He sat alone in the dark and airless study, feeling more unhappy than he ever had in his life. Frodo had grieved before. But however he had suffered at the absence of his Buckland friends, at the departure of Bilbo, and even the at death of his parents, he had never until now been poisoned by the knowledge that a loss was his own fault, and that he deserved it.
Sam would not speak to him. Or no, he would speak to him, but not with him. When Frodo had finally felt brave enough, or desperate enough, to emerge dry-eyed from the bedroom, Sam somehow always found a way to be elsewhere. When Frodo went to the kitchen, Sam was stepping out to the pantry; when Frodo went to the pantry, there was some chore to be done in the parlor; when Frodo thought of an excuse to enter the parlor, Sam was just on his way back to the kitchen. And something in the way Sam never quite looked at him silenced Frodo as effectively as if he had been tied to a chair and gagged.
Now Sam had left, at least for a time; he had muttered something about needing to pick up fresh eggs so that Frodo would have something nourishing to put in his stomach tomorrow morning. The nearest farm was less than a mile away; Sam should have been back. But it was nearly dusk and still he had not returned.
He would come back, of course, and in a way that was bad. If Sam had stormed from Bag End swearing never to darken its doors again, Frodo would have felt some hope of being able to reach him. But this wordless compliance was a new thing in him, and Frodo had no idea how or whether he would ever be able to get past it.
Sitting here would do no good, Frodo decided. He rose and picked his way through the unlit room to the equally unlit hallway, banging his shins against an end table only once in the process. From the hall he found his way to the front entrance without further incident, and opened the round green door.
He paused at the threshold. To his right the last sliver of orange sun dissolved against the horizon. The lane down the Hill curved pale and dusty beneath the violet sky. A few lights gleamed from the direction of Hobbiton in the dim distance. The air was warm and perfectly still. Somewhere a dog barked. Sam was nowhere to be seen.
Frodo frowned slightly; there was something he was forgetting. Perhaps it would be foolish to wander all over the Hill looking for Sam. Perhaps now would be as good a time as any to investigate the Ring. At the thought he felt a strange tightness in his chest, and he turned slowly back toward Bag End, half against his will. He was as tired as if he had been swimming for hours in a heaving, shoreless sea, and he longed to stop fighting and let himself drown in its bitter salt waters.
But something deep within him cried Sam, Sam like a prayer to the empty night. As he stared out into the dusk to look for Sam one last time, he saw the evening star shine pure and clear across the Water. And it seemed to Frodo that for an instant it shone as bright as the sun and the moon together.
Frodo's breath caught in his throat. The stars had not abandoned the Shire. And if the Elves had the right of it, the Valar had set them as a beacon of hope to Middle-earth, an echo and a promise of the light of far-off Valinor beyond the sundering seas. Suddenly all Frodo's troubles seemed a little thing in a world containing such beauty, distant but perfect. Half-understood phrases came to his lips, phrases that Bilbo had read to him long ago. "A Elbereth Gilthoniel," he said, his voice little more than a whisper, "le nallon sí di'nguruthos."
Frodo's heart felt easier then, as if something that had closed around it had loosened its grip. For a moment he watched the evening star hang low in the fading sky. Then he stepped outside and drew a deep breath of Shire air, rich and clean even in the heat that had tormented it for so long. He knew what he had to do.
"Sam," he called softly. No answer but the mournful cry of an owl. Well, Frodo thought, it shouldn't be too hard to find Sam; he hadn't gone as far as Bree after all. Frodo strode down the garden path and vaulted lightly over the low fence that separated it from the lane, not bothering with the gate. But he turned from the lane almost at once, for it curved out of the straight way to the farm, and Sam almost always cut across country when he was on foot.
Dry unmown grass brushed against Frodo's legs as he made his way south. It was here that Bilbo had held his final birthday-party. For a day and a night the field had been invaded by a happy mob of hobbits eating, drinking, and dancing, and knowing no grief that more ale and seed-cake wouldn't cure. Already the Party seemed to belong to a distant and less troubled age of Middle-earth. But Frodo smiled at the memory, and as he did, he could almost hear the music and the hobbits' voices around him again, as if the grass and trees remembered them too and could give life to the smiling shadows of the past. Brandybucks flirted with Tooks, who flirted right back; jolly Bolgers told jokes that had been ancient in the days of the Old Took; disdainful Sackville-Bagginses wondered how much the whole thing had cost; old Bilbo himself enthralled children with tales of trolls and dragons.
