their own sexuality and how it was impacted by the presence of the Ring in their possession. I do not believe it is inappropriate for consideration by mature teenagers, but would perhaps be an inappropriate topic for young children.


~~~

Regrets


He found Frodo, dressed not in the silver robes the Elves had given him but in his plainest, most Brandy Hall garb he’d brought, standing on the headland peering eastward, back toward Middle Earth.

Frodo was much recovered from the horrors, pain, grief, and isolation of those last three and a half years in Middle Earth, but he still had days when solemnity took him and when he mourned for what the Ring had stolen from him. There was such a look in his eyes today, and the crease between his brows was deeper as he apparently strained for some glimpse of the land he’d loved so much he’d been willing to sacrifice himself to protect it.

“Homesick, child?” Bilbo asked quietly.

There was no indication of startlement. Bilbo didn’t believe it was possible to truly take Frodo by surprise any more, for his hearing appeared to have been sharpened by what had happened to him, and he seemed to see shockingly well in even the dimmest light. He always appeared aware when others approached him, and could indicate which direction one should look to find any of those he knew well. Frodo gave a slight shrug but didn’t turn right away. At last he said softly, “I’m not certain I’m homesick, but----”

He stopped, then gave a sigh. “You know how they’ve been having me talk about--about the time with the Ring, and what It did to me.”

“Yes. They’ve done much the same with me, you understand.”

Still without turning to look at him, Frodo continued, “Yes, Gandalf told me.” He was still for a time. Bilbo was beginning to think Frodo didn’t intend to tell what bothered him when at last he murmured, “Do you remember? I must have been--oh, twenty-four, maybe twenty-five. I’d just begun having--having those­ dreams, the ones where----” He looked down now at his feet, his mouth going into a thin line.

“Dreams of the Sea?”

Frodo shook his head impatiently. “No,” he murmured. “I’d been having those for much longer--in fact I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have those. I used to call them my dreams of the moving water. No, these were----”

Bilbo suddenly understood. “Oh, those dreams, of being with a lass.”

The very tips of Frodo’s cheeks were almost scarlet, although the rest of his face was almost bloodless. “Yes,” he admitted. “And I’d just begun to--to--to come as a result of the dreams. I didn’t know what to think of it--I was--excited, and embarrassed, and confused....”

“As I think we all are when they start,” Bilbo agreed, moving to his younger cousin’s side and peering off eastward as well. He understood how it was difficult to speak of this and look another in the eyes. He was surprised, then, to feel Frodo’s hand on his shoulder, and looked over to find Frodo was looking at him, now the faintest of smiles to be seen overlaying this so-mature regret. So often now Frodo’s gaze seemed positively ancient as if he had not fifty-three but five thousand years of life to remember. What the Ring had shown him, particularly in that last year when It had been fully awake.... It was no wonder that Frodo had needed to leave Middle Earth to find a level of peace, much less healing.

Frodo was meeting his gaze steadily. “I was so grateful to you, you must understand, Bilbo, for you helped me realize this was normal, a step closer to the day I would be able to marry and start the family I wanted for myself.”

Bilbo felt his own expression soften, his own smile begin to show. “Oh, I know, my lad. With me it was Grandda Gerontius who reassured me, there on a visit to the Great Smial.”

“You didn’t talk about it with Uncle Bungo?”

Bilbo gave a gentle laugh as he shook his head once. “Talk about that with my dad? Oh, I don’t think so. Could you have spoken of it with Sara?”

Frodo looked back eastward rather thoughtfully. “I’m not certain--I think it would have been easier speaking of it with him than with Paladin. I know, though, there was no way in the Shire I’d ever have tried to discuss it with Ferumbras. Maybe with Uncle Rory....”

Bilbo smiled again. “Rory would have been a good one. He’d given up being embarrassed by things.”

“I think--I think I could have spoken of it with my father,” Frodo added.

Bilbo nodded gently. “Yes, I think he would have been open with you. After all, I was the one to discuss it with him, you see. Perhaps that made it easier to recognize in you what was disturbing you--you were just as embarrassed as he’d been.”

Frodo looked back at him, and for a moment Bilbo saw the echo of the lad Frodo had been once. “Well, I wanted again to thank you. It made being a tween easier.”

Bilbo lifted his hand to set over Frodo’s thin one on his shoulder. It was cool, but not cold. Frodo smiled that sweet smile of his, then looked off eastward again, his expression now regretful. At last he spoke again. “After a time the--the lass I dreamed of became Pearl. I suppose that was only to be expected. Or, at least most of the time it was Pearl. On occasion it was Narcissa, even in the early days, and once it was May Gamgee.”

