Never and Always: 6. Cradle

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6. Cradle

29th February 1419 S.R. Dusk walks near on the stones when Sam wakes, and the low spill of shadow warns that he's slept longer than he ought. Frazzled as a cloud, his mind swims in Frodo's breathing, taking hold in each rise and fall as wells slowly up his chest. Folds of crushed and ruffled cloth lie between them, and nothing more, naught but – Thunder to his ribs that must ring through the hollow where they lie. It unhooks a memory that tightens Sam's hand on Frodo's chest, scrabbling in the half-unbuttoned shirt. A muscle cramps in the movement, right where Frodo's head is still pillowed on his arm, and Sam's breathing stops for the sound of another – No, peaceful and even yet, full of a slumber that Frodo wouldn't dare elsewhere, not even for a minute. What escapes Sam's lips is less of air and more of release, and such wildness aflight over and under his skin. He couldn't say if it's fear or gladness, they've grown welded one to the other, after so long a journey. When Sam bows his head, Frodo's curls make a fine web before his sight, thinned to a mist and a sting in his eyes. Soon, now, they will have to leave. Out beyond the mouth of their shelter lies the slant of a down-turned gorge, and dusk pours into it. Stone rubble piles high against one of those hard cliffs. There's not a scrap of sky to be seen, only the jumbled rocks with their broken edges and sharp flanks, but they make a picture Sam will carry to the ends of the earth. This grey view of rocks strewn about, and the stone cradle surrounding them on all other sides. Inside the hollow, the stone is rounded and smooth, as if shaped by an agelong flow. As like a river passed through till all the rocks were poured together. Bent lines are traced along the wall, rougher seams running in waves where the stone's bulging out, and dusk plays a soft blue across them. Lost, is what Sam thought at daybreak, after another long march through the Emyn Muil, but it's come to mean found. Here, where a bygone river has graved its shadows on the rock, like a memory of drowning. Sam leans forward and buries a breath in Frodo's hair, stirring the fine down low against his neck. In this close, tight space that he's claimed lies only the taste of sleep and warm skin and remembering. But hard by there's the chain, dull as iron in the twilight, only an inch from Sam's mouth. Snug against the bent curve of Frodo's neck, as like it belonged there and had more of a right. The barest sound, then, adrift in Frodo's breathing. Is it, I dreamed? Or why here? Or not words at all, an answer to the damp trembling of Sam's lips drawn away from his skin. Sam slides his numbed arm back a bit so that he can lean up and over. All the hollow is flooded with a bluish grey, a soft misting that lingers on Frodo's face – pale and calm like he's not been in so long – and that will soon be gone. Frodo looks up at him with his first waking glance, and his heartbeats drop into Sam's palm, scattered as rain. Sam falls quiet of breath and motion, though he doesn't mean to, but every part of his body's trying to become stone, to move not an inch away, and the air hangs caged in his chest. Till Frodo shifts, his hand rising into Sam's hair, first a confused brush through the straggles, then a fast tangled grip. The heat of his breath finds Sam's mouth, melting the stone. Sam doesn't close his eyes. Not a dream, this, it's broken as the rocks – asking, sealing, battling – and breaking once more in a gasp torn off each other's lips. "Sam..." Frodo's face is calm as a clear lake again, and he's waiting, held in the same memory that slides open like a hand. Here. Their breaths twine anew in a feather-light mingling between them. Mingling, rising and tasting – but then there's the sting of too much, too much! searing from the soft pressure of Frodo's mouth, a far-off sweetness stealing through – and not near enough, ever. But this, this is everything. A rough sound wrings from Sam's throat, and all the knowing from the hours before slides up his belly like a silver blade. Frodo's fingers wind tighter into his hair and hold him against it. They're stitched together in this urgent reaching, raw even when it's gentle, not an inch left between them. Sam can feel the seams like heated wire pulled through his veins. The last he sees in the falling shadows is a shimmer of white drowned in Frodo's lashes, and then Frodo says what he's thinking. "How can I let go?" Between a rash You don't have to and I won't, Sam props himself so he can do up the buttons of Frodo's shirt, caressing every bit of skin as he does. He stops nigh too late, almost brushing a harder tie. The Ring lies thick and heavy on Frodo's chest before it slips sideways under the cloth with a dull gleam. Frodo's fingers leap after it, spurring the motion in near shamed haste, but when Sam turns his eyes away, the same hand catches his wrist. "No." Frodo's voice holds a rush that drains all sound from it. "I am sure, Sam. What's asked of me, and what is mine to give, what is–" But he shakes his head as his words fall short, and he guides Sam's hand back to his chest. "Yours, now." Sam bends his head and murmurs "always," though it means the same, and the word's too flighty on his tongue. "I had to be sure." Frodo's hand cups his face another moment and turns so his knuckles glide down over Sam's cheek. Pebbles trickle like water when they push to their feet, clumsy and uneven as they've never been before, their elbows tangling. To set the rest of their clothes to order, they have to step outside where there's neither water to wash nor shelter from the gales. One step, and then – Though the mountains crawl with darkness, Sam squints his eyes as if he'd walked into a cutting light. His fingers are slow on cloth and buttons, and when he settles his pack on his shoulders at last, Frodo waits two paces up the gorge. Sam wants to turn back so bad, he can scarce stand it, struck with an ache that cramps up round his middle. Only to look back at the small hollow, though it's bound to be buried in shadow now, and keep it for – No, just to look, as if for a blessing where none's needed. But with every step now there will be such a tearing at his heels, and a remembering that flies ahead. As he starts after Frodo, the wind slips near his skin like ice, like a fresh well-spring tumbling down the mountains, fallen from snow, out of the sky. The weather troubles Sam, for the cloud-front blotting out the stars East and South seems to be culling a storm. A hard rainfall could turn these clefts and gullies to streaming channels, and then where will they hide, how will they break the circle trapping their feet and find a path down? Only a pace before him, Frodo stops between two boulders that stand guard over flat, wind-beaten rocks. The cold chatters like pebbles between his teeth. Sam reaches over and around his shoulders to fasten his cloak up proper. Between the gusts and the chilled weave, his fingers find the trembling of a harsh pulse at the side of Frodo's neck. Frodo stills for a breath more, and when he steps back, his glance holds Sam closer, with such a spark as recollects a thousand smiles and Frodo's yielding strength. As if they're alone in the world, and free to go where they would. As if he'd dare and promise – "We're not lost," Sam answers. "We can't be." Frodo dips his head, and their eyes slip down along the stones together. In a dark wedge grows a flowering weed, raised on a stalk that's thin as wire. They've come here before. * * * (continued in: Precipice)

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.

Story Information

Author: Cara Loup

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 10/03/11

Original Post: 05/30/05

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