2. Part Two
An hour later he laid yet another book open on his desk and smoothed the yellowed page. If there were such a thing as elvish magic, he hadn't found it here. It was odd, Frodo thought. Despite their air of enchantment, Elves as far as he knew didn't do magic; they simply were magical, which was quite a different thing. Sometimes their language itself seemed magical to him, or it did if he stopped trying to understand it and started to listen. He remembered long winter evenings by the fire in the parlor when Bilbo would read elvish verses aloud, speaking too quickly for Frodo to follow him easily. Frodo would watch the snow piling up against the windows as he listened to Bilbo's sonorous voice ebbing and flowing above him, his head resting on Bilbo's knee. The words would blend with the crackling of the fire and the cold kiss of snowflakes on the glass to make a strange music that brought to his mind the rushing of a clear brook in Spring.
But that music was not to the purpose now. The Shire needed water, not a dream of it. Frodo slammed the book shut and stretched, trying to get the cramp out of his neck. The air in the study was close and heavy with heat, and he'd had no water since the Sheriff had stopped at the Bywater inn. He supposed he should go the well and draw some, but dreaded the chore now, when the mid-afternoon sun was at its fiercest. There was always the beer-barrel in the cellar. But Frodo had already learned the hard lesson that in heat like this beer only intensified his thirst.
If only elvish magic could do the work of drawing water. But there was no magic in the Shire, unless, Frodo supposed, you counted Gandalf's fireworks on the rare occasions when he visited. Or there was always Bilbo's Ring.
The Ring. Though Frodo owned it now he had not, as it happened, seen it very often. Bilbo had been protective of it, rarely allowing Frodo to see it and never allowing him to hold it. Perhaps he would have if Frodo had asked, but Frodo had never asked. The Ring seemed to be a strangely private thing, a thing so wholly Bilbo's that Frodo could not imagine him without it. When Bilbo astonishingly left it behind, Gandalf had insisted that it be kept in its envelope. Frodo had scarcely had a chance to touch it before it was sealed away.
And there it had remained, for Frodo had trusted Gandalf from his childhood and generally followed his advice. Gandalf was a wizard after all, and when a wizard warns you about a magic ring, it's best to pay attention. Frodo could vaguely remember that in the spring he had dreamed of the Ring once or twice: dreamed of finding the envelope and opening it and then -- something would follow after that, something dark and exciting and hard to define. But when Frodo woke from these dreams, troubled and oddly tired, he would hear Sam whistling cheerfully in the garden, and all thoughts unrelated to Sam would disappear like mist.
But now when he closed his eyes, Frodo could remember the Ring as if he had held it five minutes before. It had been so perfectly round, so smooth, so heavy in his hand, gleaming in the firelight of Bag End on the chill September night of Bilbo's departure. Frodo wondered now why he had never opened the envelope. The need to do so was so blindingly obvious. His beloved Shire was dying, and he owned a magic ring. Just what the Ring might do Frodo did not know, but he never would know unless he tried. Frodo licked his dry lips and swayed slightly in his chair, picturing the precious circle of gold in his mind. It would feel cool, he knew, as he slipped it on his finger; cool or even cold, like falling into a coffin made of ice . . .
A door slammed in the rear of the smial. "Mr. Frodo!" Sam's muffled voice: he must have come in from what was left of the kitchen gardens. Frodo's eyes flew open and his heart turned over in his chest. More doors banged open; Sam was checking the bedrooms, moving much more quickly and loudly than was his habit in Bag End. "Mr. Frodo!" He had reached the pantry, then the parlor, and then he was just down the hall. The study door flung open, and a panting Sam appeared. His face was flushed and dripping, and his half-open shirt clung to him in damp places on his chest and back.
"Mr. Frodo," he said, sagging against the round doorframe, "oh, Mr. Frodo, you shouldn't ought to have come without telling me, not with no water drawn and not a soul to look after you here, seeing as how you've been sick and all . . ."
"Sam -- "
But Sam was exclaiming in alarm; he had seen the books. "Now, what have you been doing, wearing yourself out by reading? Rest is what you need after a journey like that, near two days on the road in this heat, and after you took ill in the fields yesterday." And to Frodo's surprise Sam strode across the room, hauled him unceremoniously out of his chair, and pushed him toward the study door.
"Sam!" he said indignantly, "I'm not an invalid."
"Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo," said Sam, in a tone that begged for nothing, "but you are at that. The Sheriff told me all about it when I met him in the Bywater Road. We're lucky still to have you, those were his very words, and I came near to dying myself when I heard . . ." With that Sam's strong arm was about Frodo's shoulders and pulling him down the hall.
"Sam," said Frodo, planting his heels on the floor to slow their progress. "I'm fine, really I am. Or as fine as anyone is in this heat."
