Six days later...


Frodo yawned, noisily enough to make Sam squeeze his hand in apology and slow their pace a bit. With his head still muzzy from sleep and only the starlight to see by, it was no easy thing keeping to the path, but Sam pushed on, gently tugging him along, warm strong hand holding to his. A breeze lifted the hair at the nape of his neck, making him shiver, and though it felt more than good after countless sweltering days and still, heavy nights, he couldn’t help thinking wistfully of the bed he’d been dragged from.

“Nearly there.”

Frodo went willingly enough. This was something Sam wanted, and a few hours sleep was an easy thing to give up for the privilege of making Sam happy. The dry packed earth underfoot gave way to cool damp grass as the ground leveled. A sweet scent of bruised clover drifted up in their wake. Sam let go of his hand to spread a blanket for them, and Frodo dropped to his knees there. Sam snuggled up against his back and wrapped him in a tender embrace. He leaned in, smiling, and closed his eyes. It was already worth it.

Sam rested his chin on Frodo’s shoulder and whispered, “You’ll not fall asleep now, Mister Frodo.”

Frodo forced open his eyes, hugging Sam’s arms around him. “You might have to pinch me now and again.” Sam laughed, a soft breath at his ear. He sighed contentedly, and closed his eyes again.

Sam let him doze, and held him and waited. The creatures of the dark that they’d disturbed as they passed set to trilling again, and filled what was left of the night with their singing, until the starry black sky began to pale and shimmer on the eastern horizon and a still, peaceful quiet fell. Sam went on waiting, as lights began to twinkle on in the town far below. A faint sound drifted up of someone pumping water from the well down on the Row. He waited until that shimmer in the east grew into a swatch of salmon pink streaked with gold, then he pressed his lips to the smooth pale skin of Frodo’s neck and whispered again, “Mister Frodo...” Frodo’s pulse flitted under his kiss. Frodo stirred, and breathed a soft sigh. Sam held him very close. “Don’t open your eyes yet, sir.”

Frodo brought up a hand to brush a caress over Sam’s cheek, to bury his fingers in Sam’s curls. He kept his eyes closed, but turned his head to have Sam’s kiss on his lips. Sam sweetly obliged him, so sweetly, for a long little while, but ultimately wouldn’t be deterred from his purpose.

Sam drew back from the kissing at last, not without a good deal of reluctance, and turned Frodo’s head back to facing the east. “Now then... open your eyes.”

Frodo opened his eyes, to the prettiest sunrise he’d ever seen, at the precise moment of its breaking. A spot of excruciating brightness on the flame swept horizon abruptly pierced the twilight and sent its early morning rays glancing over the hilltops. “It’s beautiful, Sam!” It was beautiful, but the real amazement was just sitting there with Sam’s arms around him.

Sam nuzzled his cheek against Frodo’s. “Told you you’d like it, Mis--”

Frodo pressed a hand over Sam’s mouth so he couldn’t say it. Sam kissed his palm, then pulled down his hand.

“I was about to say... Mischievous Frodo.” Frodo laughed. Sam smiled. “Don’t seem right your name standing there all on its lonesome, like it ought to have a trail of roses afore it.”

Frodo made a small face at him. “Mischievous?”

Sam hugged him and kissed his cheek. “Well, you caught me that time, but it’s not like you’re not... sometimes... sir.”

Frodo thought of protesting that, but Sam abruptly wrestled him down to his back and engaged his mouth in much more pleasurable activity. Frodo slid his arms around Sam’s neck, and Sam settled into the embrace and breathed warm breath at his neck. Frodo held him tight. “What have I done to deserve this, Sam?”

Sam never could understand what made Frodo think such things. He shook his head and raised himself up on his elbow to gently touch his fingers to those lips, to look into those beautiful eyes. “You deserve a good sight more than I’ll ever have to give you, but if it’s me you want...” Frodo smiled lovingly up at him.

“You’re everything I want, Sam.”

Sam’s heart swelled to twice its proper size, surely. Frodo’s lips softly parted, and he had to kiss them. Frodo’s hot wet tongue darted against his, and he had to grip Frodo’s lovely backside and press them tight together. Frodo shivered, chest heaving against his, and he had to think what he was doing, crushing the life out of Frodo was what. He rolled aside, letting it go, but Frodo held to him and he didn’t get far.

“Sam... what’s wrong?”

Sam took a deep, calming breath and got himself under control. “The blanket’s damp through and you’ve not had your breakfast... and here’s no place for such things, if you take my meaning, sir.”

Frodo clasped his hands together behind Sam’s neck, not about to let him go. “Why not?”

Why not? Sam wasn’t rightly sure. They weren’t under cover, but up there on top of the Hill alone they were a long way from anyone seeing what they were up to, anyone who didn’t have an eagle’s eye. It was more like Frodo to be shy of the outdoors. He took Frodo’s arms from around his neck and kissed the smooth pads of his fingers, all eight of them one by one, then he kissed both thumbs as well for good measure. Frodo lay there with a bemused expression, his blue eyes half lidded.

“Don’t you want to, Sam?”

Oh, he did want to, no doubt of that, but they’d spent the best part of six glorious days doing not much else, and maybe he just didn’t want Frodo imagining that was all it meant to him.

Frodo gripped his hands and tried to tug him back down, but Sam wouldn’t have it. Sam got up and pulled him to his feet instead, and just hugged him close and held him.

“Beautiful Frodo... I love you so.”

Frodo buried his face in Sam’s tumbled ginger curls. “Have I worn you out, dearest?”

Sam chuckled. “You nearly have at that, sir. If I drop now they’ll say, ‘Poor lad, he was loved to death!’ Not as I’m saying I’d much mind, you know. But... well... you’ve not had your breakfast yet.”

Frodo smiled. “I won’t starve, Sam, but if you’d rather feed me than...” He whispered the last bit into Sam’s ear, not so brazen as all that.

Sam held him tighter. “Now, you... more talk like that and you likely won’t get fed at all.” With an effort of will he let Frodo go, all but one hand, and snatched up the blanket, and made himself think of other things. “There’ll be rain afore the day’s through, my Gaffer said.”

Frodo hoped so, badly as they needed it. He held to Sam’s big warm hand as they made their way down from the hilltop. “Sam... has your Gaffer said anything about us... about me...” Sam hadn’t as yet spent a full night with him, but he’d been going home late, and Frodo was very afraid that the Gaffer must surely suspect.

Sam hesitated to say, not that there was a lot to tell. He glanced aside at the worry on Frodo’s dear face, and looked ahead again. “I’ve not really seen him much, Mister Frodo. He’s not said anything.” Not in words.

Frodo felt his face flush, imagining. “I should talk to him... try to explain...”

Sam squeezed Frodo’s hand. “Nay, sir, you shouldn’t. It’s for me to take care of such.” He meant that, and hoped Frodo took him seriously.

Frodo couldn’t say he wouldn’t be glad to be let off facing the Gaffer with what he’d done, but he couldn’t help feeling he should, feeling thoroughly responsible for the whole thing. Whether Sam was willing to admit it or not, he was hardly out of his teens and still very much under his father’s authority. That was good for a shudder.

Sam drew Frodo close against him and slipped an arm around his shoulders. It wasn’t cold, but the sunshine hadn’t yet followed them down the hill, and Frodo had on only a light shirt, damp because Sam had thoughtlessly laid him down on the dewy grass. Sam tossed the blanket over a vacant trellis as they passed through the gardens, and bent to pluck up a daisy from a patch by the back door. He touched it over Frodo’s cheek. Frodo rewarded him with a smile, then pulled him inside and hugged him, hard.

“What if he told you you couldn’t come here anymore, Sam... what would you do?”

Sam wished Frodo wouldn’t spend so much effort thinking up things to worry about. “He wouldn’t, Mister Frodo. And I couldn’t not come to you... no matter.” Frodo turned those eyes on him.

“I don’t want to be the cause of trouble between you and your father.”

Sam gave him a tender smile, and cuddled him close again. “What there is we’ll weather, me and him. It’s not for you to fret over, sir.”

