5. Chapter Four - Kiss
He had lost track again. Without benefit of Old Winyards or strawberry cordial or anything else, he had lost track of time and space and self. Fallen into the sky, as Bilbo often said when he found him spread-eagled on Bag End's roof.
He had joined in that glorious slow-wheeling dance of stars that swept the sky above Bag End. There were times when, drifting in that ceaseless, unfathomable song that had captivated him since childhood, he thought that he could hear the echoes of the never-ending music that created the world. At other times he knew that he was hearing the Eldar singing the praises of Elbereth herself, she who made the stars. The sky was a bowl of midnight blue burning with incandescent fire and he was floating on a sea of grass beneath it.
Then, after what seemed hours, and often was, he would gradually ease back into being just Frodo, a hobbit, lying in the grass on the hill above Bag End.
Sensation was achingly slow to return. First his neck, scrunched backward with the scratchy wool of the old blanket stuffed under his nape, cramped when he moved. Then his back began to itch from grass that had somehow worked its way through wool and linen into his skin. And his arms and legs tingled as if he had been playing out among the stars themselves. Finally, his chilled feet protested the cold air.
It was clearly only a few hours till dawn. Frodo could smell it in the moist tang of newly turned earth in the air. And he felt it in that deep silence -- as if the world took a breath, the stars ceased to sing, and the sun poised to continue the tune again in a different key.
He rolled slowly over onto his stomach, propping his chin on his forearms, definitely feeling the stiffness of lying far too long on cold ground, but relishing the absolute stillness and beauty of the hill. The newly unfurled leaves on the tree behind him rustled quietly as the world let out its breath. Closing his eyes, Frodo took a long slow inhalation of his own, then opened his eyes again.
The hill, bathed only with starlight, was sprinkled with innumerable wildflowers. Their mingled scents lingered in the moist air. They looked like tiny stars of all shapes, sizes and colours scattered in the darkness. They were all around him. Frodo had apologized for placing his blanket on top of a few, even though he had tried hard to find a bare spot.
It seemed to him that the hill had become more and more crowded with flowers every spring. The first spring that he had spent here, climbing up on shaky legs after a winter of illness and slow recovery, it seemed there were very few flowers on this hill. Now, wherever he stepped or sat and no matter what the season, he was rewarded with some beautiful flower face or breathtaking scent. And all of them wild, uncultivated, untended.
Something about that nudged at his memory. Something Bilbo had said once about the garden.
Invariably, thinking about the garden turned his thoughts to Sam. But, of course, he thought wryly, thinking about anything these days came back to Sam somehow. He could probably start thinking about the price of pipe weed or the merits of one type of quill over another, and his thoughts would still meander some path back to Sam.
It was like the little tunes Sam sang in the garden. The ones Frodo could faintly hear throughout the day, teasing at the edges of his awareness, building gently, note on note around his heart, until he would suddenly realize that he was humming the song to himself and thinking of Sam.
So he thought of Sam and smiled. Today was Sam’s birthday. He was a tweenager at last. Frodo’s smile broadened as he remembered their planned excursion later in the day to the Dragon to christen Sam's first ale as a tween and his first pipe as a tween. And another first. His smile faded as he thought about that one. He was going to tell Sam what he felt for him. Today. On Sam’s birthday.
And Frodo realized that he was afraid -- afraid of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time or reacting the wrong way. Bilbo’s logic had seemed so flawless yesterday. But today he couldn’t get his head around it. There were so many directions it could go and so many ways that he could hurt Sam. He had to get his head around it.
He closed his eyes, as he lay there, stretched out amidst the flowers. What would he say if Sam was confused or shocked or dismayed at the thought that his best friend might feel that way about him? What if that luminous face dimmed for even a moment, thinking Frodo was asking for just another bit of service from the help? Or if Sam blushed and laughed, thinking his Mister Frodo was having him on as a joke?