Sam tightened his hands on Frodo's shoulders, and studied him disapprovingly with the warm brown eyes that Frodo had longed for every night since leaving Bag End. "Right worn out you look to me, sir, and drawn, too, like they've not been feeding you right in Brandy Hall." His tone softened. "Oh, Mr. Frodo, have you had aught to drink since you came home?"
"No, not yet, but Sam -- "
"Not - another - word," Sam said, squeezing Frodo's shoulders for emphasis. "Not one more word. I'll be going to the well to get some water, like as I ought to have done this morning in case you came. But before anything else I want you in that bed of yours, and I want you there now."
Frodo felt himself blush to the tips of his ears. Surely it would never occur to Sam that this might mean -- But apparently it had, for Sam's eyes widened and his rosy lips parted in an "oh" of dismay. And that was too much for Frodo. Without thinking he leaned forward and brushed Sam's lips lightly with his own.
For five terrifying heartbeats they stood stock-still, brown eyes staring into blue, their lips less than an inch apart. Then Sam closed the distance, his lips on Frodo's feather-light and soft for a fraction of second and then a mere whisper away for longer, lingering so that Frodo felt the heat and moisture of Sam's breath. Frodo moaned and parted his lips to speak. But Sam made speaking unnecessary by reaching a warm brown hand behind Frodo's neck and pulling him forward into a bruising kiss, searching Frodo's mouth with his tongue as if he never intended to stop. And Frodo never wanted him to.
When Sam at last released him Frodo gasped as if he had run all the way from Buckland just for this kiss. He had forgotten to breathe. This was probably bad. Sam may very well have been right, he realized, about how ill he was. "Oh, Sam," he said, or tried to, but the heat of the smial and the heat of their bodies and the lack of air merged into an overwhelming weight that snuffed out his consciousness like a candle. His knees buckled and he would have fallen, but Sam reached down and caught him up in his arms. Frodo retained just enough awareness to feel himself being carried and then laid down upon something soft.
"Sam," he murmured unhappily, for the strong arms that had held him were gone.
"Right here, Mr. Frodo," Sam said. His thick fingers brushed a damp curl off Frodo's forehead. Frodo struggled to open his eyes; it was as difficult as if he were under twenty feet of blood-warm water. Sam was sitting on the edge of the bed mere inches from where Frodo lay, his round eyes almost black in the half-light of the bedroom. "There, sir, you rest easy now." He stroked Frodo's hair gently.
"Sam," Frodo said, feeling overwhelmingly happy and deeply foolish at the same time. He kissed me, he finally kissed me, and I fainted. "I'm sorry Sam, it's so hot --"
"There now, Mr. Frodo, we'll soon have you put to rights. Let your Sam take care of you." And Sam's hands went briskly to Frodo's collar and began undoing his buttons. Frodo made a surprised noise and Sam shot backwards, placing his hands firmly at his sides and turning the color of one his prize roses. "Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo, but I didn't mean -- that is, I wasn't trying to -- oh -- " In his embarrassment and annoyance Sam muttered a word that Frodo had never heard him use before.
"Why not?" Frodo said before he could stop himself.
Sam's fingers strayed back toward Frodo's hair, and his warm brown eyes raked Frodo's body with a gaze that somehow made Frodo richly aware that he was lying hot and sweaty in bed with his shirt half-open in the middle of the afternoon. But after a second or two Sam pulled away and took a deep shaky breath. "Sir," he said, "it wouldn't be right, not with you like this, I'd be taking advantage. And like as not you don't even know what you're saying," he finished glumly.
Frodo turned on his side to face Sam and seized his wrist. "Samwise Gamgee. Are you suggesting that I kissed you because I'm off my head in the heat? If so -- " With the tip of his index finger he traced a gentle circle on the wrist he'd captured. He wished he could distill the essence of every poem he had ever read into a few words. But no words came, or the ones that did seemed like pallid ghosts of the feelings that lived and breathed within him. "If so," he said at last, for he had to say something, "then you do yourself a disservice."
"Sir," Sam said, and Frodo's heart contracted, for he recognized the tone: it was the way Sam spoke when he reminded Frodo that he'd left his books out in the garden or forgotten to have his tea. It was the voice he used when he was about to say something sensible, and sure enough, he disengaged his hand and proceeded to fluff the pillows around Frodo's head. Frodo stirred impatiently; pillow-fluffing was not at all what he'd had in mind. But Sam showed every symptom of being adamant. "No, sir," he said, "I won't have that. You're ill."
"Sam -- "
"Now," Sam said, his jaw thrust slightly forward in a stubborn expression that Frodo had long ago learned he could not argue with. "You've taken bad in this heat and you need to cool down. Don't you go taking this the wrong way, sir, but I'm going to get you out of that shirt." And he pushed Frodo onto his back and continued the business of unbuttoning where he'd left off.