Meaning Sam wanted to do the fretting for both of them. That was hardly fair. Sam stepped back and held him at arm’s length, looking determined.

“I’m not twelve anymore, Mister Frodo sir... and even then it didn’t always help you explaining things to my Gaffer. You remember that time you tried telling him I ruined my best breeks shinnying up an apple tree ‘cause you wanted one from the top? Well, I nearly got the belt for that. I was supposed to use my own head and just know better.”

Frodo couldn’t help smiling a little, remembering Sam at twelve. “I’m sorry. I meant well.”

Sam relented and gave him a smile back. “I know you did. It’s just more serious now, this is... and I’ll handle it my own way... if it’s all the same to you, sir.” Frodo seemingly agreed, nodding a little. Sam raised the daisy he’d picked and brushed it across Frodo’s chin. “I’ll fix your breakfast now, while you get changed.”

Frodo did feel a little clammy. He took the flower and buried his nose in it, inhaling deeply, then he caught a last sweet kiss from Sam’s lips to hold him over and went to change into dry clothes.

Sam watched him out of sight and stood there just breathing for a time. Like a rare blossom brought into the sunlight after fading away in a place it didn’t belong, Frodo had all of a sudden bloomed, just for him. Make no mistake, Frodo had always been beautiful, but this was something more than beautiful. This was a bright fresh something that took Sam’s breath, again and again. He had to nudge himself into moving finally, into taking up an armload of kindling to carry to the kitchen while he was going.

* * * * * * *

Frodo stuck his daisy into the already overflowing vase next to the bed, then just stood there with a silly smile on, remembering the night before. Sam had held him there between the crumpled sheets telling him bedtime stories, putting him to sleep so he could slip away unhindered to go home to his own bed. The smile faded a bit. Waking to morning with Sam’s arms still around him was a thing Frodo had yet to experience, and a thing he dearly wished for. But he couldn’t push it. He’d urged Sam to make up some story, some excuse to just move into Bag End with him, there was an overabundance of room. But Sam wouldn’t lie to his father, and Frodo didn’t honestly want him to, though the alternative was frightening. Sam meant to tell his father the truth, someday, and Sam clearly didn’t want him interfering. When that happened, if they survived the Gaffer knowing, then Sam would come around to staying with him. He just had to be patient, somehow.

That was the hard part, finding the patience to wait after he’d waited so long. He set himself to quickly tidying up, haphazardly straightening the bedcovers. They were only going to mess them up again, eventually. He shed his damp clothes to put on dry clean ones, then out of habit opened the night table drawer, to get out Bilbo’s ring. He closed the drawer again without touching it. It seemed a trivial thing, but Gandalf had insisted no one should know about it, not his best friends, not even Sam. If he wore it on his person as he’d been doing, there was every likelihood now that Sam’s wandering hands would encounter it. Thinking of that brought the smile back to his lips. He tucked his shirt into his breeches and buckled his belt, and headed for the kitchen.

* * * * * * *

Sam happily hummed to himself as he sliced the shortcakes he’d brought, a special treat from Marigold. The Gaffer may not be sure, but Goldy had it all figured out, which meant that May did too, and it wasn’t likely they’d not clued Daisy in. Daisy had been giving him those looks, sure enough. But Goldy hadn’t even made him say it, just let him know in her own way that she loved him no matter what. It was a fine day, to be sure. He set the cakes under a towel to keep, and busied himself removing the stems from the dewberries he’d been out early gathering.

“Good morning, Sam.”

Sam smiled, glancing over his shoulder at Frodo standing primly in the doorway, wearing that shirt he liked and looking like a dream. “Morning, Mister Frodo.”

Frodo smiled at him back, and stepped on around the table to join him. “Assign me a task.”

Sam had given up fighting it. “You can turn that bacon if you like. Careful you don’t get splattered.”

Frodo took up the fork to do that, sniffing the air, looking around Sam to see what he was doing. “Mmmm... how did you know I’ve been thinking wistfully of dewberries?”

Sam allowed himself a small satisfied smile. “You talk in your sleep.” Frodo looked at him shocked.

“I do not.”

Sam raised an eyebrow. “You do... sir. But you don’t need to worry none for that. I’ll keep your secrets safe.”

Frodo bit his lip, the bacon forgotten. “Sam... what secrets would those be?”

The tone of real concern in Frodo’s voice took the fun right out of it for Sam. He met Frodo’s eyes with his, and Frodo smiled at him, reassured.

“You don’t know my secrets.”

Sam abandoned the dewberries to take the fork from Frodo’s hand and flip the bacon. “I know that name you give your... um...” A beautiful rosy blush spread over Frodo’s cheeks and Sam couldn’t resist leaning over to kiss one. “Mostly it’s not clear what you say, but there’s times it sounds Elvish... then I lie there listening and can’t make myself get out of that bed and leave you.”

Frodo slid both arms around him and gave him a big hug. “Now I know your secret.” He gave Sam an impish grin. “And don’t think I won’t use it.” Sam just laughed, hugging him back one armed and trying to maneuver around him. Frodo made no immediate move to let him go. “I’m not helping, am I?”

Sam declined to say. He was managing just fine, until it came to starting the eggs and Frodo insisted he could do it. Sam had to suppose it would free him to finish with the berries. “Best damp the fire a bit... and let me pour off some of this fat.” He did that, then stepped back to let Frodo have a go at it.

Frodo hesitated, holding the first egg poised to crack. “You won’t mind if the yolks aren’t whole, will you?”

Sam gave him a loving smile. “You do ‘em however you please, Mister Frodo.” He made himself not even watch, giving his attention to crushing the berries and drizzling them with honey.

As Frodo’s recent good fortune would have it, he only broke one of the eggs out of four, and he put that one on his own plate, saving the best two for Sam. He took both plates to the table and settled there to keep an eye on them, so Sam couldn’t switch them when he wasn’t looking. Sam brought the dewberries, heaped over shortcake and all drenched in fresh cream, and they had their breakfast together, twiddling toesies under the table and smiling at each other, like two tweeners playing house. At least Sam had an excuse.

“What’s that look for, Mister Frodo? I’ve not got jam on my nose again, I hope.”

Frodo shook his head, smiling. “I just feel I’ve lost all sense of propriety these past few days... and what’s worse, I don’t care.”

Sam was glad of the smile, or Frodo’s saying such a thing might have seriously troubled him. He wasn’t forgetting how they’d started, with Frodo feeling shamed, believing it was wrong, and though Frodo hadn’t said so since, Sam couldn’t doubt those thoughts were there still in his mind somewhere. Frodo wanted so badly to always do the right thing, he got mixed up sometimes over what was right and what was just denying anything that looked to him like selfishness. If it made Frodo happy, he had to worry and wonder if it was a thing he should rightly have. Sam wished he knew something to say to make none of that matter ever again, but he didn’t. At least Frodo had found an appetite, and a fine one it was. It filled Sam all up inside with a big warm glow to think it was his doing.

The shortcake was perfect, the berries tart sweet juicy ripe. Frodo savoured every bite, and was through his before he looked up again and found Sam intently watching him, with a look that all but had him squirming. He swallowed and caught a breath. “Sam... you’re giving me shivers.” Sam smiled a little and dropped his eyes. Frodo slid a caressing touch up his ankle. “I didn’t mean that was a bad thing.”

Sam very reluctantly pulled his foot back out of Frodo’s reach, and forced his gaze up from his plate. “Mister Frodo... I’ve got such a lot to do in the gardens. There’s things as can’t be put off any longer. And I was wanting to get started setting up that ‘shroom patch for you in the cellar.”

All of which Frodo interpreted the only way he could. “I’m distracting you from your work.”

Sam hated like everything for Frodo to have to think that, but there it was. “I guess that’s the short of it, sir... not to fault you for it, ‘cause I don’t reckon you could if I didn’t want distracting, if you see what I mean... but the work has got to be done.”

Frodo knew better, but felt he had to offer. “I could help you.” Sam stubbornly clenched his jaw.