Frodo opened his eyes with relief. That was a way to handle it. If things went badly, if it was clear that Sam wanted no part of it, then Frodo could laugh in response -- quickly turn it into a prank that he had played just today to introduce Sam to the joys of tweener tomfoolery.
That could work, and no one would be hurt. Perhaps Frodo could really manage to laugh then, relieved that the choice was effortlessly made -- relieved that the fork in the road that Bilbo had warned him of was past. He could deny his feelings and take that other road, and take it quickly, if it meant not hurting Sam.
Or could he? The idea of living so close to Sam, sharing so much of his life and burying these feelings so deeply seemed impossible. Could he shove these feelings so far out of sight that Sam would never suspect? Could he laugh with him and tramp the fields with him and work with him and enjoy his company and cherish him, but only as his dearest friend?
He had to. He wanted to be close enough to watch those toffee-haired children bring Sam his pipe and ride on his shoulders, to take joy in Sam’s joys and support him in his sorrows. But he knew he would always wonder what might have been if he had just said it differently, if he had not laughed so quickly, if...
The slightest breath of sound alerted him, and in the next moment he heard that beloved voice and closed his eyes in agony.
“Mister Frodo?” It was a tremulous, hesitant whisper.
He shot to his feet.
“Sam!!” He spun around, managing a smile. “I get to deliver the first birthday greetings! Unless the Gaffer beat me to...” he stopped when he saw Sam's demeanour.
Even in the deep shadows before dawn, it was clear that the gold head was bowed over something that Sam clutched to his chest. The broad shoulders were humped forward as if Sam was hanging onto whatever it was for dear life. Frodo couldn't see the expression on the familiar face in the darkness, only a pale blur, but something was terribly wrong.
“Sam?” He took a hesitant step forward. “What's wrong? Is someone ill or hurt? The Gaffer?” He felt his heart lurch suddenly, “Bilbo?”
The face lifted, and one hand reached out in negation. “No. No. Nothing like that, Mister Frodo.”
Frodo felt the air rush back into his lungs. “Then what?” He took another step, leaning his head, trying to get a look at his friend's face. “What's wrong Sam?”
The gold head lifted tentatively. Frodo wished desperately that he could see.
“I brought your mathom,” came the tremulous voice. “I...I wanted to give it to you up here on your hill, you know. Up here under your stars.”
“At this hour? Sam, you shouldn't,” Frodo began. But something Sam had just said. Something. The realization crashed into Frodo, as if the sky itself had fallen on him. “My hill?”
The flowers -- his hill.
Frodo suddenly remembered what Bilbo had said about how much more care Sam seemed to lavish on the flowers around Frodo's bedroom window. How Sam seem to spend so much extra time on that little plot. Frodo had not paid much attention to it at the time. It was just the Baggins’ master gardener plying his trade with care in Bag End's garden, as he always had.
Comprehension dawned on him. All those times he had caught Sam either going up the hill or coming off of it with tools he shouldn't have needed or with an empty barrow -- Sam had been carefully sowing and transplanting all these flowers all those years. Frodo couldn't imagine all the work and care that had gone into coaxing myriad different kinds of wildflowers to act as if they weren't wild at all, and yet to manage it, to hide it all so well that it appeared to one oblivious hobbit as if they were.
Frodo looked around in disbelief. Disbelief that Sam had poured so much into this hill and never said anything. Disbelief that he had been gullible enough to think the hill was just blessed somehow by Yavanna to bloom and bloom and bloom.
Something was pouring into him from that falling sky. Something trembling and burning and singing like the stars.
“You...you did all this, created all this,” he whispered.
“This hill. It blooms, every season it's full of colour. Even in winter,” his voice was shaking.
The sky was turning ever so slightly lighter. He could barely see Sam's face, but he couldn't decipher the expression there.
“Yes sir. The hill. Well, I,” those beloved features lifted skyward, silvered by starlight, sweeping the fathomless sky. Now Frodo could see the expression. Now he realized, Sam was terrified.
