West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

A Careful Wishing
Be careful what you wish for...
Author: Tiriel
Rating: R

 

Part I
 

The sound of pipe, fiddle and drum faded suddenly, as a high voice took up a sweet, sad love song that carried its heartbreak clearly, cutting through the warm night air onto The Hill. 

The party down at the Ivy Bush was obviously still in full swing, late into the night. There were coloured lanterns in the trees around the village green, and the festive mood was plain enough, though distant. The lone singer gave way to a muffled chorus of many voices raised in a cheerful drinking song, swift to banish any thought of sadness there. Far off figures jigged and clapped to a new rhythm, but the sorrowful refrain seemed to linger over the dark figure on the step before the door to Bag End.

The lights whirled and spun before his eyes, and if Frodo raised his head the stars came down and danced with them. Never had Hobbiton looked so beautiful - or perhaps that was 'so miserable'? Since the fourth, or it might have been the fifth, glass of wine, he wasn't sure any longer. Perhaps another might help him decide. The bottle seemed to come and go on the doorstep beside him, but he managed to capture it at last. The glass was another matter; he was still certain that he had had one, but several attempts at pouring into it, had merely resulted in wine every where. He gave up the idea, and tilted the bottle to his lips - there wasn't much left, anyway.

Before the flow could reach his mouth, a firm hand stayed it. "Mr Frodo, sir."

Frodo blinked, hazily. "Sam. Thought you were down there at the party."

"I was, but I'm not, now, sir. I'm here, and I think you have had enough for tonight."

"How d'you know I've had enough? What's it to you how much I drink?" The words were querulous, but he allowed Sam to take the bottle from him.

Setting it aside, Sam found the glass and placed it safely out of harm's way. "Most of a bottle of that stuff is enough for any hobbit, sir! And as I'm the one who has to pick you up and put you to bed," Sam's tone was light, with just a hint of chiding, "the one who clears up if you are sick all over the floor, the one who has to listen to you moaning and then nurse your sore head, it's only fair that I should have a little say in the matter, isn't it?"

Drunk as he was, Frodo was still aware that Sam would never have dreamed of saying such things, had he believed for one moment that Frodo would remember them in the morning, and he was right. But somehow Frodo always did remember, and knew himself safe in Sam's care, no matter what Sam might say. Not that Frodo made a habit of getting drunk, exactly; it was just that sometimes... sometimes the quiet of Bag End would cease to be balm and comfort, and become a gaping hole needing to be filled. And the safest way to fill it, Frodo had found, was to open a bottle of something good and strong, and enjoy it until Sam suddenly appeared to take it from him. Even sober, Frodo had never yet worked out how Sam knew that his master would need tending that night; but Sam never failed to appear in time to stop the drinking before it got really out of hand.

"Come on, sir, up you get!" Carefully, Sam peeled him from the step, making light of Frodo's boneless weight, and pushing the door to, behind them. 

Frodo giggled, suddenly, unexpectedly, and Sam paused in his deft support of his master. "Sam! Tickling me!"

Sam knew that he was not, but obediently removed his hand from where the ticklish spot seemed to be. A mistake, for in the change, Frodo slid languidly, almost elegantly, from his grasp and down onto the hall floor.

"Butt- butter --," Frodo could get no further, between laughter and inebriation.

Sam looked down at him, squirming about on the cold tiles, and smiled despite exasperation. "Butterfingers," he supplied. "And if you were less well oiled, Mr Frodo, my fingers wouldn't lose their hold!" But Frodo had lost interest, now, and seemed to be falling asleep.

In a practised move, Sam hefted his master once again, this time right over his shoulder, and carried him to his bedroom. Gently, he eased him down onto the bed, and set about undressing him. Late as it was, he could see easily enough in the half light of a Forelithe evening; too well for his own peace of mind. He needed no candle to see Frodo's curls splashed dark across the pillow, and his closed lashes dusky on his cheeks. The fine edge to his lips, the delicacy of his profile, were defined in glimmers of moon and star from the window. Sam watched as Frodo sighed in his sleep. His tongue pushed briefly through his parted lips, moisture glistened, and Sam drew in a sharp breath.

Enough looking. He had Frodo's clothing to remove, no matter how much self control it took. Hands shaking slightly, Sam undid button after button, so slowly, keeping his fingers sternly away from the skin, more pale beneath. When all were loosed, he pushed the shirt gently over Frodo's shoulders, then lifted him. With Frodo's head settled against his own shoulder and warm, wine-laden breath huffing quietly onto his neck, Sam had to pause, hold Frodo close and still, until it became possible to slide the shirt down; possible to do so, without kissing every bit of Frodo's neck, his shoulders, arms - every inch of him revealed as the fabric slipped slowly off and away.

It seemed to get worse with every time that it happened. Up until tonight, Sam had managed to remove the shirt before the tension within him rose to this pitch.  Reluctantly, he lowered Frodo onto the pillows, and sat back, looking once more. Delineated in shadow and cold moonlight, this was suddenly not quite Frodo, but someone strange, even eerie; one whom Sam could well see, mysterious and beautiful, in the realms of elfdom. Though he knew now of mighty elven warriors and their brave deeds, the imagined elf kingdom of his childhood kept always for him the hobbit-elf of his dreams. By day, Frodo's skin was creamy pale with a warm flush to his cheeks, not this distant blue-white. His full, coral lips were bleached wan, now, wan as the nipples that Sam knew showed copper in full light, glimpsed a time or two, each memory the treasured privilege of accident and not design.