“I’m glad to have you in the garden, Mister Frodo, when there’s no rush on... but I don’t feel right seeing you doing my work, sir, not right at all.”

Frodo didn’t feel Sam left him any room for arguing that, and he had work of his own he ought to be doing, he knew. He leaned his elbows on the table, and rested his chin in his hands with a sigh. “Alright, Sam. I know I can’t compete with your first love. If the garden calls you, you’d better go.”

Sam was thoroughly abashed. “Now that’s hard, sir. You know it’s not like that.”

Frodo slid a hand across the table, seeking his, and Sam let him take and hold it. “Dear Sam, I’m only teasing you. If you can be mature and responsible, then I can certainly attempt to be. You go and get your work done outside, and I’ll find something worthwhile to do in here, starting with the cleaning up.”

Sam sat there gaping until Frodo was on his feet gathering the plates and cups, then pushed himself up. “Mister Frodo... this is my work too.”

Frodo offered him a sweet smile. “You can’t have it both ways, Samwise.” Sam fixed him with a piercing stare, growled, and dashed around the table after him. Frodo backed into the nearest corner with a breathless laugh. “Now, Sam... watch the breakables...”

Sam had an eye to that, taking the dishes from him and returning them to the table out of harm’s way before going on with it. He had Frodo backed up against the crockery cabinet with barely a mote of space between them and stopped, gazing into those eyes wide and shining in the firelight, those lips parted on an anxious gasp. They reached for each other as one, Sam’s fingers curling against the back of Frodo’s neck, Frodo’s twisting in his hair. Their lips met, soft and tenderly. “Fair Frodo... Lovely Frodo...” With a deep breathy sigh, Sam pulled Frodo close and held him.

Frodo clung to Sam, so filled with happiness it was almost frightening. “Dear Sam, I’m sorry.”

Sam whispered into his hair. “What for?”

Frodo touched a loving kiss to the side of his neck. “For being mischievous, when you’re trying to be sensible.” Sam hugged him, squeezed him so hard he almost squeaked, then eased back to look into his eyes.

“I like you mischievous... just makes me dizzy sometimes, is all.” He untwined Frodo’s fingers from his hair and kissed his palm, stepping back. He hated saying it, but, “I’ve still got work to do.”

Frodo smiled and nodded, as agreeable as he could be. Sam very slowly let go of his hand.

“I’ll wash, you dry, and we’ll get it done.”

Frodo obediently helped him clear the table, but couldn’t resist asking. “Why is it you never let me wash?” Sam tossed him a playful, sidelong glance.

“That’s just selfishness on my part, Mister Frodo. Don’t want your hands feeling like mine.”

Frodo smiled, appreciating the tease in that, but he couldn’t let it stand. “I love your hands, Sam.”

It was a mystery to Sam why, but Frodo did seem to be unaccountably fond of his hands, coarse and unlovely as they were. Frodo of course felt the need to prove it to him, and yet more tomfoolery commenced, but they got the washing done eventually, and finally had to part, Frodo to his study and Sam to the garden.

* * * * * * *

Frodo wandered aimlessly around the study for awhile, trying to settle his mind into thinking about work. He had serious commitments hanging over his head. He’d promised to copy Bilbo’s writings for the archive at Michel Delving, which could easily take years. He’d hardly begun, not because he didn’t want to do it, but because it disturbed him to go through Uncle Bilbo’s papers. He took down an untidy sheaf of them from a cubbyhole in the bookshelves. On top was a short poem in Elvish, not entirely finished. Under that was a rather disjointed musing on the subject of Shire politics, and under that a page filled with scribbled notes explaining the correct use of the Dwarvish word for cavernous, with a bit of non-relevant verse in one corner. There were chests stuffed full with such, all in need of sorting and cataloging, and every time he’d tried to make a start he’d felt Uncle Bilbo looking over his shoulder. He put the papers back where Bilbo had left them almost two years before. He couldn’t deal with it then.

Finding himself at the desk, he finally sat down there, and with little interest got out the household ledger and opened it. A handful of receipts marked the current page, transactions waiting to be entered. He took up his quill with every good intention, but the scent of roses got into his head, and he just sat there staring at the vase of them Sam had brought in for him, daydreaming.

“Mister Frodo...”

Frodo turned his head. Sam was at the window, leaning on the sill, his honey gold skin shining with perspiration in the heat.

“Got your letters for you.”

Frodo got up and went to the window, and Sam handed him several envelopes, with a dazzling smile.

“Feel that breeze, sir?”

Sadly, Frodo didn’t, stuck in the study as he was. Sam took his hand.

“Lean out a bit.”

Frodo settled onto the sill and leaned out against Sam’s shoulder, and felt it, a whisper across his face and in his hair, almost cool. He smiled. “Lovely, Sam.” Sam’s arms came around him, for just a moment, warm lips pressed to his cheek, then Sam was stepping away, not like he wanted to.

“Work to do, sir.”

Frodo watched him back away and almost fall over his wheelbarrow. He caught himself, grinning, then he was off and soon gone from sight around the corner. Frodo closed his eyes, feeling the sun heat on his skin and seeing a vision of that smile seared against the backs of his eyelids. He had to stop himself, couldn’t idle the morning away in dream with Sam out working himself weary. He forced himself from the window and back to the desk, absently riffling through the mail Sam had brought him. He still owed Merry a letter, but he was utterly at a loss for what to say, a little afraid anything he did say was certain to reveal things best kept hidden. Nothing was the same anymore. He sank back down into his chair and tossed the envelopes onto the growing stack of them in a corner of the cluttered desktop, to deal with later. The ledger was set aside as well. Instead he took out the battered little book of Elvish he’d bought the week before. (Had it only been a week? Astounding.) The poem was a puzzle still, his grasp of Quenya tenuous at best, but Sam was waiting to hear what he was able to make of the next passage.

* * * * * * *

Sam went about his work with a smile on his face. It wasn’t such nonsense really, Frodo calling the garden his first love. It was Frodo’s garden after all, and his tending of it had always been grounded in love, as much for Frodo as for the flowers and the trees and the plants themselves. When he stood in the garden Frodo was there, all around him, in the morning sky blue of a pansy’s eye, in the willowy sway of a maidenhair fern in the breeze. Even the potato vines, especially the potato vines, blessed by Frodo’s own touch that perfect day. He weeded and hoed and spread fresh mulch to help keep the precious moisture in the soil, then he carried water to those plants most in need of it. Not that he didn’t trust the Gaffer’s instinct, but rain wasn’t ever a sure thing until the first drops fell.

* * * * * * *

“...growling rocks? That just can’t be right.”

Frodo hesitated with his quill poised, and finally wrote down, ‘white rocks growl’. He was sure of the words, or thought he had been, but they made little sense together, especially in the context of the phrases he’d already translated. He put down his quill and looked through those notes he had on Quenya, though they were sketchy at best. They contained too little to give him the confidence to call it right.

Dissatisfied with both his results and his progress, Frodo finally closed the book and shuffled together his papers, then got himself up and went to the window. The sun was high and beating down, not a trace of cloud in all that expanse of blue, but Sam was singing anyway, a faint distant sound, calling him. Frodo left the study for the kitchen, took up a basket, and went through the pantry, stuffing into it anything that looked appetizing and readily packable.

He headed for the garden. Sam was working out on the ridge, looking all shimmery through the heated air. Frodo called out to him. “Luncheon!” Sam gave him a smile, pointing toward the orchard, and met him there a few minutes later. They sat in the shade under an apple tree, and Sam eyed the basket rather dubiously.

“What’ve you got there, Mister Frodo?”

Frodo set it before them, pulled off the cloth, and started taking things out. “Bread... carrots... rhubarb jam... cheese... walnuts... mushrooms... and the last of the raisin pie. You’ll have to make more.” He looked over the meal laid out there on the cloth. “And you thought I couldn’t cook.”

Sam smiled at him. “You’re a wonder, sir.” He looked into the empty basket. “But you forgot to bring a spoon for the jam.”