Bilbo felt a surprising amount of satisfaction at that. “May was an attractive lass, you know, and she was certainly drawn by you.”

Frodo gave him a brief sideways glance and smile. He was again quiet for a time before he continued, “When Pearl threw me over I was so confused. And part of why I felt confused was--was because I realized this was right, that she and I weren’t really meant for one another. But how could that be? We’d both been so certain, and for several years, after all.”

Bilbo laughed aloud. “She set her cap for you before you turned twenty-one, you’ll remember, and she was still only in her teens. Of course realizing that was a childish infatuation and admitting that to herself would have been difficult.”

“But why did I feel so certain for so long?”

“Frodo my dear lad, you felt certain because she was so certain. Pearl has a far more forceful personality than you’d ever realized, and has had that personality since she was a child. And you responded to it.”

After considering this for a time Frodo withdrew his hand, sticking it in his pocket. “I see. Yes, I understand.” He took a deep breath and held it, his chin lifting a bit. “So, she was infatuated, and I was infatuated with the idea of her being infatuated with me.”

“I suspect that’s the right of it.”

“We had a talk, not long after you’d left and--and not long before Lalia’s death. She told me then she’d been more in love with the thought of being married to me than with me. I was surprised, for hearing that didn’t hurt that deeply.”

“You’d had a good several years by then for your heart to heal, after all, my boy.”

Slowly, “Yes, yes, I suppose so. She asked me if I was still in love with her, and wasn’t hurt when I told her no.”

“She’d grown up a good deal.”

“I suppose so.”

“At the Party you were dancing with a good many lasses, and several times with Narcissa. I’d always hoped you’d choose her. She was so much more your equal than ever Pearl was.”

“And certainly she’d loved me as long as Pearl had.”

“From the first time she saw you dance, she once told me.”

“If it hadn’t been for the Ring, maybe....” Frodo’s voice trailed off.

He was still for quite some time before he finally said, “There were a few times, there when I was just a tween, when I had those dreams, when they weren’t just of being with a lass, when it was of me approaching a lass who didn’t know I was watching her, and she was--was looking out at the stars or the Moon, or perhaps at children playing, and--and I’d approach her from behind. I’d--I’d place my hand on her shoulder and--and she’d look at it, but wouldn’t shake it off. And after a time I’d turn her to me, and lean over and kiss her, never saying a word to her. She’d try to pull away at first, but then would--would give in and would kiss me back. And she’d allow me--to----”

After a moment Bilbo said, “I see.”

“Then, after you left, when I was carrying--carrying--It--in my pocket, that dream became more common. Only I wasn’t waiting to see if she’d shake my hand off her shoulder before I’d turn her to me and begin--begin forcing myself on her.” Frodo’s expression was becoming stern, as stern as Bilbo had ever seen the Dúnedan’s. “It took those--innocent--dreams and images, and twisted them. And--and I thought it was me. I thought I was a monster.”

“So that’s why you never pursued what you might have had with Narcissa or any other.”

“Yes. At first I allowed the dreams as--as long as they weren’t about a lass I truly cared about. Hyacinth Tunnely, for example.”

“You dreamed about Hyacinth Tunnely? My boy--what an appalling lack of taste!”

Frodo gave a bitter laugh, and Bilbo could see the grief and anger in the younger Hobbit’s expression. “I know. It was only because I didn’t care for her I could let those dreams happen. But then I did see the real Hyacinth in Michel Delving, and I found that the images of--of my dreams were becoming vivid, and I felt the--the urge to go over and do it--what I’d dreamed of. I couldn’t stop myself--or at least I almost couldn’t stop myself. This wasn’t just fantasy any more, Bilbo--this was a real lass I was contemplating doing this with, you see. I could have--I could have--raped--her, and been happy to do it. I was shocked, and I said No! to myself. And after that, when the dreams would start I’d wake myself up.