He drew a deep, steadying breath, now. As always, when Mr Frodo had had enough to drink and more, Sam fought with himself as to the propriety of removing all of Frodo's clothes, for he admitted full well that he should more reasonably leave his breeches on. But he knew that his master dispensed with even a nightshirt in hot weather (a disturbing and a wonderful discovery, the first time that he had come in to waken Frodo on a warm summer's morning, when Frodo had not heard his knock). That knowledge, and even more, the temptation to see Frodo naked in the moonlight, won every time, though Sam had always been able to refrain from touching any further than was absolutely necessary, his restraint an offering of love to Frodo.

But he wanted, oh, how he wanted, to run his hands over that desirable body. He wanted to know how Frodo's skin would feel beneath his hands, under lingering caresses to all the places that would excite a lover, not these practical touches, guarded and confined; to know what touch would set flame to Frodo, even as the thought of that setting would fire Sam, and send him home to bed in a hurry to set hands onto himself.

He never had, and he never would. Frodo trusted him above anyone, he knew. These infrequent drinking bouts were their secret, though Sam could not have said what sorrows Mr Frodo needed to drown. On the following day, once one of Sam's herbal teas had cleared his head sufficiently for coherence, Frodo would apologise, with a self-deprecating remark to turn all question, and Sam would smile, and make a soothing noise, and that would be it - until the next time. And nothing was ever said of Frodo's nakedness on waking.

But it was getting harder - Sam could even manage a wry grin as he thought it - it was getting more difficult to control the desire; and surely the drinking sessions were more frequent, now? They had begun, he thought, a year or two after he had become a tween, and then rarely. But of late they occurred more often, which must mean that whatever Mr Frodo's hidden problem was, it must be getting worse. It could not be money, for his master lived simply, even abstemiously except on these occasions. His land was well-tenanted and well-farmed, and harvests had been good for several years. Perhaps it was simply the emptiness of Bag End, without Mr Bilbo, though he had been gone for several years, now.

Sam always knew when his master was sinking towards one of his evenings with a bottle for company, though there were no overt signs. The change was subtle, barely noticeable even to Sam's eyes, and Sam could not have put a word to what he noticed, though 'unsettled' might have been the one he would have given, if put to it. Very occasionally, he would be wrong, and when he stole silently back to Bag End, Frodo would be working still; too late into the night, of course, but steadily, and the drink to hand would be a cup of tea (probably left to go cold before being remembered, as Sam knew well from experience). And whenever possible, Sam would arrange things so that a discreet question or a deliberate reminder would result in an invitation to remain with his master far later into the evening than was usual. When Sam left, Mr Frodo would seem less unsettled for the tale they had enjoyed, or the memories they had exchanged; laughing or sighing, a recollection was the better for sharing.

Covering his master lightly with a blanket, now, Sam bent to bestow the only inappropriate gesture he ever allowed himself - a light kiss to Frodo's brow. He straightened, and turned reluctantly for the door.

"Sam?" A thin whisper halted him.

"Mr Frodo?" He returned to the bed, but Frodo didn't seem to have moved. Not at all sure that he hadn't imagined the sound, Sam bent to listen.

"Sam. Please, Sam, stay?" Still no sign of movement from the blanket-clad figure, but Sam knew that he hadn't imagined that. There was nothing he would rather do, than stay here with his master, trial though it might prove for him. He pulled a chair from its place against the wall, and sat beside the bed, taking Frodo's hand into his own. If Mr Frodo were feeling lonely as well as drunk, the least Sam could do (and the most, for safety's sake) was to hold his hand so that he could fall asleep to the touch of a friend.

The long white fingers lay quietly in his, and Sam was sure that his master slept now, for the heavy lashes were still and his breathing soft and even. Somehow, seeing Frodo covered to the shoulders, and sleeping, was suddenly more of a test than ever, simply because he had asked Sam to stay. And because Frodo's hand was lying safe between his own. Involuntarily his own fingers began to move; Sam watched in fascination as one hand cupped Frodo's gently so that the other could stroke slowly, softly up each finger, barely touching, but from the way that Frodo's hand twitched, especially when Sam's took a mind to draw a spiral outward from the centre of the palm, Frodo felt the touch, even in sleep. When Frodo sighed, and stretched into his grasp, Sam snatched away the guiltier of his hands, though he left the cradling one. For a while he sat thus, wondering whether he should have continued his stroking, if it were comfort to his master.

But Frodo's sleep was disturbed now. He began to move restlessly; his breathing quickened to a painful retch, and he rolled suddenly onto his side with a gulping breath. "Sam, I think I'm -"

Numbskull that he was, Sam had forgotten to bring a basin; and even as he thought it, Frodo dragged himself up onto his elbow with a sound which might have been 'I'm sorry'. Practical as ever, Sam knew there was no time to waste in deciding what might best be substituted for the missing bowl. He scooped up master and blanket into his arms and sprinted for the bathing room, depositing Frodo on the floor by the drainage grid with only seconds to spare.

The following few minutes were unpleasant enough for Sam, who had only to witness the return of the wine, and of the supper that he had served before he had gone home. Frodo groaned and heaved alternately until he sagged back into Sam's arms, with a sigh of relief.

"You just sit here, Mr Frodo, and I'll get you some water." Sam propped him against the bath tub and fetched water and towels to his master's side. Gently, he wiped away all traces of the sickness from Frodo's face, then raised a glass to his mouth so that he could drink.

"Ugh! Why's it always taste so foul?" Frodo rinsed his mouth and spat away the bitterness, then drank the rest of the water.

"Now that I can't tell you, sir. You'd be more likely to know than me," Sam grinned, not above teaching a lesson now the worst was over, "having had so much more experience, like!"