Frodo grimaced a little. He’d been in too much of a hurry to bother with utensils. Sam said they’d manage, and fortunately produced a jug of fresh cool water from the well since he hadn’t brought them anything to drink either.

Sam tore off a chunk of bread from the loaf and unsealed the jam to dip into it. Frodo picked up a mushroom, brushed it off on his sleeve, and popped it into his mouth. Sam wrinkled his nose. “I’d be right glad to cook those for you for supper, sir.” Frodo looked him in the eye, and picked up another one.

“I like them this way, Sam... and I wish you’d stop calling me that.” He was promptly sorry he’d mentioned it. Most of the time he didn’t bother, since it did him no good anyway. Sam had been sirring him for so long it might as well be an endearment. The way he said it, it was surely meant so. Sam gave him a look of apology, with just a touch of exasperation. Frodo scooted over and leaned on him to make up for it, and ended up burrowing in under his arm, breathing deep. “You smell so good.”

Sam almost choked, but caught Frodo close against him, since that was what he seemed to want. “I think you’re daft, Mister Frodo, if you don’t mind me saying. I stink, and you know it.”

Frodo was prepared to argue that to the death, but Sam stuffed another mushroom in his mouth to stop him, then went all shy.

“I’ve been wanting to ask... I reckon you know Old Tom Cotton’s got his birthday coming up Trewsday... and I thought you might want to go... with me. The Cottons always put on a fine feed.”

Frodo’s heart seemed to stop for a second. He could imagine it well enough. If sharing an ale and casual conversation in public made people take notice, the two of them showing up together to a party would set tongues wagging for certain. And it would be Sam who would suffer for it, Frodo had no doubt. He’d grown a thick enough skin himself over the years to turn most barbs. Sam on the other hand wore his heart on his face and in his eyes. Sam was far too trusting of the goodness of others. “Sam... I don’t think that would be a good idea... do you?”

Sam did, in fact. Folks were going to know sooner or later, and it surely would give him the push he needed to talk to the Gaffer. But he’d not really thought Frodo would take to the notion. Frodo wanted it kept secret what they were to each other. Sam just doubted that was going to be possible. “We don’t have to go together, Mister Frodo. You shouldn’t shut yourself up here.”

Frodo hugged him. “You shouldn’t concern yourself with my social condition. I doubt Tom Cotton cares to have me at his party.”

Sam looked at him, appalled. “Don’t know why you’d say so, sir. The Cottons have always spoke fair of the Bagginses.”

Frodo sighed, resting his head on Sam’s shoulder. “I’m not saying they haven’t, Sam.” He knew what his responsibility was to the community. He knew what was expected of him. Mercifully, attending every gathering that came along wasn’t. “I’m not Uncle Bilbo. I’m not good at that sort of thing.”

Sam shut his mouth and let the matter drop for the time being. Frodo didn’t hang on him too long as they were in fairly clear view of the lane where they sat, though there was no one in sight. Frodo took up the last slab of raisin pie, and offered him a bite. He indulgently declined. “You have it, Mis- ” Frodo clapped a hand over his mouth, giving him that look. He removed the hand, and corrected himself. “Touchy Frodo.”

Frodo considered that. “Touchy like... easily annoyed... or touchy like...” He slid his hand over Sam’s leg. Sam put a hand over his to stop it.

“Aye. And you’ll have me distracted again if you’re not careful.”

Frodo gave him a sorry look. “Haven’t you done enough, Sam? The garden looks perfectly happy.”

Sam was pleased to hear him say so, but cautioned, “I’ve got watering still to do, sir.”

“You said it was going to rain.”

Sam nodded. “I do hope so, sir. But watering aside, there’s plenty else I should be doing.” Frodo smiled at him, the sort of smile that made him just a little bit wary.

“Like getting the cellar ready for our mushroom patch?”

Sam said, “Aye.” Frodo leaned close to him, all aglow so it made his breath catch.

“You said you’d let me help you with that.”

Sam frowned. “Did I, sir?”

Frodo triumphantly lifted his chin. “You know you did, Sam, and I’m holding you to it.”

Sam helplessly shook his head. “It won’t be the fun you’re hoping for.”

Frodo twined fingers with his, and looked into his eyes. “I want to be with you. I want to do what you’re doing. It doesn’t have to be fun.”

Sam couldn’t fight that, couldn’t even begin to. They finished their lunch and gathered up what was left of the food, and Frodo got up to take the basket inside. Sam snagged his shirtsleeve, gently slipping the soft thin cloth between his fingers. “You’ll want to change into something you won’t mind to see ruined.” Frodo gave him a smile, nodding, and went. Sam busied himself finishing the watering, no more than what he thought shouldn’t wait, then he found Frodo a pair of heavy leather gloves and insisted when he returned that he put them on. “You see that pile of stones there, sir? I’m thinking we’ll use ‘em to lay the bed. So first off we’ve got to get those stones down to the cellar.”

They were good-sized stones, some as large as cabbages, and there were a good many of them. Frodo imagined having to carry them one or two at a time, but Sam apparently had other plans. He brought from the shed a sort of open pack made of heavy, worn canvas on a sturdy frame, which he hung at his back.

“Now you just load me up, Mister Frodo.”

Frodo eyed the stones, and eyed the pack. Load him up? Frodo hauled up one stone and carefully eased it into the sling, then another, and one more. He hesitated then, and Sam laughed.

“I can take more than that, sir. You keep ‘em coming, and I’ll tell you when.”

Not without trepidation, Frodo added another stone, and two more. Sam said nothing, just stood there with his feet braced wide, sweat matting the hair around his handsome face and trickling down his neck. His big strong hands gripped the straps over his shoulders, the muscles in his arms tightly tensed. In a small voice Frodo asked him, “Enough?”

Sam carefully weighed his answer, and unclenched his teeth at last. “One more.”

Frodo stepped around to look him in the eye. “Are you showing off for me, Sam Gamgee?” A smile touched Sam’s lips and a blush spread over his cheeks. Either that or he was just going red in the face from the strain.

“Maybe a little, sir, but the truth is I don’t fancy making more trips than need be.”

Frodo still hesitated. “Sam- ”

Sam cut him off, as gently as he could under the circumstances. “Not to be over blunt, sir, but I don’t fancy neither standing about wasting time with this load on my back.” Frodo thankfully gave in and added one more stone, and that was about all he was going to manage. He shifted forward a bit, finding his balance, and set off. “You go on ahead, Mister Frodo... and get the doors.”

Frodo went ahead to open doors and clear the way, in through the mud room and along the corridor, through the kitchen and down the cellar steps, taking up a lamp in the kitchen to light their way. Cool air drafted up from below as they descended and Frodo shivered, the sweat on his brow gone chill.

“Just there, sir.” Sam pointed his chin toward the corner he had his eye on, then turned his back to Frodo. “Just stack ‘em up against the wall here.”

Frodo hung the lamp from a ceiling hook, and went about relieving Sam of his burden as quickly as he could manage it. Sam unslung the pack to adjust the straps, rubbing at his shoulder, and Frodo laid a hand over his. “It’s my turn. I get to carry the next load.”

Sam flatly wouldn’t allow it. “Nay, sir.” Frodo fixed him with that look, the one he’d lately learned got him whatever he wanted most times, but Sam wasn’t giving in on this one. He forcibly shifted his gaze from Frodo’s, standing firm. “Nay you won’t, Mister Frodo. I’m used to this work. You’re not.”

Frodo tried reasoning with him, tried cajoling, tried begging, but Sam was adamant. The one thing that might have worked, issuing a direct order, he couldn’t bring himself to do. All he could do was load Sam up again. Out in the sun the heat was intense, and they both of them dripped with sweat. Frodo smeared his face on his sleeves and stripped off the gloves Sam had made him put on, then took up the biggest stone he could lift to carry himself, back down to the cool dark cellar. They made too many trips to keep count of, trudging back and forth, and that part of it really wasn’t much fun at all. Frodo didn’t like to think how Sam was going to feel by the end of the day, when his own shoulders ached from just lifting the heavy stones in and out of the pack. But he wasn’t about to complain and give Sam more reason to think he needed coddling. He was thoroughly relieved though when Sam finally said they had enough to do the job.

