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B2MeM Challenge: B10, Hobbits (Deagol & Smeagol); N41, Food (tarts)
Format: Ficlet
Title: Shadows of What Might Have Been
Genre: Angst
Rating: PG/K+
Warnings: None
Characters: Frodo, Pippin, Merry, Sam
Pairings: N/A
Summary: The October following the Quest, four hobbits share tea in Rivendell...but curious Pippin discovers that there is more on Frodo's mind than any of them realized.



Pippin looked curiously at his cousin, but there was something of shame in his face, as if he might be embarrassed by what he wanted to say. "Gollum...what was he like, really?"

Sam looked immediately worried.

"You never asked in Minas Tirith," said Merry. "Why now?"

"It's all right," Frodo said, reaching for another pumpkin tart, one of the many treats Elrond's folk had prepared for their tea that October afternoon. "I don't mind, really. I - need to talk about him, I think."

"It's all right if you don't feel like it," Pippin said.

"No." Frodo took a bite of the tart and chewed slowly, then washed it down with a sip of his tea. "He...he wasn't *always* Gollum, even with us. Smeagol was still in there somewhere. And what I saw of Smeagol I rather wondered if we might not have liked him, once upon a time. There were moments when I rather liked him even then."

Sam shuddered, but said nothing.

"I know it was hard for Sam," Frodo said, with a gentle glance toward his companion. "But I saw in Smeagol what *had* been, not what *was*. I - I think I saw who he used to be, instead of what he had become."

"But he killed Deagol," said Merry. "You told us about that story."

"Yes." Frodo's eyes went to the half-eaten tart, and he poked it around a bit with one finger...on the maimed hand. "Yes, and - forgive me, please, Sam - I - I could almost see *how* he could do such a thing."

"What do you mean?" asked Pippin.

"When I - " Frodo swallowed, his shoulders tensing. "In the tower, after they - took me, when Sam came - I - I was so very glad, so grateful to see him. But then - when he - when he told me he had the Ring, I - something came over me, something dark and terrible. For a moment I did not see Sam. I saw a hideous creature, grasping and pawing, and - I was afraid, and angry, and I nearly struck him."

He looked at Sam with shame in his features.

"I didn't mean it," he said. "I didn't mean to do such a terrible thing. But - for a moment, I was confused by the Ring, by its evil deception. And I *knew* of the Ring's treachery. I was warned. Repeatedly. I had experience with it. I knew what it might do. And yet I fell prey to it, more than once or twice. Imagine - "

He drew a shaky breath and looked into Pippin's eyes.

"Imagine if you had no knowledge of such things, no experience, if in the Shire you found a thing of great beauty, a treasure, something you were immediately fond of, and knew not that it was a magical and evil thing. Imagine then how susceptible you would be to its lies and deceit, and how in the moment you might do some terrible deed, which you would afterward regret - but by then it would be done, and you could not undo it."

Frodo turned his gaze on Merry. "That is precisely what happened to *me* at the fire, in the mountain. How then can I cast blame on Smeagol for Deagol's murder, when I myself am guilty of as much, or worse?"

"Frodo, you're not like that!" protested Pippin.

"Am I not?"

Frodo's blue eyes turned immediately back to meet Pippin's anxious gaze. There was something frightening in their depths, something dark and chilling.

"I am the same as he. I *am* Smeagol, and less innocent in my deeds than was he."

For a long moment, nobody spoke.

Pippin did not dare look away, and searched his cousin's eyes desperately, seeking something familiar beneath the haunted expression within. He seemed to find it, but it appeared to give him little relief.

"You ain't like that, Mr. Frodo," Sam said at last, reaching for Frodo's hand. "No matter what you might think, you ain't like him."

"That's just it, Sam," Frodo said sadly, squeezing Sam's hand. "I *am*."

"But you aren't," said Merry, "not really. It is about the choices you make, and you made the right choices. Unlike Gollum, or Smeagol, or whatever you want to call him."

"Did I?"

Frodo's gaze was piercing, and even Merry could not bear to hold it. He looked away for an instant, but then he looked back, steady and even.

"Frodo - you only promised to take the Ring. You never promised that you could destroy it on your own. And maybe you are like Smeagol, but you made different choices. You chose to fight it, to resist the Ring as much as you could. That makes you different. It always has and it always will."

Frodo was silent for a moment, but a tear slipped down his cheek...then another...and another.

"It's all right, Mr. Frodo," whispered Sam, reaching to rub his master's back.

"We love you, Frodo," said Pippin, rising and putting his arm around Frodo's shoulders.

"We do," said Merry, joining the others.

For a long while they huddled together, and Frodo sobbed and sobbed as his companions consoled him as best they could.

"I feel sorry for Smeagol," he managed softly at last.

"Why?" asked Pippin.

"Because," Frodo replied, "he never had friends as dear as the three of you, closer and dearer than brothers."

He rose then, and kissed Pippin and Merry on their brows, and last of all he turned to Sam, and embraced him tightly...then drew back to kiss him, too, on the forehead.

"I love all of you," he said, "more than anything. More than all the world."

"More than tarts?" Pippin asked with a wink.

Frodo smiled then, and it was like the sun shining through the rain.

"More than tarts."

-the end-


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