The vision disappeared as someone cleared his throat a few yards away. Frodo stepped briskly toward the sound, recognizing it as immediately as he would his own face in the mirror. "Sam," he said.
"Right here, Mr. Frodo." Sam was leaning against the great tree in the middle of the field, the tree where Bilbo had given his final speech. A half-empty crate of eggs and other provender lay at his feet. In the dim aftermath of the sunset his sweaty golden curls had darkened to bronze. He twisted a fallen leaf in his fingers, and he still would not quite look at Frodo.
"Sam," Frodo said. "I missed you."
Sam looked up slowly. To Frodo's surprise Sam reached forward and took Frodo's chin in his hand, his dark eyes looking into Frodo's with great seriousness and concentration. This inspection had a predictable effect on Frodo's ability to breathe.
"Well?" Frodo said after a time, when he was almost but not quite capable of controlling his voice. "Do I meet with your approval?"
"Aye, you do at that. That's all right then."
"Your eyes, Mr. Frodo. Your eyes are -- your eyes again. They had gone all funny afore, must have the heat that done it." Sam's hand drifted from Frodo's chin to trace the curve of his jawline.
"Oh, Sam, I wasn't myself," Frodo said, feeling obscurely that this was not just a figure of speech.
"I know that." The fingers slid lightly across Frodo's face. "But now you're back, I'd have known it in a heartbeat if I'd only had the sense to look. You're back, any fool could tell it now, with those eyes lovelier than the stars."
Frodo blinked in surprise. He had never heard Sam get so poetic before. Frodo didn't believe his eyes were a good feature and had never imagined that anyone else would, for blue eyes were rare in the Shire, and his had made him the target of considerable teasing from some of his rowdier Brandybuck cousins. But if Sam was teasing now, it was in an entirely different sense. Frodo didn't think he was teasing at all, not with his dark eyes so solemn. And now that they were standing only inches away from each other -- how had that happened? -- Frodo could see that Sam's eyes were also red and swollen, as if Sam had spent a good part of the time he had been away crying.
"Dearest Sam," he said, taking the hand that caressed him and kissing it, "I can't tell you how sorry I am that I said those terrible things."
Sam raised his eyebrows and shifted against the tree. "Well, I won't be begging your pardon any time soon, I can tell you that."
"You can beg my pardon as much as you please, as long as you let me beg yours when I need to, and oh, Sam, I need to now."
"Never meant to make you beg, sir," said Sam, and just as Frodo was wondering what Sam might possibly mean by that, Sam removed his doubts by half-smiling and adding, "begging your pardon." Sam freed his hand and slid it down Frodo's shoulder and around his waist. And then they were all tangled up in each other and Sam's lips were covering his. By some transition Frodo didn't very clearly follow, it was Frodo with his back against the tree, the bark digging into his shoulders as Sam's tongue sought and got permission to explore Frodo's mouth, his neck, the hollow at the base of his throat. At the feeling of Sam's lips on that sensitive spot, Frodo could not stop himself from making a strangled noise of longing, and Sam abruptly drew back, panting slightly.
"Still with me?" he gasped, looking at Frodo with grave concern.
Frodo closed his eyes and swallowed hard in frustration and embarrassment, but he had to admit that the question and the concern were reasonable. "Yes, Sam, I'm feeling much better than this afternoon, and I'm not a porcelain doll, so can we please . . .?" And he reached for Sam, but Sam was adjusting his slightly rumpled shirt with a finality that seemed to preclude opportunities for further rumpling.
"Samwise," Frodo complained. "You're not being fair."
Sam looked at him in a way that left him in no doubt that he wished to continue -- though a glance at Sam's breeches communicated the same information more quickly and clearly. But Sam's chin was thrusting forward again in the familiar expression that Frodo was coming to dread. "This is a field, sir," he said, and behind the husky longing in his voice Frodo could hear a faint but unmistakable echo of the Gaffer.
"Really?" said Frodo. "I never would have guessed."
Sam wisely ignored this. "There's a time -- " he began, but Frodo had leaned forward to kiss the soft place beneath his ear. "Sir!" Sam protested, but spoiled the effect by tilting his head back slightly with a muffled "mmm." And Frodo had wanted this for so long, and now he wanted to keep doing it forever, for the skin beneath his lips was warmer and silkier than anything he had ever dreamed. But then he found himself back against the tree, pinned there by Sam's strong hands at his shoulders. It would have been very pleasant if Sam hadn't insisted on keeping him an arm's length away.