The laying of the stones went quickly enough, even with Sam doing most of the work. Frodo tried, but Sam went out of the way to snatch up every stone he reached for, and Frodo wasn’t doing very well getting around him, seemingly having used up the better part of his strength. Sam tried to give him an out. “Why don’t you go on up and fix yourself some tea, Mister Frodo. I can finish this.”

Frodo sat back on his heels and crossed his arms. “Not fair, Sam, you’re deliberately getting in my way. If I’m being no help, just say so please, and I’ll go.”

That look again. Sam frowned and shook his head, but picked up the last rock and dropped it into Frodo’s hands. “Fine, sir... close that gap if you will.”

Frodo shuffled around on his knees enough to drop the stone into the space Sam was referring to, but of course it wouldn’t go. He had to sit down and kick at it to force it in, but managed at last, and caught his breath. “There... what next?”

In all honesty, Sam was pretty sure Frodo had done enough and was just being a bit prideful. He caught Frodo’s hand and pulled him close for a hug. “You’ve done a fine job, Mister Frodo. You just let me do the rest now.”

Frodo hugged him back, but wasn’t having any of that. “I want to help you. It was my idea.”

Sam squeezed him a little. “Was not.” Frodo laid both hands on his chest and looked him in the eye.

“Don’t be contrary, Sam. It was my idea to do it today. Now... what do we do next?”

Sam heaved a sigh. “Well, I reckon we can get started bagging the compost.” Another hour or two and it would be late enough to call it a day. Back up the cellar steps Sam went, with Frodo following, not looking as eager as he pretended to be. Sam stopped in the kitchen to tend the hearth and set a kettle to slowly heating, then stopped again in the bath to build up the fire there and half fill the tub, to have it ready for later. He was feeling it himself, the work they’d put in. An easy evening ahead might be nice.

Frodo slipped his arm around Sam’s waist as they headed back outside, and gave him a smile, putting on a good face. “So, Sam, how long until we have mushrooms?”

Sam said, “Not for awhile yet, but I’ll do my best, sir.” He stopped, pointing up. While they were down in the cellar, the sky had filled with clouds, and the sun was just a bright spot through the haze. From the west a darkness was beginning to roll in.

Frodo smiled. “The rain’s coming.”

Sam breathed in the dusty dry air. “I surely hope so, Mister Frodo.” He went to the shed to get a shovel, several empty grain sacks and a ball of twine, then they walked on out beyond the orchard. He put Frodo to holding the sacks open while he shoveled in the richest and finest compost he had, saved back for that purpose since the idea first came to him. He apologized to Frodo for the smell, but Frodo seemed to like it. Frodo said it was earthy, like he was. Sam thought about that, and decided to take it for a compliment. There were worse things he could smell like. Pigs, for instance. He thanked his lucky stars he’d not been born a pig keeper.

Frodo caught the look on his face and laughed. “What are you grinning about?” Sam turned that breathtaking smile on him.

“Pigs, Mister Frodo... just pigs.”

A wind came up, out of nowhere it seemed. Frodo dropped the sack he was holding to swipe his sleeve across his sweating brow. Sam looked up. The clouds had gone dark. A flash of lightning streaked across the sky. Frodo waited, holding his breath, for the rumble of thunder that followed.

“It’s coming,” Sam announced.

Frodo gripped his arm. “Let’s go up the hill and watch it.”

Sam pulled him close. “Aye and we can stand there waving our arms asking to be struck down. Not one of your better ideas, sir.”

Frodo had to suppose not, and he really didn’t know where he would find the energy to make the climb anyway.

Sam gave him a hug and let him go. “We’d best finish up here.” He gathered closed the sack they’d been filling, and tied it secure, then tossed it onto the stack of them they’d made and threw over it an oilcloth taken from one of the compost piles. He weighted the cloth with stones to hold it in place, then straightened and slowly stretched. “Now that was a good day’s work.”

It felt like it to Frodo, felt like several good days work actually. A gust of wind whipped him almost off his feet as a stormy darkness fell. Sam took up his shovel and they made their way to the shed. The lightning was a steady flicker and flash by the time the tools were put away, the thunder booming and cracking. They heard the first drops, a scattered plinking on the shed roof overhead, and Sam grabbed his hand and dragged him out into it.

Blessed rain. Sam tilted his head back and closed his eyes, and he heard the leaves all sigh in relief, heard the flowers perk up their petals, felt the thirsty earth under his feet begin to drink. It pelted his face, not gently, a good hard one. The Gaffer would be smiling. Frodo’s hand gripped his and brought him back, and he opened his eyes to find Frodo standing there drenched, just staring at him, a loving little smile on his raindropped lips. Sam caught a breath and laughed, glanced quickly over his shoulder, then pulled Frodo close and kissed him.

At that moment, Frodo didn’t think he would have minded if the entire population of Hobbiton were lined up along the fence watching. If Sam had wanted to make love to him there in the mud with the lightning and the thunder crashing over them, he wouldn’t have had the will to resist. But Sam had to be practical. Sam smiled at him and smeared his soppy hair back out of his eyes, pressed a kiss to his forehead, then dragged him off down the slope through the deluge to Bag End’s back door and inside.

Sam left the door open for the time being, so they could watch the rain fall. Frodo sank down to the bench there with a catch of his breath, shivering, and Sam wanted to kick himself. He took down his old coat from its peg and draped it around Frodo’s shoulders, and knelt down to towel his feet dry for him. “I’m a fool, Mister Frodo. You’re soaked through.”

Frodo laughed a little breathlessly, and snatched the towel from his hands. “So are you, Sam. Dry yourself.” It wasn’t cold, though the day’s heat had dropped rather dramatically. Sam looked up at him and slowly smiled.

“I like you wet, sir.”

Frodo smiled and reached out to run his fingers through Sam’s dripping curls. “I like you any way you want to be, Sam.”

Sam scooted in close and hugged him. “I know what you want, Mister Frodo... a nice hot bath.”

Frodo sighed. “I do... but a nice hot cup of tea would be good too.”

Sam leaned back and tugged the coat around him. “Tell you what then, sir... you can fix the tea while I sweep down the hall.”

Then a bath, and bed. It had been a long day, and Frodo just wanted to snuggle with Sam and do nothing. But it was early still. Tea first. Frodo shrugged off the coat Sam had cocooned him in and got himself dried off as well as he could without stripping, then cleaned the dirt from between his toes while Sam did likewise. The rain was still coming down hard, thunder booming. Sam laid their towels over the muddy floor so they wouldn’t track the wet inside, then went to get a broom to clean out the mess they’d made tramping in and out all afternoon. Frodo went to the kitchen to fix tea for them, and leaned on the washboard listening to the sounds of Sam’s broom in the hallway while it brewed, feeling all in. He poured one large cup for them to share finally, stirred in a big dollop of honey, and took it with him back down the hall, where Sam was just sweeping a pile of dirt and debris out into the mudroom, and looking like he meant to clean that next. “Sam... enough for now.”

Sam looked over his shoulder. Frodo gave him a smile and lifted a steaming cup to show him, than turned and went into the study. The mud room was a disaster, and the hall needed a good mopping as well, but he leaned his broom against the wall and went to join Frodo, ducking into the bedroom to grab a blanket on his way. Frodo had perched himself in the study window. Sam wrapped the blanket around him, and wedged in against his back to watch the storm with him. It was a grand one for sure, the rain pouring straight down for the most part, though the gusting wind sent a fine cool mist their way now and then. Frodo leaned back against him, head on his shoulder, and offered him the cup. He took it, had a sip, and handed it back. “It’s a mite sweet, sir.”

Frodo smiled and nodded, then nearly jumped out of his skin at a crack that made the wall shake. Sam hugged him warm and close, more solid than any stone, and the lightning and thunder gradually moved away into the distance. The rain went on sheeting down, but in spite of the noise Frodo almost fell asleep. Sam wrapped a hand around his and caught the teacup before he dropped it, then whispered at his ear.