Frodo managed a wry smile. "Unfair, when I'm too weak to retaliate!"

"Weak? Aye, and I'm an oliphaunt's auntie! You're just a bit under the weather, that's all, sir. You'll be right as ninepence in the morning, after a mug of the herbal, just see if you're not, with all that wine out of the way. Seems a waste of a drop of good stuff, but better out nor in, as Dad would say."

"Every time, I say 'never again' -" Frodo began, but Sam didn't let him finish.

"Why do you do it, Mr Frodo? You know it'll end up pretty much like this." He knew he shouldn't even be asking, of course, let alone expecting an answer. It was none of his business why his master should want to drink himself silly, and the only excuse he might offer, should Frodo ask, was concern for his health. There was no way that Sam could ever tell him that, whatever the reason, Sam wanted to wrap him in his arms and kiss away his trouble for him.

"You - wouldn't understand, Sam." Impossible to say more. He would need a very clear head, to try to explain to Sam. And even then, he could not, must not do it.

Sam sighed; he so wanted to help, but the only thing he could offer with propriety was the minimal comfort a servant should provide. Which, he now realised, he was not doing. Lost in thoughts of the comfort he would have liked to offer, he was ignoring the fact that Frodo was sitting on the cold floor, naked apart from a blanket which was less than strategically placed to protect Frodo's modesty. Though, Sam's honesty insisted, it was not Frodo's modesty which needed protection, but his own susceptibility to what might be glimpsed now, shadow against cream in the dusk.

Frodo shivered suddenly. It might be summer, but the effect of cold tiles on bare skin, after midnight, was quite chilling. He looked down, and realised his state of undress. Blushing into the half-light, he grabbed onto the blanket and tried to drag it around him as he rolled onto his knees and then pushed himself up to his feet. He had been a trifle optimistic as to how much better he felt, for immediately he staggered, and would have fallen but for Sam's support. The blanket was not Sam's main concern, and it did fall.

There was an awkward scramble, almost comic, of legs and flailing arms, of hands reaching with no other purpose than concern, of arms enfolding with only careful love. Frodo swayed within Sam's grasp, as Sam held onto his master and lunged down for the covering, in the same moment that Frodo tried to reach it. Less than a minute, and then Frodo was standing, leaning on Sam, and the blanket was more or less serving its intended purpose. Each of them was breathing heavily.

And Sam realised, on one dizzying indrawn breath, that as his hands had slid wonderfully over so much of Frodo's skin, for one precious second carved in time, he had touched that one place he should not... Though the sane part of Sam's mind delivered a mental scolding for his ineptitude, other parts of him rejoiced, quivering at the memory of such forbidden contact. He cleared his throat and said, as steadily as he could manage, "Come along, sir, let's get you back into bed where you'll be warm. A bit of rest, and tomorrow you'll be yourself again."

"Yes." Fragile and ill though he might feel, Frodo knew that Sam's hand had lighted briefly upon him, where most he would wish it to be. Though his sudden response had faded quickly, the thought warmed every part of him until another wave of queasiness took him, and one foot in front of the other became task enough, as Sam helped him to his room.

Sam tried a light tone now, seeing his master sagging from exhaustion. "You sleep on it, sir, and I'm sure you'll see things in a better light, come morning." He knew he was jollying him along, but if easy words might help Frodo to bed in better heart, then Sam would do it. "You have a beautiful smial, with all the books a scholar could wish, and friends and family to love you, sir." He did not think it worth mentioning, as he eased his master back onto the bed with a practised hand to his elbow, that Frodo also had a servant who loved him more than any friend or relative ever could. "I ask you, Mr Frodo, what more could a hobbit want?"

And how could he answer that? What was it that Frodo wanted? His want was not the simple lack that Sam meant; his want was desire, and it involved this night and this bed and this wonderful, beautiful untouchable person. More than that, it was love. And tonight it had welled into sorrow once again. He hated himself for the weakness, but could not deny that, this time, it had been the thought of Sam, dancing with which ever lass, with anyone else, down there at the party, that had sent him looking for oblivion at the bottom of a bottle. His frustration emerged as a cross between a sigh and a sob, and Sam's heart turned over within him, that his master should be so beautiful, so sad and so alone.

"Come now, sir, it can't be that bad, whatever it is," Sam said, carefully ensuring that the errant blanket remained in place, as he settled his master comfortably. "P'raps in the morning, if you'd like, we could talk about it? It helps, sometimes, to talk things out. Only if you'd like to, of course - I wouldn't want to pry where I'm not wanted."

"Not wanted..." Frodo echoed faintly. Even in his presently wretched state, he was alive to the unintended irony of Sam's words. He buried his face in his pillow to stifle the words he wanted to say.

Sam waited, hoping with everything in him that Frodo would ask him to stay once more; that he might sit by the bed and hold Frodo's hand 'til morning, rather than leave him now. Eventually he said, "Goodnight then, sir," quietly and made his way to the door. Though he listened until he could hear the blood rush in his ears, this time there was no whisper of recall.  

Having set all to rights again in the bathing room and disposed of bottle and glass from the step, Sam shut the round green door behind him. His mind, no longer confined within the smial, within the rules he had set himself, slid inexorably to Frodo, naked in his arms, to that moment when his own hand... He shook his head. This was no place to tell over such treasures; it still would not be right, not here on the step where his master had sat, cradling his wine and his sorrow while Sam watched briefly from the shadows by the hedge.