During this treatment Frodo lay quiet, which seemed to him at once a reasonable course of action and completely mad under the circumstances. Sam made quick work of the buttons. He jerked the shirt out from beneath Frodo's breeches and tugged the suspenders from Frodo's shoulders as if he were removing the harness from a horse. Then he eased the shirt open and slid it down Frodo's shoulders.
At this point Frodo did something he hadn't done in months. He shivered.
"Are you cold, sir?" Sam asked incredulously.
"Of course not," Frodo said.
Sam said something which might have been "um" and undid the buttons at Frodo's cuffs. He extracted each arm from its sleeve and pulled a wholly unresisting Frodo up a bit so he could remove the shirt completely. As Frodo sank back onto the pillows he thought, he's going to fold it, isn't he? And he couldn't help smiling when Sam did just that, concentrating on each motion as if his very life depended on the shirt being in perfect condition. Then he stood, the shirt neatly folded but no cleaner, of course, than it had been before. Frodo wondered what the point might be of folding something so clearly destined for the laundry.
"Water," Sam said succinctly. "I'm going to draw some, and while I'm gone you're not to stir out of that bed, do you hear?" And with that he turned and stomped purposefully toward the door.
"Sam," Frodo said. "Don't you want to -- stay -- at all?" It was a question he would never have found the courage to ask if he had not suspected the answer. But suspecting and knowing were two different things.
Sam snorted and glared at the doorframe as if it had offended him personally. "Don't know as how you can ask that question, after what I just did to you in the hall, fool that I am."
"What we did together," Frodo corrected, "and you're no fool."
"Anyone but a fool knows there's a time and place for everything."
"Sam. Look at me. What we did made me so -- "
"I made you worse," Sam interrupted. His voice sounded choked and strange. He did look at Frodo then, and Frodo shivered again at what he saw: fear. Frodo had never known Sam to be afraid of anything.
"Oh, Sam, no -- "
"You're ill, and I made you worse." Sam shook himself and rubbed fiercely at his eyes with the back of his hand. "Now don't you go telling me it's not so, sir, because it is. And I can't have that. What would the Gaffer say if he found out you'd come home at last and I'd not made you well?"
"I don't care what -- no." Frodo stopped himself, feeling that anything he might say would send him hurtling over the edge of a conversational precipice. "I admire the Gaffer immensely," he said cautiously, "you know that, don't you?"
Sam nodded once. "Reckon you do."
"But I care less about what he says than -- what you feel." There, it had been asked, the question that had tormented Frodo for -- for he did not know how long, but it felt like decades. And now all he could do was lie in his bed, staring at Sam in the doorway.
Sam was silent, and for a terrible moment Frodo thought that a single kiss was all he would ever have of him. But at last he spoke. "Well then, sir, if you must know." Sam's voice was quiet now, even and low. He looked away, his profile a shadow in the faint light coming from the shuttered windows. "I reckon that right about now, keeping you is more important than having you. I can't lose you, Mr. Frodo. I couldn't bear it. Not every green thing and you as well." He turned and walked away.
When Sam left all the air in the room seemed to go with him, and Frodo realized for the first time how stiflingly hot the bedroom had become. Outside the afternoon sun beat down with its full force on the south face of the Hill, as if it were trying to break through the windows and expose Frodo's dark hiding-place. The heat made it difficult to breathe and impossible to think, particularly with Sam's kiss still resonating through Frodo's body like the echo of a thunderclap in a stony mountain pass.
Remembering Sam's arms around him gave Frodo a fluttery feeling in his stomach that had nothing to do with the heat. But when he remembered the haunted look in Sam's eyes, he felt overwhelmed by a confused grief. Not every green thing . . . Frodo hated the heat; he loathed what it was doing to the Shire; he was terrified of what winter might bring. He had not thought it possible to feel worse about the whole affair. But for Sam it seemed to be different: the drought had sent him into some private hell of his own where Frodo could not follow.
Sam also felt something for him, that was clear, and under other circumstances this discovery would have sent Frodo over the moon with joy. But at the moment Frodo thought he was giving Sam nothing but another cause for panic. Keeping you is more important than having you. Frodo's heart sank as he wondered what, in practice, this might mean. To Sam, Frodo was not a source of comfort or strength but a burden, like an exotic rose that would sicken and die if Sam did not tend it with the utmost care.
Frodo did not wish to be tended with the utmost care. He did not know exactly how he wanted to be treated, but the kiss had given him a fairly good idea. It had also given him some idea of how he wanted to treat Sam: an idea that included many things, but not simply lying here like a feverish child while Sam pampered him. Sam plainly needed pampering himself, if only Frodo could get him to hold still long enough.
Frodo turned restlessly in the bed, wondering how he could possibly survive until Sam returned. In early spring, when it had been cooler and when the shutters had been left open all day, he had been able to look from the bed to the window boxes and see the flowers Sam had planted for him. Now there was nothing in the room to remind him of Sam's presence.