“How about that bath now?”

Bath, then bed. Frodo leaned on Sam all the way to the bath chamber, and Sam just kept pushing on. It wasn’t natural. “Aren’t you exhausted, Sam?”

Sam could see Frodo was. “Aye, a bit. Here... you sit, Mister Frodo, and I’ll get your tub ready.”

Frodo let Sam sit him down on the bench before the hearth, and just watched as he went about heating the bath. “You’re going to join me, aren’t you?”

Sam glanced him a little smile. “Aye, sir, if you’ll have me.” Frodo just gave him a smile back, though a rather weary one. Sam caught a whiff of himself, and dropped his braces to peel off his wet shirt, then knelt in front of Frodo and set to unbuttoning his.

Frodo told Sam he could undress himself, but couldn’t seem to match word to action, and finally just breathed a heavy sigh. “You’re too good to me, Sam.”

Sam wasn’t feeling too good just then. “Am I? Why’d I let you work yourself so hard then, sir? If my Gaffer could see...” That wasn’t a notion he cared to think on. He got Frodo out of his damp shirt, then took his hands and turned them palm up to sadly look at them. “See what you’ve done, sir.” They were scraped and bruised. Sam gently kissed them, one then the other, until Frodo pulled them away and slid them over his shoulders, looking down at him with the hint of a smile.

“I won’t expire from a little proper work, Sam. I’m not one of your flowers.”

Sam leaned into the offered embrace and closed his eyes, feeling Frodo’s heartbeat under his lips. “You are... you’re my favorite flower of all.” He ran the flat of his hand over the smooth soft skin of Frodo’s bare back, and Frodo’s arm slid across his, fingertips pressing into his flesh, holding tight.

“You’re my pillow, Sam...” He lovingly held Sam’s head, Sam’s damp tousled curls against his cheek. “...my big strong comfy pillow...”

Sam opened his eyes, feeling the hitch in Frodo’s breathing, the dear body in his arms going limp and heavy. He whispered. “Mister Frodo... you’re not falling asleep on me... are you, sir?”

Frodo caught himself and murmured, “No, Sam.”

Sam tilted his head back to touch a little kiss to the hollow at the base of Frodo’s slender neck, and whispered again. “You don’t want your bath going cold.”

Frodo shook his head, smiling, and let Sam go. “Our bath.”

Sam unbuckled Frodo’s belt and helped him out of his breeches, then stripped off the rest of his own clothes and settled into the bath, sliding to one end to make room.

Frodo stepped in after, the water hot and steamy, just the way he liked it. He sank down slowly to his knees, and kept going, into Sam’s waiting embrace.

Sam eased back against the side of the tub with Frodo soft and naked in his arms and just held him. Maybe they’d finally got enough, imagine that, because the holding felt like more than plenty. Frodo settled still and quiet against him, and Sam scooped up warm water to dribble down his back. “With this rain, the wood roses’ll be having their second bloom, Mister Frodo... and Daisy can make you more of that soap you like.”

Frodo smiled drowsily, touching his fingers over the golden freckles scattered across Sam’s muscled shoulder. “Your sisters are too good to me too, Sam.”

Sam quietly laughed. “My sisters like the extra coin you send 'em whenever they do a special turn for you.”

Frodo blinked. “Really?” Well, of course they did.

Sam mentally kicked himself again. “Nay, Mister Frodo, that’s not a thing to be joking about, and I shouldn’t have ‘cause it’s not like that.” Frodo didn’t say anything, waiting for him to explain how it was maybe. He tried. “It’s a hard thing to say so you’ll understand, sir... but it’s like you belong to the Gamgees... like the Gamgees belong to you. My sisters want for you to have the best... that’s all... like I do.”

There seemed a lot to think about in that, but Frodo was too tired just then to ponder it. Sam brushed the wet hair from the back of his neck and softly blew on it. He shivered.

“Have you thought what you’ll be wanting for supper, sir?”

Frodo hadn’t, and didn’t care to then. “I don’t feel like fixing supper, Sam.”

“You don’t have to, Mister Frodo. That’s my job.”

Frodo lifted his head enough to look into Sam’s eyes. “I don’t feel like watching you fix supper either.”

Sam considered other options. “We might go down to town and supper at the Ivy Bush.”

Frodo discarded that idea out of hand, and gave a less than honest reason for doing so. “I don’t feel like going out.” He laid his head back down on Sam’s shoulder with a sigh. “Are you so much braver than I am, Sam... or have you not thought... how it would be...”, having this secret of theirs out in the open.

Sam had thought about it, a great deal in fact. “I’m not brave, sir. I just don’t think it’ll matter like you’re thinking it will. Why, that Hob Stoner and Posco Leggit go about together carefree as you please. I saw them all but kissing the other day, I did, on the bridge, in plain sight of anyone wanting to see.”

Frodo caught a shaky breath and pushed himself back out of Sam’s arms. “This isn’t the same thing. I’m the master of Bag End and you’re...” Lady help him, he didn’t mean to say that. “You’re only twenty three.” The look on Sam’s face pierced him straight through the heart. “Sam...” Frodo touched dripping wet fingers to his face. “Can’t you think how it would look... like I’m taking terrible advantage of you.”

Sam raised a hand to hold Frodo’s palm to his cheek. He didn’t want to be stubborn and difficult, didn’t want to see Frodo upset over it, but Frodo wasn’t seeing the truth. “All they’d have to do is see you looking at me like you do... and me looking at you back... and they’d say See how much in love those two are and what a grand thing it is... leastways most would... and as for those others... who cares? I don’t, sir.”

Sadly, Frodo did. Why? What was he so afraid of? That folk would point their fingers and call him names? Yes, he was afraid of that. He’d lived his growing up years at Brandy Hall, where class distinctions were clearly laid out and lived by, but even then he’d tried always to be fair and never take advantage of the mere fact that he’d been born on this side instead of that. Little good it seemed to do him when both sides were rigidly set on standing by tradition. They would think he was using his station in life to have his way with Sam, and he loathed the very notion of being thought of that way. But was that the real driving reason for his fear? No. It was seeing Sam thought of as the helpless victim, seeing Sam ridiculed by those he called family and friends. It was the thought of seeing Sam’s trusting innocence forever broken by careless smirks and cruel whispers. He sank back down into Sam’s arms, not wanting to think about it. “It’s raining out.”

Sam held and cuddled him, letting it go again. “Well then, Mister Frodo sir... I guess you’ll have to watch me cook.”

Frodo sighed. “We could just not eat.”

That wasn’t an option, as far as Sam was concerned. “I’ll bet I can find something you’ll like... mustard greens?”

Frodo shuddered just thinking of it. “I hate mustard greens.”

Sam slowly rubbed Frodo’s back, thinking. “Alright... how about turnip mash... with pickled ‘sparagus.” Frodo leaned back to look at him, almost smiling.

“You’re pushing it, dear one. Can you think of something else that makes me gag?”

Sam tried. “Well, as I recall you weren’t so fond of that fatted duck I tried making you.” Frodo’s eyes went wide.

“I never said so!”

Sam slowly smiled. “Didn’t need to say, did you, sir?”

Frodo stared intently into Sam’s big brown eyes, feeling the warm water lapping against the small of his back. “I ate it, Sam.” Sam tenderly cupped his face in both hands, gazing back at him.

“Aye... just to spare my feelings... Dearest Frodo.”

Taking in a badly needed breath, Frodo leaned forward to capture Sam’s mouth with his in a long and deeply intimate kiss, and Sam made a startled sound and caught him close. Their bodies pressed tightly together, heat flaring up. Frodo whispered Sam’s name, breathing Sam into his lungs, and Sam’s wonderful hands slid over his back and the backs of his thighs. His heart beat faster, his senses filled with the taste and the feel of his own true lover, as his lover gripped his rump and tugged him into a smooth thrusting rhythm. Frodo curled his toes and braced his knees and tore his mouth from the kiss with a joyful laugh, and Sam gasped out his name and locked smouldering eyes on his.