He hurried homewards down the Row, let himself in as quiet as might be; no candle for the thick darkness of his room. Door shut fast, to his bed, to his side, quick, quick, fumbling at his breeches, no time to take off, just loosen and - Ahh!  His breath caught, tight and gasping, as he took himself into that same hand, straining in his fingers, hardened almost to the point of pain; and now he could set the memory free, of Frodo's body, beautiful and vulnerable and pliant against him.

He had reached out only to save Frodo from falling - and had fallen himself, fathoms deep to an endless ache of pain and want, for he had clasped, had held Frodo to himself; so much less than his desiring and far more than ever he could forget. The saving had given him the flow of solid, wiry muscle down smooth flanks beneath his hands, the cool of Frodo's firm, rounded bottom, and sleek thighs chill from those cold tiles... and between... Faster now and faster, Sam shivered and moaned in his remembering... that transient stroke to crisp tight curls and sheltered silken skin... and velvet, rising for one swift instant to his touch... He spilled hard, biting down onto his pillow to deaden the harsh cry, which was ecstasy and misery, and mostly, "Frodo!"

Be careful what you wish for - you may get it.  Sam had always doubted the Shire saying; he never would again.

Before his breathing had even chance to settle, he was there once more in the silvered dark, undressing his master, unveiling Frodo. He could at last paint touch to his image of a pale body, serene under starlight, for his fingers knew now what lay there. Too well, for illusion proved a mere shadow to sensation, had never so roused desire to such unsatisfied pitch, his want increased by niggardly fulfilment. Soft skin and lithe strength, the smooth swell and gentle curve of belly, and below... tender and knowing, that part of Frodo that Sam had never - should never have touched... Less than holding, far less than the caresses that he burned to give... Sam lived again the precious moment when he knew, knew that Frodo had roused briefly to the fleeting pass of his hand. Drunken and sick though Frodo had been, he had answered to Sam's call.

No matter that he tried to tell himself, that of course his master's breath had drawn fast, as Sam's fingers lighted there, that the rising was simply shocked reaction, nothing more; his hope and desire would not listen. They showed him too clearly, Frodo, sighing as Sam's fingers smoothed and stroked over creamy planes; Frodo, smiling as Sam nuzzled, kissing and suckling a slow downward path on sleek, damp skin; Frodo, catching his breath and moaning, as Sam bent his head... No softness now, but taut need under the velvet, and Sam's mouth hot and ready to take, to tend and give whatever Frodo would, that Sam might hear him call completion with Sam's name.