"Sir," Sam said sternly. "There's a time and a place for everything, and this is not the time or the place."
"It seems to me to be the perfect place," Frodo said, though by a perfect place he meant at this point any place where Sam happened to be.
"Not in a field," Sam said, and the echo of the Gaffer was loud and clear. "And not in this one most of all," he added in a lower tone more clearly his own.
"Why on earth -- " Frodo said, thinking of several uses to which the field's darker corners had been put during Bilbo's party, particularly by Merry, who at eighteen had already known the most astonishing -- But then Frodo knew. "Oh! Sam," he said. "I'm an idiot, of course, I'm so sorry." Without letting go of each other, they turned as one to a point over Sam's shoulder and to his left. The moon had not yet risen, so they could as yet see very little, but there came across the field the distant but perfectly clear sound of a door slamming in Bagshot Row.
Oh, no, thought Frodo. Sam cleared his throat, very deliberately let go of Frodo, and backed away to a slightly more suitable distance.
"Um, Sam," Frodo said, "Do you suppose that anyone -- saw that?"
"The Gaffer may be old," Sam said, "but he ain't blind." Frodo's horror must have shown on his face, for Sam laughed and said, "Don't you worry, Mr. Frodo, I won't let him do you any harm."
"Don't be silly. It's you I'm worried about."
Sam glowered, and if Frodo thought he had seen a stubborn look on his face before, he now realized that he had been mistaken. "Reckon me and the Gaffer have had this one out already, if you take my meaning, sir. He knows what's what, and he's had his say and I've had mine."
Sam and the Gaffer at odds. Now there was an argument Frodo would not like to be in the middle of. But Frodo thought the argument never should have happened at all; it never would have happened if Frodo weren't being so selfish. "Sam," he said, "you're so young . . ."
"Sweet Lady," Sam remarked. "Don't you be starting on that as well, sir. I'm old enough to know my own mind. Been old enough for that for years," he added, and Frodo wondered if Sam's nights had been tortured and lonely for as long as his own. "And you only just came of age yourself, Mr. Frodo, so there's no need to go putting on airs about it like you're a gaffer in a corner."
Frodo couldn't help laughing at that, but he did not want to let the point go. It was too important. "Very well," he said. "I won't put on airs. But since I've only just left my tweens myself, as you say, I remember very clearly what it's like to be in them. And no matter how much you try to pretend, you can't look me in the eye, Samwise -- " and here he cupped Sam's face gently in his hands -- "and tell me it isn't hard for you sometimes."
Sam nodded hesitantly.
"Especially this summer," Frodo said, "am I right?"
Sam tried to look away, but Frodo wouldn't let him. "Sam," he breathed, "oh, Sam, you can tell me. If you can't tell me then you'll never tell anyone, and then where will you be?"
Sam's face crumpled. "Oh, Mr. Frodo," he said, and he fell into Frodo's waiting arms.
Frodo had not known how many green and beautiful things had died.
Until Sam poured out his soul to him that night, he had never even known how many green and beautiful things had lived in the Shire. Frodo could tell an oak tree from an elm, and a peony from a rose, and in his wilder days with the Brandybucks he had learned the fastest way to denude a field of its mushrooms, but that was about the extent of his woodcraft. Sam on the other hand had made these things his study and his passion since the time he could talk. He could put a name to everything that grew, to all the plants that were in Bilbo's books of herb lore and dozens of others that weren't. Some of the names Frodo suspected that Sam had made himself, names for mosses and for tiny ferns that perhaps no speaking creature but Sam had ever noticed or cared about. And for each of these things, Sam knew the proper growth and season. Sam had learned long ago not to mourn if some of them failed to thrive, but it had been almost more than he could bear to watch them all die, one by one.
As they sat against the tree and Sam said all of this, the words tumbling out between choked sobs and his head buried in Frodo's shoulder, Frodo realized how much his apparently stolid and common-sense Samwise lived in world of his own, a world inhabited by leaves and blossoms that he knew and understood as dearly loved friends. For Sam each flower in the fields had its own sweet voice, and so many of these voices had gone silent that Sam's world had become a drear and empty place. Frodo could not even imagine what it must have cost Sam to stop watering the flowers at Bag End.