Not enough then, nay, never enough of Frodo looking like that, with the colour on his cheeks and that glow in his eyes, so beauteous and rare, no common Shire bloom but something from the Blessed Land that had no place in the mortal world. It felt to Sam as if he held a fairie sprite in his hands and feared it might flitter away if he didn’t hang on tight. Frodo arched above him, gripping his shoulders, lovely nakedness slipping hard and fast against his, and his thoughts went spinning. Frodo’s blue eyes glimmered, wide and deep as a bottomless chasm, and he let himself fall. Frodo started that deep throaty groan, blushing lips parted on a panting breath, and it was all over. He clutched Frodo tight against him and came with a pounding rush in his ears, as Frodo melted into his arms, quivering all over.

Frodo found himself collapsed in a sprawl over Sam, shaking and breathless, Sam’s loving embrace the only thing holding him together. A last tingle of sensation shivered through him, then everything went numb. He had to struggle to find even a shred of his voice. “...oh... Sam... I can’t move...”

Sam held him in trembling arms, his own body gone limp and boneless. He couldn’t find a breath himself to speak even if he’d had the words to say, so they just clung to each other for a long while, slowly coming back down from that wondrous place. The bathwater stilled at last, and began to cool, and Frodo started shivering. Sam rubbed his arm and kissed his forehead, moving to let him go, but Frodo roused and held to him. Sam cuddled him a little longer, then gently eased himself from the embrace. “I’ll just heat up the water a bit... then I’ll wash your hair and scrub your back for you.”

With an effort that almost hurt, Frodo let Sam go, watching as he rose from the water and stepped out of the tub, bare feet slapping through puddles on the stone floor, the warm firelight dancing over his naked skin. He turned from the hearth with the kettle, blushing, smiling sweetly, and Frodo felt such a deep aching need well up in him it took his breath all over again. He caught Sam’s eye, pleading. A whisper tore itself from his throat. “Hurry.”

Sam felt the strain in Frodo’s voice with a tightening in his chest. He poured the boiling water he’d brought, set the kettle down on the floor, and climbed back into the bath. Frodo reached for him, hugged him fiercely, then burst into tears. Sam’s heart winced. He caught Frodo close and held him tight. “Frodo, me dear, what did I do?”

Frodo shook his head against Sam’s shoulder, but couldn’t manage to speak for gasping, struggling with every breath to stifle an outrageous fit of sobbing. Sam stroked his hair and rocked him. It was ridiculous. It made no sense. He was deliriously happy. He was. Sam lifted his face and kissed it, Sam’s warm lips trembling, Sam’s dark shimmering eyes filled with anxiety. A fresh flood of tears traced the salty tracks down Frodo’s cheeks. He gasped out Sam’s name, and knew what it was. “I can’t be without you, Sam... and I’m so afraid something will go wrong!”

Sam closed his eyes and buried his face in Frodo’s silky curls, his heart pounding. “If it’s my Gaffer making you worry so...”

Frodo breathlessly whispered, “No... not only... it’s just so hard to believe this is real... sometimes...”

Sam understood that all too well. “Aye, it is... like it all might be just a dream and next time you wake...” Frodo’s body against his shook with a lingering sob, and Sam hugged him ever so gently. “But it’s not a dream, Mister Frodo... and I’m not ever leaving you.”

More foolish tears threatened, but Frodo somehow swallowed them back. In truth, he didn’t think he had the strength left for further hysterics. He couldn’t remember ever feeling so drained and worn out. He caught a shaky breath. “I give... you win... I can’t keep up with you.”

Sam huffed at him. “Didn’t know we was in a contest, sir.”

Frodo turned his face to Sam’s warmth, wanting to burrow in deep and stay there forever. “We were, and it’s decided... I’m too old for you.”

In frustration, Sam squeezed him a bit too hard. “Now don’t you start with that, Mister Frodo.” Frodo caught at his breath, and hugged him back.

“When I’m really old, Sam, and you’re still a spry eighty... Then what?”

There was a tone of amusement in that, to Sam’s immense relief. He touched a kiss to Frodo’s soft bare shoulder. “Then we’ll be the kind of story lovers all over the Shire’ll whisper about in the starlight... just you wait and see, sir.”

Clearly to Sam forever meant forever, but Frodo couldn’t honestly see beyond the moment. What lay ahead for them, even a week into the future, loomed shadowy and fraught with hidden dangers. But it was selfish of him to put his fears on Sam. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t.

“Mister Frodo... the water’s gone right cold and you’re shivering. You slide around here, and we’ll get finished.” Frodo let himself be shifted around to lean against Sam’s tucked-up knees, and he tilted his head back. “Close your eyes, sir.” Frodo closed his eyes, and Sam scooped up water to wet his hair, then grabbed the soap to rub up a lather.

Frodo trembled. “I can’t hold my head up, Sam.” Sam kindly held it for him, massaging the worry from his neck and his temples with strong careful fingers. He sighed. “I’m so tired, and I wanted to tell you the next part of the poem.”

“You’ve worked it out then, Mister Frodo?”

Frodo bit his lip. “Well... parts of it. It’s hard, the language. I really need to go through Bilbo’s papers, and collect all of his writings on it.” He really needed to do that. Sam knew his misgivings on the issue and was sympathetic, but wouldn’t tell him whether he should or shouldn’t. Sam seemed to view Uncle Bilbo’s writings as something little short of sacred. He did too, a bit. That was the problem.

Sam gently ran his thumbs over the frown lines etched across Frodo’s pale brow. “Don’t know how you can be tense and so loose you can’t hold yourself up all at the same time, sir. That’s a talent, I’d say.” Frodo gave him a little upside down smile, and the furrows eased some. Sam got his hair washed and rinsed, and sat him up to do his back, but when he moved on with it, sliding his lathered hands under Frodo’s arms to do his front, Frodo snatched the soap away and slithered around to face him.

“It’s your turn.”

Sam tried saying he didn’t need to bother with that, but Frodo insisted. He finally gave in and turned round to have his hair washed and his back scrubbed, and he couldn’t have said it didn’t feel good being fussed over. Frodo didn’t stop with his back neither, and he had to retaliate, so it all just took that much longer. The bathwater was icy by the time they were both properly washed and able to drag themselves out.

Frodo promptly dropped to the bench and huddled there with his teeth chattering. Sam wrapped a sheet around him and started toweling his hair, standing there naked and dripping wet, prickled with goosebumbs. Frodo took the towel from him. “Get yourself dressed, Sam. You’re freezing.”

It was a bit nippy. Sam built up the fire in the hearth first thing, then grabbed up a sheet to knot around his waist. They’d made an awful mess, dirty clothes scattered every which way and water sloshed over the floor. And he’d not sorted out yesterday’s laundry. He’d left his own things mingled with Frodo’s when he’d bundled it all up to take to the sisters, the first time he’d dared to do that. He went to take up the bundle and open it, and his clothes were right there neatly folded on top. That was Daisy’s doing, because Daisy always did Mister Frodo’s things herself. He smiled a little, thinking he might try giving her a hug next time he caught her standing still.

“Sam...”

Sam took up his clothing off the stack and picked out things of Frodo’s to take to him: fresh linens, a pair of soft gray trousers, and the shirt he’d left lying there earlier in the day, the one that figured in so many of Sam’s fondest memories because it was Frodo’s favorite. It was nothing fancy, just faded blue plainweave worn thin and supple by a hundred washings. “Got your clothes here, Mister Frodo.”

Frodo clutched his sheet about him and stared into the blazing hearthfire. “I don’t pay you enough, Sam... for everything you do.”

Sam laid Frodo’s clothes down on the bench, and quietly stepped around to look at his face. “You pay me plenty, sir. You know that’s not why I do for you.” Frodo looked up at him, fretting again. He would have done anything in his power to stop that cloud coming over his love, but there wasn’t anything wise and clever he could say to make Frodo not worry over such things. He picked up the towel Frodo had dropped and went around to stand behind him and finish drying his hair, rubbing his shoulders a bit while he was at it. “You just think too hard sometimes, Mister Frodo.”