“I didn’t realize it was the Ring that was sparking these dreams. So, It changed tactics. I saw Narcissa when I walked to Overhill to spend a couple days with Folco and Wisteria, and the Ring started showing me doing that to her. It saw that I--that I was drawn to her, and It wanted to take that attraction and turn it ugly. When I didn’t answer It, It became angry with me. I had to pretend to--to It and myself--that I wasn’t attracted to her at all. For some years It allowed me to dance with the lasses, as dancing was something I’d never connected with--with loving a lass. But then It started even attacking me there. I stopped asking Narcissa to dance with me--was afraid I’d break off in the midst of a dance and--and force her there, right in front of everyone. Then It started showing me images every time my eyes were drawn to a pretty lass. Then it was when I saw other lads with their lasses. One time it was Sam, walking with Rosie and Tom, and he had his arm about her. And It wanted me--It wanted me to go and push Sam aside and force her to kiss me, prove to Sam I was--I was more--virile.

“It would try to take me by surprise, and--and----” He pulled his hands out of his pockets and examined them. “I’d stopped biting my nails for a time, after you left. Now every time I saw Narcissa or--or even Merilinde--I’d start digging my nails into the heel of my hand to fight the urges. I had sores there. Then I finally started biting them again. At last--at last--It--just--just turned it off. Oh, It would try still at times to draw my attention to others. It tried Hyacinth Tunnely again, one time at the Free Fair, but now she was grossly fat, and I laughed at the image. It even tried tempting me with the idea of lads! Can you imagine?”

Bilbo felt himself go very still. “Yes,” he answered finally.

“Yes?” Frodo was examining him, and Bilbo felt himself flush. “You mean--you mean--It tried to show you with--with me?”

Bilbo nodded slowly, sadness filling him. “It tried to take my love for you and turn it into something ugly. I wouldn’t let It do so. I stayed away from Buckland for a time--do you remember?--to avoid that, then realized I couldn’t do that. It wasn’t fair to you, lad. I forced myself to go anyway, and every time It tried to raise that image I raised a different one, of you nursing at your mum’s breast when you were a tiny bairn. It couldn’t deal with that image for some reason--I don’t know why. Of course, I didn’t realize the Ring was to blame, either, any more than you did.”

Frodo nodded thoughtfully. “With me--it was images of absurdity that I found worked. And Gandalf told me, there when we were in Gondor, that I was even using my Light of Being against It, the time It tried to get me to--push Sam aside. He said I’d begun using my Light of Being to fight It, and to limit It. It was trying to move beyond me, to work on Sam, Merry, Pippin, Freddy--the others, and I raised a circle of my own Light to keep it focused on me.”

Bilbo felt a great joy fill him. “You were stronger than It.”

“For a time--in the end It still took me.”

“Not until you were at the end of your journey, my dear boy. There, where no one could properly fight It. You held It off, and held It off, and held It off. Not until you had no defenses left could It take you, and the Creator had--had Gollum ready to save you at the last.”

Frodo turned to look at Bilbo straight on. “Was there ever anyone else for you? I know you told me once that before--before It came to you there had been a lass, only she died in an accident when a carriage overturned or something.”

“She was injured then--very seriously injured, and was in no shape to marry anyone. She died some time later.”

“I see.”

“There was one Hobbitess I was drawn to. She’d married a companion of mine from when we were tweens, only he died during the year I was gone. I came back, and after I finally had the business of the auction cleared up I went to see him and found he was gone. I’d visit her from time to time--see to it she was properly cared for and all. I was drawn to her after about two years, and--and I had visions of----” He gave a loud huff. “Anyway, the Ring--I’m certain it was the Ring--It saw a chance to remake me in Its image. When I felt those urges, I broke it off with her. But I set up one of my more lucrative partnership agreements to benefit her. She had a regular income coming in now, and I knew she would ever be taken care of. I found, too, I could fight those urges with images of absurdity. But I, too, was carefully looking away from attractive ladies, and later attractive lads.”

Frodo looked off eastward again. “I asked Gandalf, there in Gondor, if It had gelded me.”

“Had It?”

“No. I--I began to be stirred again.”

“Did you?”

“Oh, yes.” Frodo smiled in memory, and there was sadness there. “I ought to have courted Narcissa. I came home, and the first time I saw her again I realized that--that the old attraction was still there, and that it was still strong. I was such a fool. I ought to have accepted what happiness I could while I could.”

“And now?”

“I dreamt of her last night, Bilbo.”

Rather delicately the old Hobbit asked, “Was it one of those dreams, then, lad?”

“Yes. And it--it was so sweet.”

Bilbo put his hand about Frodo’s waist and pulled him close, and felt Frodo put his own arm about his shoulders. What that Ring had denied the two of them! He looked up and saw sparkling tears, unashamed, on Frodo’s face and lashes, and understood them completely.

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