Sam grew hard once more, and he hurt with the silence of his wanting and needing and loving.

~~~

Part II

When he stirred at last, Frodo knew, from the light edging through the curtains, and the shadows that spilled across the floor, that it was late morning, and that Sam had not come to waken him. He wondered why, until he rolled to his side, and a whirl of stars and coloured lanterns swam suddenly on a wine dark sea, dancing to the muzzy throb within his head. He remembered, then, watching the lights flicker through the trees, hearing the thin, far off sounds of the party; the drinking was a given, and his own cold misery, despite the balm of Forelithe air.

And Sam had rescued him from himself, again; had put him safe to bed, not once but twice. And memory said now, that Sam had touched him, memory exulted that he knew at last the feel of Sam's hands upon his naked body, here and here and here - and especially there... A warmth still, though no response now, as had been briefly then... surprise, yes, but instant desire, muted only by his sickness. He groaned frustration, that his wish should have been granted when he was too ill to appreciate it. But then, he would not have even this imperfect memory, had he not been ill, had he not almost fallen, had Sam's capable hands not reached to save him. Everywhere that Sam had touched, and even where he had not, sensation lingered; those hands were slightly rough, and their teasing friction shivered still on Frodo's skin. The tingle should have been delicious, setting him aflame, but it was not, for Sam never would have laid a finger on him, had he not felt responsible for his master's safety. That was all that it had been: Sam's sense of responsibility towards his sottishly drunken employer, no more.

Frodo dragged himself to the edge of the bed, and sat up cautiously, willing his head not to spin. He was only partially successful; Sam's herbal cure would be needed once again. Dressing seemed to take forever, but eventually, he managed to creep along the hall to the kitchen. The fire was hot and the kettle humming quietly; Sam had left all ready for him. He pulled out a chair, wincing at the scrape of its legs on the floor, and sat down heavily. A rest was in order, to summon enough energy to prepare the tea he needed. 

He despised himself for needing it, for drinking so; for begrudging Sam his evening of enjoyment, and most of all, because he knew full well, that he would never have begrudged a single moment of the dancing, the song and the laughter, could he have been the one to share them. He was behaving like a tween at his first disappointment in love, and he knew it. But tween love and what he felt for Sam were worlds apart; there had always been another hobbit to turn to in tweenage.

Frodo had no other, wanted no other. Sam was not simply a body to be coveted, soon taken, soon forsaken for the next. Sam was a mind and a mettle that stimulated Frodo like no other. He was a hobbit, plain and simple, but a reader and a thinker; a workaday gardener of the Shire, yet an elf lover, and a spinner of songs. His wisdom, rooted in the soil, was not soil bound: it soared upward to encompass other lands, other times, other peoples; and his thirst for knowledge placed him well beyond the ordinary hobbit. This was partly Frodo's doing: he had nurtured a natural talent, drawn Sam along a road he wished to take. It was also Frodo's undoing, for now that mind was bound to his by untold links, formless as mist, enduring as mithril.

He could have coped with desire had that been all that he wanted of Sam. But Frodo needed Sam's soul to answer to his; and he did not think that he could bear it, should Sam be one with any hobbit who would not, could not, see him as Frodo saw him, love him as Frodo loved.

"'Morning, Mr Frodo." Sam's voice was pitched low, sensitive to his master's likely condition. "You sit there quiet, sir, and I'll mix a drop of the herbal for you, if you need it."

"Good morning, Sam." Frodo frowned. He had not heard Sam come in, and hoped that he had not groaned his folly aloud. "Yes. Thank you, Sam, that would be most helpful, I think." Sam would not expect him to discuss the events of the previous night, he thought with relief, for he had never -

"Mr Frodo, sir?" Sam had made up his mind that he would say this, and he had to do it right off, before he had chance to think better of it, of whether it were really proper for him to ask. As he spooned dried leaves into the special pot that he kept for the brew - its pungent flavour stained where it touched, and could not be removed - he kept his head down, and that made it easier to ask, "Mr Frodo, would you like to talk about what's worrying you? I can keep my mouth shut, sir, I wouldn't never go telling no-one. I wouldn't ask, sir, only you did look so - "

Beautiful, he wanted to say. So beautiful and so sad that Sam's heart was weeping with him.

Pitiable, Frodo thought. Sam must see him as a foolish sot who couldn't hold his wine long enough to tidy himself out of the way of decent folk.

Sam was rushing on, " - I mean - it does help, sir, sometimes, just to talk things out. I don't expect that there's anything I could do, but if listening would be of any use, then I can do that, and gladly. I would like to help you, Mr Frodo. I know it's not my place, really, but if there were anything, you know you only need to ask, don't you?"

Ask? What would he not like to ask of Sam? Such things were acceptable elsewhere, Frodo knew; the culture of service embraced a far wider compass in some households. But he was not prepared either to take or to accept Sam on such terms. Much as he desired Sam's body, it was Sam's heart and mind that he needed, and they were not his to command.

It was playing with fire, but he could not stop himself from asking, "You would, wouldn't you, Sam?"

Sam paused as he reached for the kettle. "Would what, sir?" 

"Help in any way..." Frodo heard the slight emphasis he had put on any, though he hoped that Sam had not.

"You know I would, sir. Just say the word, and if I can, I will."

"What if I asked for help you might not want to give?" He despised himself even more for this question, but it came out anyway.

"You couldn't," Sam said simply. He poured the boiling water onto the herbs, and a clean, sharp scent filled the kitchen suddenly.

"You don't know that, Sam."

Sam would be rightly disconcerted, had Frodo asked for what he so wanted, but that ingrained sense of duty might even lead him to comply. And compliance would demean Sam; Frodo could never bring him to that, would never want that to be what he was to Sam, or Sam to him. And such taking would denigrate his love for Sam, which might be unwanted, might be wrong, but was still true and honest of itself.

But he should stop this, stop playing with the words, with the idea that he could even ask, could ever tell Sam... No. He must cease this self-inflicted pain and leave Sam unmarked even by the shadow of his desire.

"Mr. Frodo, are you - " Sam paused and swallowed. He was not sure that an answer to this question would not break his own heart, but if he were to be of help, that were no matter. "Sir, begging your pardon, but - are you in love with somebody who doesn't love you?"

He could think of no other reason that his master should sorrow so deeply, and the condition was one that Sam knew well, so that he might be able to offer sympathy, at least. And it seemed pity that they should both suffer heart-sickness untold. If Mr Frodo could maybe take comfort at least in knowing that his Sam loved him more than anyone else ever would or could, then perhaps his misery might ease, just a little. But even as he thought it, Sam knew he would never be able to confess his love, not straight out and stark, like that.

The more he had considered the matter, awake and heart-cold when the dawn had forced him from his bed, the more certain Sam had been that he had found the solution to Mr Frodo's sadness. And it was Mr Merry, he thought, Mr Merry for sure. Who else was so welcome at Bag End, so often? For whom else did Mr Frodo's face light up so warmly, when he arrived? Though it was true that the welcome seemed as broad for Mr Pippin. It was difficult to say really, now that Sam thought about it, for of late, Mr Merry never visited without Mr Pippin. Was that the problem? That Mr Frodo was in love with Mr Merry, and Mr Merry was too far taken up with a Took to appreciate what he might have from a Baggins?

Frodo had frozen, at Sam's question. He was rather startled that Sam should so easily have identified the cause of his unrest. Surely he could have no idea of who -

"I know I shouldn't ask this, Mr Frodo, but, is it - "

Frodo held himself in tight, lest Sam should guess rightly, and he must needs think of a quick and light reply, showing Sam both how much he valued him, and how very, very little he loved him, except as a dear friend might be loved.

"- is it Mr Merry, sir?"

"Merry?" Frodo would have laughed had he not felt so sick - from apprehension and the sudden upsurge in his stomach at Sam's near miss. "No, Sam, not Merry."

Sam's relief was almost a thing that he could feel, snapping through him, though he kept his voice steady as he said, "Sorry, sir. None of my business, I know." He brought teapot and mug, and placed them before Frodo.

