8th March 1419 S.R.
Frodo lies awake in the grey ebb before morning. Behind the curtain move Faramir's men, wordless and alert, their shadows flickering about the torches that they carry. Stretched out on his back beside Sam, Frodo can feel the night wane on his skin, in one long chill after the other, until the small recess is choked with a stony quiet. Against this silence, he gathers the slightest sounds: Sam's breathing beside him, steady and collected, trailing into faint rustles of clothes and blanket. The men's busy footfalls through the outer cavern. Birds twitter beyond its confines, their high trills and warbles glancing back and forth among the steep rocks, before they drop into the cracks and crevices. When Frodo closes his eyes, he can fancy himself among them, perched on a precipice in the cold air. High above the cascades of water, stone and mist, the White Mountains of Gondor guard the horizon, distant as a seam of clouds. If he listens closely enough, he can distinguish the soft splatters at the mouth of the cavern, the fall of each single drop as it bursts on the stone.
Has he ever been this awake, every part of his senses, of his skin, swarming with restless knowledge? If there has been such a moment before, he cannot remember it now. Between all the feeble noises hangs the silence that will swallow him, that splays sounds and sights apart. When he stops threading them together, the blackness behind his eyes will be as deep as the mines of Moria.
Frodo stifles a moan in his chest, holding it there until his breath drains without a sound. Behind his lids, he summons the remembrance of this long night: The sheen of sweat and a small dancing flame on Sam's shoulder, the whispered sound of his own name, over and again, shading from grief to joy, from hope to surrender. The full measure of choice in Sam's eyes, and the promise that still lies like a first and familiar taste on his mouth.
The moon has been full, this night. There never was a moon like this, circling sharp as a sentry in the sky, fierce above the torrents that dash his mirrored white in the pool below. A dark force of water at their feet. Frodo pulls these memories close, seeking their utmost edge.
The cadence of Sam's breathing tells him that Sam lies equally far from sleep, wrapped in a different quiet. Loose and warm, or so Frodo would wish, a silence that leaves neither cut nor scar in its wake. His own silence knows less of mercy, it slides iron-grey beneath the skin to part here from there, and every moment from the next. Under Its spell he is pinned down and pared away, until nothing is left but the wildness of his heart, racing to flee a closing circle – aflight among the flutter of wings and the rocks and the ceaselessly tumbling water, only this – every sharp, isolate beat rising and rising –
Oh, no more. Fretful drumrolls climb faster in Frodo's throat and vie with his breath. He longs to stir against the heavy twilight, against the pounding that surrounds him as if to hammer the air into steel.
Sam's touch is quicker than his voice, his hand clasps Frodo's on the blanket between them, catching the tremor that breaks the silence even when Frodo can't speak. Firm and rough, Sam's palm covers the cool distance of his skin, a map of lines and ridges that unwinds in a prickle along Frodo's arm. There is safety here after all, behind the curtain of water, in the deeply cloven rock, behind the coarse fabric screening this last refuge, on a bed softer than any that he now recalls. The shadows that fold over him weave a protection, not –
"Frodo?" Out of the dimness, Sam leans up, jarring the weight against which he is trapped. "Oh, I thought you would be resting!"
Helpless as he is to master it, Frodo knows that the fear lies naked on his face, that it is his fixed stare waking such alarm in Sam's eyes, like a flash from coal.
"Frodo..." Sam's breath skims over his face in a warm gust, entreating his own. Quick, tender strokes hasten down the side of his face and scatter the shadows where his pulse escapes the chain, fly over his neck and down to his shoulder. And the movement eases into him, a strengthening ripple that stirs his breath out of captivity.
It wells from the bottom of his chest and his lips part to release it, his hand finds a way out of the blanket's ruffles to fumble on Sam's sleeve instead. "Sam, my–"
But if there was another word, it's answered by Sam's mournful gasp that stutters against his mouth as Sam gathers him close, so warm, still warm, and a small motion is enough to join their mouths. The rush of another gasp under Sam's ribs quickens on Frodo's skin as he meets the caress of Sam's lips and opens – oh, here
– soft trembles searching, settling in a surety of their own while the air eddies softly around them. Between their mouths, in this glad, shaken welcome, nothing can be lost, and Frodo is free to reach out in his turn, to draw Sam down and quiet his own heartbeats against the shelter of Sam's chest.
