Night Watch
by Keye

After a single march, Gandalf’s long dark was just about longer and darker than Sam could bear. A dreadful place it was, black and silent as death. And cold, though he wasn’t much feeling that. He was heated still from inside, by the hard walk up steep stairs and down along crumbling paths, and from the anger curled in the pit of his stomach. Anger wasn’t a thing he liked feeling anyhow, and this was a gnawing, unsettled one, with nowhere to easily place blame. He was just angry, for poor Bill’s sake, and for Frodo’s sake.

Frodo sat with his arms hugging his knees and his head down, exhausted. He wasn’t talking, hadn’t said a word when Gandalf laid into young Pip about that pebble. It was up to Mister Merry to console the lad and the two of them lay rolled into their blankets together, holding each other. The others were still settling and having their cold, meager rations. Frodo had hardly touched his.

For Frodo’s sake, Sam pushed the anger from the fore of his thoughts, as he spread their bedding out together so they could share. If it was up to him, Frodo wouldn’t be standing on ceremony that night. Sam couldn’t have him shivering under his blanket alone, not in this dank and dreary place where they couldn’t even make a fire to chase the chill. Sam was thankful he’d thought to stick a water bag up under his clothes against his belly, with a handful of tealeaves stuffed in. He slid it out and poured a cupful for Frodo. “Here now, you drink this down.”

Frodo looked up at him. Sam offered the cup and he untucked himself to take it with a weary smile and a murmured, “Thank you, Sam.”

Sam took up their last blanket and wrapped it around Frodo’s shoulders. “It’s not hot or brewed proper, but I reckon it’s warmer than you are.”

Mister Merry caught his eye over Pippin’s curly head. Sam passed the bag around to him and he got the lad sitting up to have some.

Sam settled back then against the stone pillar they’d chose to camp under and laid his hand on Frodo’s back. The only light was a soft glow from Gandalf’s staff but Sam could see into Frodo’s eyes all the same, could see that he warred with himself. And it pierced Sam to the heart. Almost since leaving Rivendell, Frodo had been trying to put a space between them, and Sam knew why. It was a hard and perilous thing they’d set him to do, and he was afraid. Not afraid for Frodo Baggins, nay, but afraid for those who followed him. Sam let his fingers caress a little, asking, wanting, pleading.

Frodo blinked, eyes wide and shining in the darkness. He seemed to be trying hard to resist, but finally sank back into the warmth against Sam’s side and leaned his head on Sam’s shoulder.

Sam slid one arm around his middle and the other across his chest, and put on a stern face for any of them who might think Frodo hadn’t earned a few minutes to lay his head down in a comforting place. Gandalf was watching them, but then Gandalf watched Frodo always. He caught a mantled glance from Boromir, and could see the glint of Strider’s eyes in the shadows. These men, they’d been nothing less than honourable and Sam wouldn’t say a word against their might and bravery, but they made him feel small and weak, they did, when he most needed to feel able.

Merry and Pippin sat huddled in their blankets close by. They weren’t talking either. Out there beyond the little sounds they made just breathing was the deepest, deadest quiet Sam had ever heard. No whisper of breeze or sound of living creature, just the crushing feel of all that mountain over their heads. It weighed on him. He shivered and held Frodo tighter. “Did you ever imagine such a thing as this, sir?”

Frodo shifted and laid a hand on his forearm. “It’s a terrible place, Sam. No place for a hobbit. But we have to trust Gandalf.”

Sam took in a slow, thoughtful breath. “I know.” He did know that. “But did you ever imagine anything could be like this? In all the stories we’ve read and heard of, even those ones of Morgoth in that dungeon fortress of his over the wastes… I thought I could see it in my head. But to be in the thick of it… for it to be so real… beggars every fancy I ever had.”

Frodo said nothing for long seconds. Sam could feel his heart beating, hard and fast. He whispered at last. “I have imagined it, Sam. I’ve had dreams… dreams of darkness and evil… dreams of you…” He moved like he would pull away and put that space between them again.

“Don’t.” Sam shamelessly held on to him. “Please.”

Frodo gave up that brief struggle and let himself be held, gripping Sam’s arm hard and speaking very softly. “How could I have done this to you, Sam? I should never have taken you from the Shire, regardless of what Gandalf wished. And Merry and Pip… What was I thinking? We don’t belong here.” He turned his head on Sam’s shoulder with a sad sigh. “I have no choice, but I could have spared all of you. You would be safely home now if not for my selfishness.”

Sam clutched Frodo close to him. “I wouldn’t. I’d be lost out there trying to find you, I would. You know it.” Frodo only closed his eyes and sighed again. Sam caught a shaky breath. “You’ve no need to worry for me. I’ll take care of myself. And I’ll look after your cousins for you as best I can.”

Frodo brushed a sweet touch of fingers over the back of his hand. “Dear Sam. Please do that for me.”

Unease crept up Sam’s nape and made him shiver. Frodo quietly protested that he had all the blanket. Sam eased them over onto the pallet he’d made from the rest to cushion the stone they had to lie on. He said, “We’ll share,” and Frodo didn’t gainsay him. They lay down together with Frodo tucked in comfy, back to his front, and shared the blanket. The familiar comfort of that reassured Sam, not that there wasn’t a whole lot of trouble ahead or that Frodo wasn’t thinking he had to do this deed all on his own. Things were as they should be between them. That was enough to lift a good deal of the shadow from Sam’s heart.

With a rustle of blankets, Merry and Pippin settled again nearby. The light from the old wizard’s staff dimmed and left them the privacy of near darkness. Sam nuzzled a tender kiss to the back of Frodo’s neck and Frodo snuggled deeper into his embrace. The anger was there still, a tightness in his shoulders and down his spine. He let it stay. It would help to keep him on his toes and watchful. Whatever danger found them would have Sam Gamgee to reckon with. Frodo might think to rid himself of the rest of them. Sam was pretty sure he would try, sooner or later. But there wasn’t a chance in all Eä that Sam would let him face this thing alone. No. “You’ll not leave me,” he whispered. Frodo gave him no response to that, maybe thinking he could deny it was true if he said nothing. It made no difference. Sam was with his Frodo to the bitter end.

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