Frodo said little during these revelations, in part because he dreaded saying the wrong thing and leaving Sam with the impression that Frodo was making fun his deepest secrets. And what, in any case, could Frodo do or say when Sam's enemies were the wind and the sun? No, he had no comfort to offer beyond kisses and murmured reassurances. But it seemed that this would do, to judge from the air of quiet content with which Sam relaxed against him when the talk was over and all the tears had been shed.
As they sat silent together, the full moon loomed yellow above the horizon, and to their dark-accustomed eyes the field grew bright beyond the shadow of the great tree. Frodo leaned his head back against the bark, one hand toying idly with Sam's curls, and thought of all the things that Sam had said. This tree: did it have a soul? Did it feel, know, think, as Sam seemed so sure that it must? Did it shrink from the heat of the sun, and did it miss the rain like a lover? When Frodo closed his eyes he could almost feel it: a great quiet consciousness, patient and still. Its mighty arms stretched toward the stars that wheeled above it in a stately and unchanging dance. Its roots sank deep into the earth, its first home, twisting around rock and through soil, and seeking, ever seeking . . .
Soft lips touched Frodo's. "Come back, sir." He opened his eyes to the sight of Sam and smiled, and he thought, I shall never tire of your face, no matter how many times it is the first thing I see in the morning.
"Where were you?" Sam inquired somewhat anxiously.
"Right here, with you, under this tree," Frodo said, pulling Sam back against him. "I was just thinking about its roots. They were looking for something."
"Water, most likely," Sam said.
"Mmm. Looking for Ulmo, then."
"Sir?" Sam sounded more anxious now, and he smoothed Frodo's hair away from his forehead in a slow, deliberate motion that seemed designed to function simultaneously as a caress and as a way to check Frodo's temperature.
"I'm sorry, Sam, I'm babbling. Ulmo, the Lord of Waters. The Elves say that his spirit runs through all the veins of the world, and that he can hear news of all the needs and griefs of Middle-earth."
Sam was silent for a time, and Frodo was half-afraid that he would laugh. But he did not. "That's beautiful, sir," he said at last. "Makes sense, too," he added. Before Frodo could wonder what the elvish lore-masters would make of Sam's approval, Sam asked, "And what do you suppose the Elves would make of this drought?"
"I wish I knew," said Frodo. "Perhaps they have some magic that could end it."
"Don't think so, Mr. Frodo," said Sam.
Frodo looked at him in surprise. "What makes you so sure?" he said.
"Well, Mr. Bilbo told me a few tales of the Elves before he went away," said Sam. "Not near so many as you know, but enough to get the flavor, if you understand me. And it seems to me -- I don't rightly know how to say it. But the Elves don't try to change things, not in any tale I heard."
"Don't they?" said Frodo, frowning, and thinking of some elvish tales he knew that didn't seem to fit this description at all. "Some did, surely."
"Aye," said Sam casually, with the air of someone stating the obvious, "but it never came out right. Always turned out to be some trick or another of the Enemy in the end."
Frodo considered this for a moment. He thought of the maker of the Silmarils, mortally wounded by demons of fire and tormented by the knowledge that his kin could have no victory over the enemy that had deceived them. No, it never had seemed to come out right. Never.
"Change is not their way," Sam continued, warming to his theme, "not any more. In a way, they're like this tree . . ."
Frodo quivered with something like a gasp, and immediately Sam put his hand to Frodo's forehead again. "Are you all right, sir?" he asked, his voice low and worried.
"Perfectly. I just -- " Frodo suspected it would be a bad idea to go on, but couldn't stop himself. "I was just picturing Elves with bark."
Sam removed his hand and shifted his weight so they were no longer sitting quite so close together, ignoring Frodo's inarticulate noise of protest. He fixed Frodo with a level stare, but Frodo saw with relief that the corners of his mouth were slightly upturned. "No," Sam said, "I can't say that was my meaning. Begging your pardon," he added, with a look that could have fried an egg in ten seconds as far away as Brandy Hall.
"Oh, Sam," Frodo said. He did his best to look penitent, and was surprised and delighted when this made Sam shiver -- actually shiver, Frodo could feel it -- and mutter something about how those pretty blue eyes couldn't fix everything, no; nor could that smile, neither.
Realizing that it would be safe to trail apologetic kisses across Sam's collarbone, Frodo did just that, and asked, "How so, then?"
"What?" said Sam, breathing heavily.
"How are they like this tree? Apart from the bark."