"No, Sam, I - " How could he tell Sam how much he needed the shelter of his caring, though he could not have his love? He poured the remedy carefully and lifted his mug, inhaling the tang though it would be far too hot yet to drink. The mug would be a useful shield should Sam approach the truth more nearly.

"I appreciate your concern, Sam, and your offer of help, but it wouldn't be right to involve you." And that was honesty, at least; it did, after all, contain the entire problem in just one half of the sentence. He even managed the wry thought that, more than anyone, Sam would have approved his economic use of language, to condense so much into so few words.

"That's all right, sir. I understand. It was just that - " Sam wasn't actually intending to say this, right now, but it slipped out before he could stop it, " - I do know what that's like, you see." He turned away quickly, to find knife and bread board and toasting fork. Dry toast was the only thing Mr Frodo could face after the pungent herbal drink.

"You know? You know what it is like to love and be rejected?" Frodo's nausea was instant and overwhelming. He sipped quickly from his mug, then swallowed hard. The mixture was still too hot, but the pain from the liquid passed unnoticed for the sharper pain that twisted through him.

He couldn't - could not - sit here and hear Sam's declaration of love for whichever lucky hobbit was stupid enough not to return his regard. It distressed him that Sam should be unhappy, but he could not think yet of a way to console Sam without betraying himself. To imagine Sam dancing in the arms of another, had been hurt enough; that Sam might love another was unbearably worse. But before he could manage to slip away, to hide his own misery, and then to think of some means to assist Sam with his troubled love, Sam was speaking once more.

"Not exactly rejected, sir, more - more not daring to tell." And still he did not dare. The nearer he got, the more worried he became, for to lose even the practical and homely closeness that he had with Mr Frodo, would be more than he could face. When it came to it, Sam could not offer his love to his master, not even as consolation; for Mr Frodo would not want a lovesick hobbit mooning over him when his own love was unattainable.

I do know the feeling! Frodo wanted to say, but that would sound flippant, and would scarcely be appropriate, when Sam was speaking from his heart. And yet, what could he say? He could not bear to ask who it was, had stolen his Sam's love, and his head was too fuddled, as yet, to examine the problem on Sam's behalf. If you can't say owt good, best say nowt at all!  Frodo suddenly remembered Bilbo quoting one of Gaffer's aphorisms to him, whenever, as a tween, he had spoken amiss without thinking.

"I am sorry to hear that, Sam," he said carefully. Even to his own ears the words were trite and patronising, but something must be said, as he prepared a hasty escape. "I think I should go and lie down again. I feel rather unwell." He pushed away from the table, and picked up his mug, unsurprised that it needed a tight grip to stop his hand from trembling. "I shall see you tomorrow."

"But, Mr Frodo, your toast - " Too late, for Frodo had left the kitchen.

Sam dropped into the empty chair. He wasn't rightly sure, but he had the feeling that he had just made Mr Frodo feel even worse, for he had seemed to be recovering well enough, until Sam had started blathering at him. Stood to reason that his master didn't need Sam going on about himself, when he were feeling a bit under the weather, still.

He sighed. In the stories, star-crossed lovers always found their true love, and love was always returned, come the end. He wished that he and Mr Frodo could be in one of those tales, and be sighing for each other, for how easy that would be to solve. Well, fine words buttered no parsnips, as Dad said, and fine stories weren't the real world, no matter what Sam might like to think; and he'd best look sharpish and get some real work done, or it'd be dark afore he got the day's jobs more than half started.

But Mr Frodo couldn't really mean that he'd not see Sam until tomorrow, could he? He'd lost last night's supper the hard way, had had no breakfast, neither first nor second, and if he were to lie abed all day, then there weren't no point in Sam making him a lunch, and he never usually bothered with afternoon tea unless there was someone to share it with, and he might not get around to making himself any supper -

Sam snorted sudden disgust at himself, running on like a mother hen with a single chick, as if Mr Frodo weren't perfectly capable of putting himself a meal together. 'Course he was. Sam just doubted that he would bother to do it, in his present state.

He returned the bread to the big crock; 'twas happen a good thing that he hadn't actually cut any, before Mr Frodo went back to bed, for the loaf would keep fresher that way. There'd be plenty to dunk in a nice tasty stew, now, and that'd be just the sort of plain, comforting food that a newly-settled stomach might appreciate.

Unable to help himself, he began to assemble the ingredients. If he put it in the slow oven, it would be just about right, come evening, and no harm would come if it stayed there a mite longer than strictly necessary. He would leave Mr Frodo a note to tell him that his meal was ready and waiting, and perhaps pop back, late, in case he hadn't found it and the dish would need taking to the pantry before it cooked down to a mush. But Mr Frodo would be up and about before then, he was sure.

The thought of his master, back in his bed, and likely naked as was usual, gave Sam pause, but only for a moment. He had become very good at separating his moon-silvered desires from his daily life. He had had to, in order to be able to carry on working for Mr Frodo. Burying his want and his imagining - his knowing now - under layers of concern and the many tasks that made up his job at Bag End, where everything that he did was for Frodo, was infinitely preferable to not working for him. He seared the shin beef thoughtfully, and stirred in chopped onions with a generous hand, knowing how much his master approved the flavour they gave.

He was wondering why Mr Frodo's incredulous "Merry?" had given him so deep a feeling of relief. Was it just that he was glad his master was not bound to such disappointment? Sam knew full well that no-one would ever come between Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took. He wasn't yet sure that they loved each other the way he wanted to love Mr Frodo - body, heart and mind - but he did know that they would come to it eventually. And if Sam had noticed, Frodo would have known sooner and hurt longer, had Sam's guess aimed true.

Or was it (and Sam's honesty whispered that this was nearer the gold) that Sam would never have been able to compete with Mr Merry's claim to Mr Frodo, had he made one? The cousins had lived side by side at Brandy Hall, long before Sam himself even came to know Mr Bilbo's visiting relative. They were close friends, and must have nigh on as many memories together as Sam had with his master. They were both Shire gentry, where Sam was just an artisan - skilled to be sure, and respected for it, but a worker none the less.

He scowled at the carrots he was cutting into rings, as though they were responsible for the fact that he wasn't even sure if it were a lad or a lass that his master loved, let alone whether he or she might work for a living. (Not that the gentry did nothing, exactly; they just didn't live to the same work-or-starve code that Sam's class often suffered. And Sam had always taken pride in the fact that his master was one who cared for his many dependent workers, farm, field or forestry - not like some he could name, did propriety not bind his tongue; and 'twas a sad thing but true, that relatives could not be chosen.)

No, Sam really was not sure at all, who it might be that was so fortunate as to deserve Mr Frodo's love. He had a wide acquaintance, and entertained friends now and again, aside from his cousins, but he invited no one person more than any other. He didn't go visiting more than once in a while, certainly not as he would if he were trying to fix his interest with a lass.

Once the slices of potato had been patterned over the top, and the stock poured through, Sam put on the lid and set the dish carefully to begin the long slow cooking that would tenderise the meat and bring out its fullest flavour. As he closed the oven door, he shook his head. Try as he might, he could think of no-one else to whom his master had formed the really close connection that he had with his cousin; or with Sam himself, for that matter.

... with Sam himself, for that matter...

He drew a quick breath. It was lucky that he had already put the bubbling pot into the oven, for he came over suddenly giddy, and stumbled to the nearest chair.

Part of his mind insisted Yes! Yes, of course! How could you be so stupid as to not know!  whilst a smaller but far more ponderous part (which somehow set the sound of Gaffer to its comments) warned Now just you hold on, Samwise Gamgee! A master's not to be trifled with, and you ain't half going to come down with a bump if you're wrong...

But trifling was the last thing Sam intended, and if what he suspected were true, he'd prove to Mr Frodo that he weren't anything but faithful; his love for Frodo was the very centre of his life, and his whole heart given long ago.

Sam was in two minds as to whether to laugh or cry, and only one thing was certain: he was determined, now, to discover which of them it should be.

 