“I couldn't give you those, you know,” Sam indicated the sky full of stars above them with his chin. “And sometimes it...it seemed to me that you might just go and fall in, like Mister Bilbo said.”
“I can only work the soil Mister Frodo. It's all I know.” The voice was soft and unsteady. The face lowered once more. Even in the dark, Frodo could tell Sam was avoiding his gaze. “Even though you brought me up here and showed me all those stars. I think I'm pretty much rooted too deep, if you take my meaning.”
“Sam, what is it?” Frodo asked quietly, even while his heart hammered loudly in his ears. What was Sam struggling so hard to say? He clenched his hands at his sides, trying to stop them from shaking. “What's wrong?”
“Wrong.” It wasn't a question. Sam was staring at the ground again as the darkness slowly began to lift around them.
Now Frodo was concerned. Sam's normally tanned face was, for him, pale. There were dark smudges under his eyes. Something was wrong, horribly wrong. Nothing could shake Sam, not like this. What could have happened?
“I was afraid, “ came the soft response to a question Frodo couldn't remember asking. “Afraid that you would fall into those stars, Mister Frodo. You needed roots, so I planted the hill for you. To keep you here.”
His face finally lifted, and in the dim light Frodo finally saw it. Those familiar hazel eyes seemed to glow like a banked fire in that too pale face. When had those innocent, mischievous eyes suddenly transformed into this smouldering gold gaze? Frodo felt his breath catch and his mouth open at the intensity of it. He almost took a step backward, but something in Sam's expression held him firmly to the earth.
“Sam?” he whispered, suddenly terrified himself.
Somehow the sky, the hill, the world had faded into obscurity. All he could see was that face lifted to his, the stars reflecting in those eyes and burning through him. All he could hear was Sam's rasping breath, and his own.
Then he caught it, on the slightest morning breeze, that scent -- earthy, rich, vital, overlaid with grass, and flowers, and a hint of soap. Sam. His eyes closed painfully.
“You see, Frodo, I was always afraid. Afraid you would leave,” came the tremulous voice. “I still am.”
Frodo's eyes snapped open. Somewhere deep inside, stars shuddered to life. Sam had said 'Frodo'. Not 'Mister'. Not 'sir'. Just 'Frodo'.
“Afraid?” was all he could manage.
“That I would leave? Why?” Frodo felt addled, winded, unable to think. This conversation was not going the way he expected. No, wait, he hadn't expected to have this conversation at all. He didn't even know what conversation they were having. In the dim light, he could see the corner of Sam's mouth quirk upward and his eyebrows lift ever so slightly. It was as if Sam realized that Frodo was having trouble following the conversation.
Suddenly Frodo felt a desperate need to fill the blanks spaces, to talk before Sam could say anything else. “I mean, why would you...?”
Sam was suddenly standing right in front of him and two cold fingers were laid softly on his lips. Frodo was afraid to breath or blink. Intense and shadowed, Sam's face hung only inches from his. Frodo couldn’t smell any trace of alcohol, but this was suddenly no longer his Sam. He didn't know this Sam.
“Most times it's hard to coax two words out of you. Then when I need for you to be quiet just for a minute, you become as much a chatterbox as young Master Pippin.”
Frodo's gazed at him in disbelief. At any moment, the Gaffer's training would take over and this person would disappear.
And, as expected, Sam suddenly seemed to realize that he had overstepped his bounds and his eyes widened. He pulled back his fingers. Frodo's hand flew up and grasped his, holding him in place firmly.
“I'm listening Sam,” he said softly. “Please, tell me why.”
For a moment Sam's hand shivered in Frodo's grip, the fingers cold, the palm slippery with sweat. Sam's gaze slid away, but Frodo did not let go. The gold eyes reminded him of some skittish woodland creature standing at the edge of the trees, trembling with indecision. Was the meadow safe, or not? Was the sweet grass there worth the risk, or not?