"Well," Sam said, twisting so that Frodo found his lips touching cloth rather than skin, "if you'll just leave that button be and let me get some air for a moment. It's like this."
Frodo sighed, and curled cooperatively against him to listen.
"The tree reaches to the stars," Sam said, "but it doesn't try to pull them down from the sky. It seeks water like you said, and it reaches with its roots through this whole field, but it doesn’t reach to other fields and take the water from there. It doesn't change. It just is. This field is its home, and it stays here, through good and ill."
"Yes," Frodo said, "I suppose it does." The image should have been a sad one, but it did not feel that way. It did indeed remind him of the Elves in Bilbo's tales: sad and yet merry, as if their history had ended and they were waiting for something. But that wait was somehow more joyous than all the doing and striving that had come before. "Sam," he said.
Sam smiled, a little wickedly. "And the bark, of course," he said, "keeps the Elves warm o'nights, and keeps the rot away, and --"
"Don't, Samwise, please; I said I was sorry."
"That you never did."
"But I did!"
"I was right here, sir, and would have heard if -- " Sam was forcibly interrupted as Frodo apologized again, the same way that he had before, and did so at such great length that Sam felt compelled to remind him once more that they were in a field, and that they had to stop. So they sat, listening as the tree did nothing, and just was, and didn't change. And Frodo hoped with all his heart that it never would, and that he and Sam could come to sit here beneath the Party Tree when they were old and gray, and find only that the tree had grown a little taller, and its roots had reached a little further.
Without quite knowing why, Frodo shuddered; some shadow whispered that this happy future could not be. Perhaps, he thought sadly, Sam did not, after all, feel quite the same as he did; kisses in the moonlight were one thing, a lifetime was something else. But Sam was with him now. And in the summer of this great dying, Sam needed what Frodo could give him, and Frodo resolved to provide it. "Sam," he said quietly, "I'm sorry that this summer has been so dreadful."
Sam laughed a little. "Never knew the drought was all your fault, sir."
"I just wish," Frodo said, and stopped, frustrated. "Oh, I don't know what I wish. That it had never happened, that you had never had to see it. That there was at least something I could do to make it easier for you."
"Well," said Sam, and then he was silent. He absently tore at the dead grass beside him.
"Well what?" Frodo said, taking Sam's callused hand and twining their fingers together.
"Well," said Sam, so softly that Frodo could barely hear him. Suddenly he looked very young and very troubled. "The Brandybucks are your kin and all, but Mr. Merry can come here as easy as you can go there, if you take my meaning. There now, I've gone and said what I shouldn't, and I'm a plain fool like the Gaffer always . . ."
"Oh, no, no; you're not; I'm the fool, if either of us is," Frodo said, suddenly understanding. While Sam's world had been vanishing around him, Frodo had gone away, had abandoned him, had made it all worse. "I'll never be parted from you again, Sam," he said impulsively, "never; no matter what, I promise." And then he held his breath, afraid he had said too much too soon.
Sam sighed and looked up at him, serious as only Sam could be. "I mean to hold you to that, sir," he said.
They sealed the promise with a kiss. And something that lay hidden and quiet in Bag End whispered in impotent rage, and much of its recently acquired power began to fade.
Frodo felt a great happiness surge through him, one no less than what he'd hoped for on the rare occasions that he'd allowed himself to dream of something like this moment. But the feeling was not happiness alone: there was a sense of lightness, of freedom, as if some great weight that had been dragging at him for months had abruptly lost most of its strength. I want to go home, he thought, and for the first time in longer than he could remember, Bag End no longer seemed terrifying to him. And he very, very much wanted Sam to be there.
"Sam," he said hesitantly. "This is, as you have mentioned several times, a field." He didn't quite know how to go on with the question he wanted to ask.
Sam favored him with a smile that turned his knees into jelly. "I'm thinking we should be getting these eggs back to Bag End, sooner or later."
"Um," Frodo said eloquently. "Yes. Whenever you'd like."
In fact they went to Bag End almost at once, to Frodo's disappointment, since the journey interrupted an important discovery he was making about how easy it was to make Sam moan. But Sam's sense of propriety was returning with redoubled vigor. "The moon's well out now," he said severely, retrieving a button that had somehow become separated from his shirt, "and I reckon we've given the Gaffer and the rest of the Row enough of a show for the night."