Through this calming tangle, a lighter awareness returns to him – the comfort of their bed with its pelts and cushions, the gentle quiet that guards their secret among the stones. All of this, pouring from the warmth of Sam's body against him, drawn into shivers that slip loose and lace fast between them. His hand finds a hold on Sam's back, urging him nearer, but beneath his touch thrums a tight vigilance.
"Tell me, Sam..." He doesn't have to say more.
"I got to thinking as I didn't ought to," Sam mutters, and his breath runs heated through Frodo's hair, "not when I should have been watching. Oh, I deserve worse than hard names if I ever let you–"
"Sam..." The ragged anguish in Sam's voice spills raw into Frodo's chest, and he firms his grip to stop it there.
When Sam lifts his head, the twilight bares troubled marks of shame. "I – Mr. Frodo, I'm sorry."
"Sorry? But why?" The questions form slowly while his hand drifts through Sam's curls that reveal their softness like a dappling glow at his fingertips.
"About Gollum." A miserable look follows the name, as it so often does. "I shouldn't have wished him shot, the poor wretch," Sam continues, "seeing as how you promised to protect him, but... I can't trust him! He's up to no good, Captain Faramir said so too, and just to think what he could–"
"It cannot be helped, Sam." Frodo rests his hand on a strong shoulder, where the stark lines of muscle and bone spell more of change with each day that passes. Bound unwitting to your own harm,
he recalls Faramir's words, and the irony stings him now, with the chill weight pressed to the bottom of his throat. Not so unwitting, no.
"I don't trust him either, but–" Suddenly Frodo struggles for breath again, to tell Sam what he must know. "There may soon come a time when I can no longer trust myself. Who am I to pass judgment?"
Sam bows his head, to hide what he can't. Yet even his grief gives a strange assurance when so very little of their known world remains. On the brink of morning, Frodo can trace the cold claim that slides between their skin. Rising in dull iron-grey, it will soon gleam in gold and break over him in long, glaring waves. A known presence, but never so clear before, never –
Against the centre of his palm Sam's lips shape a seal of stubborn heat.
"Sam, while I still–" No, he needn't say this, uncertain as the measure of time has grown. "Sméagol has been true to his word," Frodo tells him instead, "and I cannot break mine." But this, too, is a questionable truth, when cannot, will not
have long fallen under a breaking law.
"Aye, you've a good heart." When Sam looks up again, his expression has changed so fully that Frodo's breath falters. "The kindest there ever was."
He has no answer for this, all he can do is watch the tenderness in Sam's eyes deepen as he shakes his head.
"Captain Faramir may think you've no need for soft words, but I can't say as I agree with him, begging your pardon."
His kiss falls lightly against Frodo's temple, and longing stirs in fine threads, through all the layers of wool, linen and mithril, weaving and twining closer where Sam lies against him. Folded in his warming shadow, Frodo closes his eyes, to sink below the chill that binds him. May you never know this, may it never touch you. Not through me and not for a moment.
"He's as wise as you could wish, Captain Faramir is," Sam murmurs, stroking gently down Frodo's back, "but not one for words as cheer the heart, if you take my meaning."
Frodo opens his eyes to a flicker of mirth that belies Sam's disapproving tone – and he startles himself with a gasped chuckle. "I do at that."
In the soft start of laughter they find a kiss that Frodo takes in deep. Perhaps what he gives is never more than a wish – I can, I will
– but he can hold it here, for another moment, until they draw apart at a bird's piercing call.
"Is that a lark?" Frodo whispers, listening to the sound that climbs and climbs before it dives back into the dale.
"Aye, morning's come." Sam steadies his voice, out of a breathless reluctance that winds them into a tighter clasp. "They'll send us off with a full stomach, leastways, and we won't be scraping for food a while neither."
Frodo turns his face into the curve of Sam's neck, breathing, seeking the hum of a life that sings for him. The lark calls again, and as distant as it is, Frodo knows how it soars, the sharp rise of flight honed to one fearless moment.
"Yes, Sam." Between his murmur and Sam's skin, he can taste the shiver and the glow of dawn that stills where they lie.
* * *
(continued in: Trough
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