Frodo sighed and closed his eyes. He really wasn’t thinking very well at all at that point. “Can we go to bed now, Sam?”

Sam wouldn’t have minded really, but it was early yet. “Let me fix you something to eat first. You’ll not say nay to a nice batch of hot biscuits with honeybutter, I hope. Quick and easy, that.”

If it was quick and easy enough, Frodo supposed he could deal with it. He found enough energy to dress himself anyway, and to get to the kitchen with Sam pushing him along.

“You’ll feel better once you’ve had some proper nourishing, and I’ve got just the thing.”

“Sam... you said biscuits... and honeybutter. I distinctly remember you saying honeybutter.”

Sam sat him down at the table. “Aye, sir, I did... and while the biscuits are cooking I can fry up the rest of that liver. Don’t want it going to waste. You like liver, Mister Frodo.”

Frodo had to concede that. Sam poured him a cup of tea and set the honey jar in front of him, then started bustling about like he’d never spent all day slaving in the garden. Frodo sat there just watching for as long as he could stand to, then he got himself up and moved around the table to the bench on that side, closer. Sam reached out a hand and brushed fingers across his cheek, smiling.

It was a compulsion, it was, like they couldn’t be within sight of each other and not touch. Frodo took his hand and held to it for a moment before letting go. He had to make a trip to the pantry and the cold room, and when he came back Frodo was on his feet, greasing the biscuit pan. “Mister Frodo... you’ve helped me enough today. You sit and have your tea.” Frodo tried giving him a stubborn look. Sam set down the things he’d gathered, the liver, cream for the biscuits, fresh butter, bacon, a couple of onions and a squash he’d brought in the day before. Frodo eyed it all suspiciously. “Can’t have liver without onions and bacon, sir... and that squash’ll take no time to do.”

Frodo couldn’t fight it. Sam was determined to fatten him up. Sam dumped the butter he’d brought into a bowl and set it on the table, then put a wooden spoon in his hand and turned him around.

“If you’re wanting to do something, sir, you can put some honey in that and whip it.”

Frodo didn’t fight that either, just sank down to the bench and did as he was told, while Sam did everything else. The butter turned out to be challenge enough, with his arms already tired and aching. And he put too much honey in, which turned it a bit curdled, but Sam laid a hand on his shoulder and sweetly told him it was just fine. He felt better, having downed his second cup of tea by then, and supper was smelling good. He managed to set the table while Sam dished everything up.

“There now, you see, sir, that was no trouble at all.”

Frodo looked up at Sam with a beckoning smile and patted the bench, and Sam settled there next to him. “You always know what’s best, Sam.”

Sam didn’t know about that, could think of at least one thing they weren’t agreed on, but he wasn’t going to bring that up three times in one day. They had their supper together quieter than usual, and touching more, with more opportunity for it sitting side by side. By the time they were through, they were very nearly in each other’s laps, and Frodo was trying to feed him the last of the squash on his plate.

“Please, Sam, I’m stuffed full. You have it.”

Sam obligingly accepted one last bite, then took the fork from him and moved to get up and start cleaning, but Frodo caught him in a hug and wouldn’t let go.

“We can wash up in the morning, Sam. Let’s go sit in the parlour with a fire and listen to the rain.”

Sam hugged him back. “Thought you was tired, sir.” Frodo cheerfully announced that he felt better, though it didn’t much look like it. Sam smiled a little into his eyes. “But not better enough to have to watch me do the cleaning up, I’d guess.”

Frodo softly smiled. “Precisely.” Sam let him win that one, and only insisted on wrapping the leftover biscuits in a towel and putting them away. The rest of the mess they left for morning.

“I’ll just check the windows, Mister Frodo, and see they don’t need shuttering.”

Frodo had a better idea. “You can go make a fire, Sam, and I’ll check the windows,” He took himself off to do that, starting in the bedroom. Night had fallen, and a pleasant cool with it. The rain was coming down still, but much less forcefully, and none of the shutters needed closing. In the study he picked up the little book of Elvish from the desk and took it with him to the parlour, where Sam was coaxing up a good flame in the hearth.

Sam lit his pipe while he was there, and waited to light Frodo’s for him once he’d settled into his chair and filled it. He then sat himself down on the rug between Frodo’s knees and took Frodo’s left foot into his lap to gently massage it.

Frodo leaned his head back. “I think I’m too tired to think.”

Sam took his pipe from between his teeth and shifted around to look up at Frodo. “That’s alright, sir. We can just sit.” He ran one hand up Frodo’s shin. “Look at this, Mister Frodo, you’re getting brown.” Frodo laughed. Sam pushed up his trouser leg a bit to show him. So brown maybe wasn’t the right word, but there was enough difference to see, and it was showing on his face too. Sam couldn’t help thinking it a shame, not that there wasn’t still plenty of pale to be found. He slipped his hand up inside Frodo’s pantleg to softly caress his thigh, and laid his head down.

Frodo brushed his fingers through Sam’s burnished curls, listening to the sounds of the fire crackling and the rain steadily dripping into the bushes outside the window. He breathed a quiet sigh at last, setting his pipe into the rack on the table next to his chair, then carefully opened the book and started reading. Just reading the Elvish as it was written, no great thought required for that. Sam’s hand slid over his knee, warm breath on his leg through the cloth of his breeches. Frodo paused, softly stroking his ear. “You’d better give me your pipe if you’re not going to smoke it.”

Sam jolted awake fumbling for his pipe, which he’d dropped in his lap it seemed, thankfully not burning himself. Frodo tugged at his hair to get his attention.

“Were you sleeping, Sam?” It wasn’t a common thing for Sam to sleep through a reading of Elvish, or at all for that matter when he wasn’t home in his own bed. Frodo put his book aside and got himself up, stepping over and around Sam to do it, then held out a hand to him. “You need to be in bed, love.”

Sam couldn’t say that didn’t sound like a fine idea. Frodo smiled at him, soft and sweet, and Sam took his hand and let himself be led down the hall to the bedroom. They got out of their clothes, and Sam plumped the pillows and flapped the bedcovers to straighten them, then waited.

Frodo gave him a little push. “You first.” Sam looked at him, but settled in and held up the covers for him, then crawled over him to claim the outside.

“Don’t want to wake you when I go.”

Frodo laid his head on the pillow with a sigh. Sam snuggled down facing him and brushed his hair back from his face with a loving smile.

“You want I should tell you a story, Mister Frodo?”

Frodo reached up a hand to touch Sam’s warm lips, and shook his head a little. “I want you to sleep with me.”

Sam was truly sorry on that count, for both of them, but in all fairness it wasn’t him wanting the secret kept. “You know I can’t stay all night with you, sir, and have no one see it for what it is.” There had to be talk going around as it was, just for the time he did spend at Bag End.

Frodo knew better. He leaned in close and pressed his forehead to Sam’s chest. “Why do you put up with me, Sam?”

Sam laid a hand on his head, smiling. “Now that’s a foolish thing to ask, sir.”

“Is it?”

Sam lifted Frodo’s face to look into his eyes. “I like that sound you make.”

Frodo gazed at him back. “What sound do I make?”

Sam showed him, pulled him close and started suckling at his neck, and he came out with it quick enough, gasping a breath and groaning down deep in his throat. Sam held him tight and Frodo slid an arm over his back, trembling.

“Oh... I can’t, Sam... I really can’t...”

Sam eased his hold and caressingly kissed the spot he’d gently ravaged, and finally let his head fall back to the pillow. “Don’t think I can neither.” Oh, he surely could, but it might be the death of them both. Frodo lay there looking at him with those eyes all bright and shiny.

“You’re so beautiful, Sam.”

Sam laughed, touching his finger to the end of Frodo’s nose. “You need to sleep, Mi--” He saw it coming and caught Frodo’s hand in mid reach, brought it to his lips and tenderly kissed it. “My Frodo.” Frodo smiled at him dreamily, and slowly let his eyes close.

“My Sam.”


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