And so they brushed the grass from their clothing and started up the Hill. Then they started back down the Hill to retrieve the eggs, which they had forgotten. "Oh, bother the eggs," Frodo said, but Sam insisted.
"Reckon you'll be fair hungry come morning if you're up late tonight," he said cryptically. Frodo did not want to argue with that.
Sam would not, however, let Frodo carry the eggs himself. "No, I'll take those, sir," he said when Frodo made to pick them up, and that was that. Frodo sighed, and wondered when, if ever, Sam would dispense with the "Sir" and the "Mr." He decided not to ask; the battle over "begging your pardon" had been awkward enough, and Frodo didn't think that he had won it. And he knew that what Sam called him was irrelevant, because in every way that mattered, Samwise Gamgee would do just what Samwise Gamgee pleased, and in his own good time.
They came to Bag End up the back way so they could stop by the well at the bottom of the kitchen gardens and draw water. "Meant to do this afore," Sam said apologetically, "but I was in such a state that I left it." Frodo said he would do it, and Sam told him not to be daft, and they agreed at last that Sam would draw the wash water and Frodo would draw the drinking water. Sam managed it easily and Frodo with more difficulty, but at last the task was done, though both of them were panting and sweaty by the end.
Frodo looked ruefully at his sweat-soaked clothing. "I'm afraid this is the second shirt I've ruined today."
Sam gave him a critical look. "Suppose I'll have to get you out of that one too, then."
"Samwise," Frodo said, blushing a little. "That won't be necessary. I am perfectly capable of removing my own clothes."
Sam leaned against the well and folded his arms. "Let's see you do it, then."
All right then, Master Gamgee, Frodo thought, if that's how you want it. Ignoring his suddenly trembling fingers, he unbuttoned his shirt, making quicker work of it than he ever had in his life. It was probably that speed -- that and his consciousness of Sam's eyes on him, appreciative and even hungry -- that explained why he forgot to undo his right cuff and got himself stuck when he tried to remove the shirt.
"May I help, sir?" Sam said innocently.
"Oh, sweet Lady," Frodo muttered. "You tie me in knots, Sam."
"You're doing a fine job of tying the knots yourself," Sam said, reaching under Frodo's cuff with one hand and effortlessly undoing the buried button. He pulled the shirt away with a single swift jerk, looking at Frodo with the half-smile that gave him goose bumps.
"I suppose," said Frodo, "that you're going to fold that now."
Without breaking eye contact Sam dropped the shirt into one of their buckets.
"Sam!" Frodo exclaimed in horror. "Don't waste . . ."
"It's wash water, ain't it?" said Sam. He bent to plunge the shirt into the water, and narrowed his eyes to consider Frodo appraisingly.
"No!" said Frodo, realizing what Sam had in mind only seconds before it happened. "Don't you dare -- don't -- OW!" Before Frodo could duck Sam swung the shirt toward him with perfect aim, scattering luminous drops of water in every direction and soaking Frodo completely as the cold, wet shirt slapped onto his chest.
"Now, sir, there's no need to wake the entire Row," Sam said, leaping up to compound his crime by sliding the shirt around to Frodo's back.
Between shivering and laughing Frodo was completely helpless. "Sam, you wretched -- OH that feels -- " Sam was standing at his back, one hand firmly around his waist to pin Frodo against him, and the other working the shirt across Frodo's shoulders and down his arm. "Wonderful," Frodo sighed at last.
Both of them gradually stopped laughing as the game became another thing. Frodo gasped and shuddered as a cold stream of water flowed down the small of his back. Sam's movements slowed. "All right then?" he murmured in Frodo's ear.
"Yes. Please. Don't stop." Frodo closed his eyes and leaned back as the cool wet cloth glided over him. No bath had ever made him feel so clean, for though Sam was gentler now he also seemed determined to be thorough, moving with quiet concentration along each finger, up the sensitive skin on the inside of Frodo's wrists and arms, in smooth even strokes from his belly to his chest, and in soft circles around each nipple, which tightened instantly at the touch.
Frodo turned in Sam's arms. "Now you," he said.
They unbuttoned Sam's shirt together, getting in each other's way, pausing to kiss fingers that kept getting jumbled up with each other and with the buttons and with the shirt. When the shirt was finally off, Frodo leaned down to dunk it in --
"Not that one," Sam advised tersely, his breath ragged.