~~~

Part III

Frodo set the mug down carefully on his nightstand, then lowered himself, equally carefully, onto the bed. He had not thought that he could possibly feel any more wretched, but he had been wrong. Rolling over, he buried his face in the pillow to stifle the hot shame that washed through him. He had almost whined to Sam, when Sam was unhappy, himself. He had done nothing to try to help him in his misery - had in fact abandoned him, when he had only just said how much it might help to talk out a problem. How could he have been so self-centred as to not realise that Sam had being trying to ask his help?

And this on top of his embarrassing behaviour last night, when he had displayed himself to be no better than a drunkard. Worse even than that, when he had humiliated Sam with a disgusting display of gratuitous desire, whilst Sam was providing him with care beyond the call of duty and had even allowed his master to believe that he had not noticed such very improper behaviour. No matter what his heart might want, he had no right at all to inflict anything of the kind upon Sam. It was really about time that he started taking responsibility for his own actions and ceased to expect others to pick up the pieces when he was too feeble to do so for himself.

He took a deep breath. Well, he must apologise sincerely to Sam, and reassure him, lightly, that he had no designs whatsoever on his body. (He would have to grit his teeth, and cross his fingers tightly behind his back for that part, but a fib or two was better than making Sam feel uncomfortable.)

He sat up, doggedly ignoring the swimming of his head, knowing that to drink Sam's tea would be sensible as well as showing gratitude to one who tried his best to help his master, when said master went out of his way to make Sam's life difficult for him, to say nothing of subjecting him to such - to such flaunting of his own lust.

He drained the mug, set it aside, and leaned back against the headboard. As usual, the pungent herbs seemed to drill a way from stomach to head, spreading warmth and balm in their wake. Soon enough, the muzziness faded and the roiling ceased, and Frodo began to feel almost hobbity once more.

Considering the events of the previous night from a clearer perspective, now, he gave a sudden snort of amusement at himself and the silly predicament which, he now knew, he was dramatising to the full - positively wallowing in his own idiocy, he thought, wryly.

How perfectly ridiculous he must have looked, flailing about in his birthday suit! And how very shocked poor Sam must have been, to have to grapple with his master's naked body! Sam would probably have put Frodo's unfortunate momentary lapse down to his drunken condition. It had been funny, the two of them dancing about in the dark, no matter that Frodo would still give almost anything to have Sam grapple him like that on purpose.

And that, he realised, made it all the funnier, and he grinned, then chuckled, and eventually laughed aloud. He wished there were someone here with whom to share the ludicrous picture he must have presented (though not the irony of his being granted his dearest wish in so unexpected and so unsatisfying a manner; that must remain his secret). Sharing the absurdity of the situation would really bring out the humour of it, he knew. But the only person he could trust with something both preposterously amusing and exquisitely embarrassing, was Sam himself, and would it really be fair to inflict that on him as well? Surely Sam would also see the funny side?

He remembered, then, Sam telling him of a moment that had been every bit as embarrassing, that he had suffered, a while ago and before Frodo's love for him had deepened to desire. It happened one evening at a large family gathering, when Sam was a new tween undergoing initiation into tweener games in what was thought to be safe hiding. Trouble erupted when he was caught with his breeches round his ankles and one of the Oakwood lasses practising dancing on his lap. Small use in explaining that they had only been playing a game, that the position of Sam's clothing had everything to do with a rather rash Promise, that Althea's gyrations had been merely her current Dare. The fact that the other players had all escaped whilst Sam and his tormentor were struggling to get up from their compromisingly joint position, had simply made the situation worse. Sam was fiercely embarrassed at the time, and had blushed even to tell the tale, but he put Frodo into stitches of laughter with his impressions of the various adults and their dance around the question they were dying to ask the 'couple' and the euphemisms and evasions they had employed.