Then Sam looked back, and Frodo saw stone and steel lock in place behind the gold. Sam pulled his fingers loose and clamped them around the cloth-covered bundle still pressed to his chest. He was clearly shaking, but he didn't step back.
“I figure there are two whys. Why you would leave, and why I am afraid.” Sam went on, as if the conversation hadn't been interrupted. “I think you would leave because, you...you're like those stars up there, Mister Frodo. You're as different from the rest of us as those stars of yours are from these flowers. “ He tilted his chin at the hill.
“Because you build entire worlds out of little black words on paper, and sometimes you hear things that no one else even bothers to listen for, and you see things that no one else would even dream of. But most times, all that does is to make you feel different and out of place.” That brought a deep breath and a flicker of the gold eyes. “ And because there's something at Brandy Hall that I'm thinking's not settled, and won't never be, and you always going back as if to settle it. And there are times that I think Mister Merry wants to be more than just a cousin, though I don't think you've noticed that yet.”
Frodo felt the blood drain out of his face and opened his mouth, but no sound came out. At this slight sign of protest, Sam shifted warily as if readying himself to leave. Frodo clamped his mouth shut, biting his lip hard in the process.
“And because if Mister Bilbo goes, like he's been talking of late . . . you might just go, too, just to be with him, because he's -- home.” The gold eyes softened with that. “Because he's the only home you've ever really had.”
Frodo felt his chest tighten and his throat constrict painfully. He needed to sit down. “Sam,” he could only manage a croak.
“I'm not done yet, Mister Frodo, begging your pardon and all, but I have been working on this all night and it's not started the way I planned, but I am certain I plan to finish it, if you... I mean, if...begging your pardon and all.”
Frodo could only nod, almost unable to bear the expanding stars trembling and burning under his breastbone. He was wondering if the next well-used Sam phrase would be something about his proper place and all of this would stop before he flew into a million pieces.
“Why am I afraid?”
The other why. And this why terrified Sam the most, if his expression was any indication.
Sam’s hands clenched and unclenched around the treasure he held to his chest and he closed his eyes. “Because...because if you left the stars would go with you, and the songs, and the stories. Because if you left, all those words would just be black marks on paper, and there wouldn't be any reason to be planting flowers any more.” There was a hitch in Sam's voice.
“Because I want...I want to see you near falling out your window in the mornings just trying to get a sniff of the Eniara, and...and watch you chew your fingernails when you think no one's looking, and hear you curse in that dwarf tongue when you trim a quill all wrong. And I want to see your face when you lie up here with your eyes looking like the sea must look reflecting all those stars. Because you're...”
There were tears glimmering in those gold eyes when Sam opened them at last, “Because you're the most beautiful thing in my life, and I can't...” Tears spilled over onto pale cheeks as the shaking voice hitched to a halt.
Frodo realized his own face was wet just as he reached out his hand toward Sam's face to wipe away his tears. Sam’s hand lifted up at the same time to hang trembling in the air beyond Frodo’s cheek.
“I can’t,” Sam hesitated for a moment, unable to say the words. “I can’t let you leave, least ways, not without me.”
They both stood shivering in the still grey light, Frodo’s hand cupping Sam’s face, his thumb swiping gently at the tears. Sam’s fingertips hovering almost reverently over the wetness on Frodo’s, as if he were unwilling to touch.
“Sam.” A shaking whisper was all Frodo could manage.
Sam's precious package fell unheeded into the soft grass. He lifted his other hand to grasp Frodo’s fingers where they cupped his face. Frodo stilled his hand under Sam’s cold fingers and waited, as those smouldering gold eyes burned into his.
Then Sam’s eyes closed and Frodo felt heat radiating from the skin under his now shaking hand. Sam was blushing.
And Sam, his shy, diffident, ever in his 'proper place' Sam, slowly moved his face in that hand and pressed a kiss into the palm.
Frodo suddenly realized that a different kiss than he expected had undone him at last.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.