-- to dunk it in the same bucket Sam had used, so the other could serve as drinking water. Frodo stood, dripping shirt in hand, his heart beating so quickly that he was sure that the Gaffer could hear it in Bagshot Row. "Now?" he said, and Sam nodded. The taut muscles in Sam's chest jumped only a little when Frodo first touched him hesitantly with the ice-cold shirt. Then Sam gave a long quivering sigh as Frodo roamed over the body he had ached to touch for so long, cleansing away the dirt and the sweat and the summer's desert heat. Soft skin glistened over hard muscle everywhere that the water had been, and when Frodo leaned down to kiss a few excess droplets from Sam's chest, they tasted of wet cloth and clean earth and Sam. Then Sam made a low impatient noise and took the shirt, wadding it together with the other and tossing them both into the hedge. And the sight of Sam inches away, the water on his bare shoulders sparkling at his slightest breath and motion, was so beautiful that Frodo thought his heart would stop.
"Sam," he said, and paused as their wet bodies came together, skin sliding against skin. Frodo felt Sam's damp hands frame his face, and the dark eyes loomed large before him, the shadows of their thick lashes etched clear in the moonlight. Then Sam took Frodo's mouth with his own, and if their last kiss in the field had been sweet, this one was urgent and thirsty.
"Sam," Frodo said at length, as best he could with Sam teasing at his lower lip with his tongue and teeth, "didn't you say there's a time and a place for everything?"
"That I did," Sam said hoarsely. He turned his attention to Frodo's upper lip.
"Well," Frodo said, "the time is now. The place is here."
"Right you are . . . "
Somewhere down the Hill, a door slammed. Violently. They jumped and Frodo glanced nervously over Sam's shoulder, realizing they were in full view of the fortunately deserted lane. Sam muttered something inaudible into Frodo's hair and drew back, most definitely not letting Frodo go. He cleared his throat. "Actually," he said, "I'd say the time is a minute or two from now, and the place is your bed, sir."
Frodo laughed a little breathlessly. "I imagine I could settle for that."
They disentangled themselves and hastily gathered their things, winding their way through the kitchen gardens and up to the back door of Bag End. But at the threshold Sam paused, looking back to the moonlit landscape that dreamed beneath them. You are so beautiful, Frodo thought, and watched as Sam's curls, turned by the moon to golden fire, fluttered away from his face in the breeze and revealed a perfect pale eartip.
"Sam," he said at last, for Sam had stood as still as a statue for over a minute, scarcely seeming to breathe. "What is it?"
Sam turned back to him, eyes round with wonder. "The wind," he said.
The wind. Frodo realized then that he had been too caught up in Sam's curls to see that for the first time in longer than he could remember there was a noticeable wind, and that it was coming from --
"It's in the West," said Sam, his voice breaking. "Oh, Frodo, the wind is in the West."
Frodo's heart soared within him, for more than one reason. And he saw many years before him of love and hope, and of the green and growing life that no evil thing could conquer forever. But all he said was, "The rain will come someday, Sam."
"Aye, that it will," said Sam. "And if it does," he added, "we'd best be getting indoors."
Frodo's laughter echoed over the Hill and across the Water. "Dearest Sam," he said. "Whatever have I done to deserve you?"
Sam held the door to Bag End open with one foot and shoved the buckets inside. "That's the second fool question you've asked today, Mr. Frodo," he said. "Now are you coming in or no?"
At the heart of the Shire there lay a thing that did not love the little people who lived there, or the wind, or the rain, or indeed anything at all save the dark master that called it from far away. One of the hobbits had cast it aside, and as for its new bearer -- the Ring's attempts to take root there had been in vain. And the tendril of the Ring's malice that had been seeking nourishment in the Ringbearer's heart withered and died, for one path to that heart had been closed to it, at least for a time. So the Ring drew in on itself and waited. Its dreams were evil, but it slept.
Above the endless Sea, the West Wind stirred to life. The great gray clouds were no longer pent beyond the Blue Mountains but rolled across Eriador as before. Over the Gulf of Lune, over the havens of the Elves, and over the Tower Hills they came, passing at last a fair Hill in the heart of the Shire. There in the first dim light of morning, two hobbits lay curled in each other's arms, and they woke to long, slow kisses and the sound of rain on the window.
(Elvish) Frodo's elvish is taken from Sam's "inspired" invocation of Elbereth in The Two Towers. It means "O Elbereth Starkindler, to thee I cry now in the shadow of (the fear of) death" (translated in Tolkien's Letters, 278).
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.