This is a bummer of a story. Be warned. Character death.

For Smokey

Combe Year Eight: Silences
by Laura Mason

Doctor Cobb, the "new" doctor from Bree, has stopped visiting. There's nothing more to be done.

Doc sleeps a lot, lying in the bed Frodo had two village men move into the front parlor, beside the long window. Frodo sits and watches him breathe, and sometimes he thinks he can see everything slowing down, preparing to stop.

He's never watched a slow, lingering death.

Death was something that suddenly claimed his parents while he and his older cousins played in the hayloft after dinner. His Brandybuck relations sheltered him, though most of them never understood him. Because he was an orphan, it didn't matter that he'd been old enough to help with the bedridden elderly relatives long before he moved to Hobbiton with Bilbo. No, they sent him to deal with the orchards. He picked fruit in the hot September sun and bottled cider in the cooler autumn nights, and learned how to trim branches and protect the roots in the early winter. When spring came they built fires to smoke bugs out of the blossoming trees.

Frodo hasn't used those skills since that time. He wishes he'd instead been taught truly important lessons when he was young, so he'd have known what to do now.

It took him too long to learn how to wash someone in bed and change their nightshirt without causing too much pain. But he finally knows, and now he can make tinctures and teas, and is able to massage gently and soothingly on nights when sleep is far from the beloved patient. He's learned how to help Doc relieve himself while lying down without embarrassing the man. And Frodo knows how to set his face and ignore the smell of death as it creeps around the room, waiting.

He reads to Doc. They've shared these books together over the past eight years, and each is an old friend they visit for a time. When his eyes tire he talks to Doc, pretending the conversations aren't one-sided. Tales of Bilbo's adventures and his own visits to the Shire are related, even those Doc has heard before. When he's too tired to talk anymore, Frodo holds Doc's hand and cries, but only when he's sure Doc is sound asleep.

Sometimes Doc is awake, and Frodo reassures him that he will be able to find a new job, hoping to ease the sorrow he sees on the tired, well-loved face. Frodo tries to smile and knows tears still fall, but he makes himself talk cheerfully. Doc tries to smile, too.

Finally the night comes when Doc can no longer drink the small sips of water Frodo gives him. Frodo lights the lamps and banks the fire, then watches through the night by himself. He will not call any neighbors, not yet.

He listens to the raspy breaths and squeezes Doc's hand, telling him over and over that he loves him and will never forget him. He tries to be happy, to feel certain that Doc will be reunited with his wife and son now. He wants to believe that there will be no more pain for Doc, only peace and joy. But when the rattling finally stops and Doc's hand grows cold in his, Frodo sobs and cannot stop for hours.

By the next afternoon the neighbors are there and Doc is laid out properly in his parlor. Frodo still watches him, feeling alone and numb. The neighbors whisper comforting, meaningless words. Mr. Wheatley tells Frodo Doc has made a will, leaving him the house and an inheritance -- more words that mean nothing. Frodo nods and remains silent.

He's tearless and withdrawn until two nights after Doc is buried. That's when Estel finally comes to comfort him, and Frodo knows he's still alive when the familiar pain squeezes his heart.



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