It was clearly the sort of room that had been inhabited for a long time by lonely bachelors, a room where first Bilbo and then Frodo and allowed their love of order to be overwhelmed by their love of things. The bookshelves held the overflow from the extensive collection that occupied the study and the parlor: elvish poetry, histories of the Shire, genealogies, herb lore, Bilbo's notes for a history of the hobbits of Bree. And in the face of Sam's quiet disapproval, the bookshelves and just about every other flat surface also held miscellaneous odds and ends that the Tookish part of Frodo found irresistible: interesting rocks; a toy cart made in Dale; a creamy, slightly translucent object that Frodo had been assured was a genuine seashell. On the desk amid piles of unsorted papers was perched an ingenious dwarf-made device for synchronizing the elvish and Númenórean calendars. Next to it was a worn leather ball used in Brumble, a game wildly popular among the Brandybucks; Merry played it to wicked perfection and Frodo played it fairly well when he kept in practice. High atop one of the remote corner bookcases there lurked a dirty teacup, right where Frodo had absently put it a month or two ago. Sam either had not found it or had assumed Frodo meant it to be yet another form of eccentric decoration.
The room felt choked with things, all of them his and Bilbo's. Perhaps, someday, it would contain some of Sam's as well? At this forbidden thought Frodo curled happily on his side and had to remind himself to breathe. Not that Sam was as burdened with objects as Frodo. He had less money, of course, and unlike Bilbo he had never returned from a long journey into the Wild bearing a hoard of treasure and a magic --
The Ring. How had Frodo forgotten it?
Sam had put it completely out of his mind. Yes, a hard cold voice said inside him, you were all set to save the Shire, weren't you, and then you allowed yourself to be distracted by a gardener. But Frodo resisted this voice. Sam is not just a gardener, he thought. A thousand memories rose unbidden to Sam's defense. Sam in the garden, planting a bed of petunias with as much care and attention as he would rock a cradle. Sam striding cheerfully up the Hill, a bag of potatoes swinging from one hand. Sam pruning the Bag End hedges beside his Gaffer, unobtrusively finding ways to take on the most burdensome parts of the task himself. No, Sam was not just a gardener, and if Frodo could not find some way to make him happy, he thought they would both go mad.
And yet, and yet. Perhaps the Ring could help Sam as well. Surely Gandalf would not think the Ring so dangerous if its sole power were to make its wearer invisible. Such a beautiful thing, such a precious thing: it must be able to do more. Why, there was no end to what the Ring would let Frodo do. Sam did not want to see the Shire die. Very well. Frodo had a sudden vision of himself, tall and fair and wise as the Númenórean kings of old, a master of wind and weather. With the Ring he could throw off the heat like an unwanted blanket. With the Ring he could bring rain: a long soaking rain that would save Merry's crops in the nick of time. With the Ring he could make the Shire as green and lovely as before. Even lovelier: the Shire would become a paradise on Earth. All would know that Frodo had made it so; all would admire his kindness and his wisdom; Sam would have no choice but to forget his ridiculous scruples and adore . . .
Frodo sat up, unable not to. He grunted and jerked forward, as if a dark tendril had twisted its way into his beating heart and tried to pull it from his body.
He would take the Ring. He would take it now. It was his by right. "My birthday present," he said, half-aloud.
"Sir?" Sam's worried face was peering down into his own.
"What is it?" Frodo snapped, startled. He had not heard Sam come in. He'd had no idea that enough time had passed for Sam to return from the well.
"Are you all right, sir?"
"Of course I'm all right. I've done nothing but rest in this wretched bed since you left."
"Well," said Sam, placing a pitcher of water and a glass on the nightstand, "it's a rest that's done you no good at all then. You do look awful, sir. Pale as wraith, begging your pardon."
This was not the sort of remark he'd dreamed of hearing Sam make in the bedroom. And for the second time today Sam had come between him and the Ring. Of course it wasn't deliberate -- unless, perhaps, it was. A foul suspicion grew in Frodo's mind. He glared at Sam and snatched the glass from the nightstand. "Samwise," he said. "I'd thank you to stop begging my pardon. It's unnecessary, and it's annoying. And I'd also thank you to knock before you come in. Kissing me doesn't give you the right to tramp in and out as you please."
For a fraction of a second Sam's face was a study in pain, and then all expression vanished as completely as if he had put on a mask. "Here's the water when you need it," he said. "And you do need it, begging -- " He stopped. One fist clenched at his side, then opened slowly, the fingers uncurling one by one. "You need some real rest, now. I'll be in the kitchen if you want anything." Then, as an afterthought: "Sir." And before Frodo could say any of the words of apology that rushed to his lips, Sam was gone.
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.