Yes, he thought, Sam might well see the funny side - had perhaps seen it already, since his perceptions had not been drink-befuddled. Well, far better that Sam should laugh at him than be embarrassed by him.

But Sam's unhappiness - that was definitely not amusing, and nor was Frodo's own failure to notice it; that was far more shameful than his body's inadvertent response. Though, no matter how he tried, he could not remember Sam seeming downhearted as he went about his duties. He still whistled or sang cheerfully when busy in the garden, and he had never been one for rushing off home once his official day's work was done. He had not changed in that respect, and was still as likely as ever to inveigle Frodo into reading to him of an evening, or perhaps he might insist that his own skills needed refreshing, just so that he might stay and keep his master company. Frodo recognised it for a ruse to raise his own spirits when Sam thought it needful, and quietly blessed him for it.

Frodo really could not see how Sam had had much time to find this lass to whom he did not dare declare himself. And why would he not dare? Sam was all that a hobbit lad should be - hard working, skilled in so many ways; his nature was as agreeable as any, in the Shire or out of it, and he was more than comely to look upon. Frodo knew all this and more, for Sam stirred his desire as no hobbit ever had done before. Sam could surely have had the love of any young hobbit of his acquaintance?

Perhaps she was not of his acquaintance? Perhaps Sam wanted love beyond his class? That would indeed explain his reluctance to declare himself. But to whom might Sam have raised his eyes, his daring an 'impertinence'? For so it would be seen by those for whom class was an issue; generally those who had sought by their wealth to insinuate themselves into the easy ranks of those with breeding if not money. Had this been so, Frodo must surely have noticed Sam's discomfort, for it was unlikely that Sam would have met such a lass except in Frodo's company. And then again, lasses, no matter how haughty the family, had the knack of getting their way if they truly loved, truly wanted; and who in Middle-earth would not want such a hobbit for her own?

Or his own?

Was Sam's daring possibly constrained by wanting a lad? Perhaps a lad who would not look to another lad for love? Frodo frowned. He had not thought this of Sam before, had believed that, when he loved at all, Sam would love a lass. He was certainly very popular with the lasses, judging from the inviting smiles and downright dalliance that Sam attracted, and deflected with a grin, that Frodo studiously ignored, when they walked to market, or attended public celebrations - and the tale of Althea Oakwood had perhaps influenced his assumption.

Even if it were a lad, he could not see that Sam had seemed to pine for any lad he knew. Whenever he saw Sam amongst his peers, all seemed friendly enough, and Frodo had never noticed any aversion of eyes or shyness such as might be expected if Sam desired and dared not speak. And Sam's accustomed politeness to Frodo's friends and kin had always been circumspect, rather than shy. Now that he thought about it, the only time he ever saw such diffidence in Sam, was when... 

... was when Sam's gaze caught his own, unexpectedly, and he would look away -

"Mr Frodo? Are you awake, sir?" Sam's voice, over a light tapping at the door.

With this new notion tumbling suddenly through his mind, all previous belief askew, Frodo was not really sure that he was ready to face Sam, yet - this would bear some careful thinking. But he could not deny Sam now, after denying him the support he should have offered immediately, and he called, "Come in!" At least his head was clear now, thanks to Sam's potent herbal mixture.

Sam pushed open the door slowly, balancing a tray with tea things and a plate of dry toast. He had decided on this ruse, to get him into Frodo's room without simply barging through the door and demanding to know the truth. He needed some excuse to begin what might be a tricky conversation, and he was still not certain that his guess had been correct - but how he hoped that it might be.

"Just thought you might fancy that toast after all, sir," he said, setting the tray on the nightstand, moving the empty mug onto it, and looking anywhere but at Frodo. Sam was somewhat relieved that his master had not gone back to bed, though disappointment was there too, of course. To talk at any length with him, naked in his bed - especially as Sam so wished to talk - would be wholly disconcerting and might well dry up every thought but one; and drying up wouldn't be what were happening elsewhere, neither...

"Thank you, Sam." Frodo was a little taken aback. It was most unusual for Sam to disregard his word, or even his tone, and he had said that he would see Sam tomorrow in a very final way, he thought. And would such 'defiance' prove or disprove this idea that had just -

Without warning, Frodo's stomach gurgled, loudly. He grinned at Sam; no matter how serious the moment, there was always something innately silly about the noises one's body could make, unbidden. And perhaps it was as well that Sam had chosen to ignore him, for the comforting, steamy smell of freshly toasted bread now held a distinct appeal.

"How is it that you always seem to know what's best for me, Sam?"

"Not always, sir!" Sam protested, with a shy smile. "Maybe sometimes, though."

Frodo took up the plate, and bit into a slice of the toast; it would help to have a little diversion, for he hardly dared consider yet, the implications possible in that small, evasive smile.

Sam was pouring tea, adding milk and sugar as though they were the most important things in the room; now that he was here, he really had no idea how to proceed. "Mind the crumbs, sir," he said, suddenly. "They'd be a mite uncomfortable if they got under the covers!" He blushed, a jumble of things jostling in his head: the impropriety of telling his master anything so bossily, of what his concern was intimating (and, despite his best efforts, the thought of just where those lucky crumbs might possibly end up...)

Frodo chewed his toast thoughtfully. Certainly Sam seemed somewhat different to his usual self: both more bashful and bolder, somehow.

Still, he owed Sam an apology, no matter these unexamined hopes; there was no saying whether they were right or wrong, and to fathom them might take time, but the apology must certainly be offered now, now that he had regained his wits, and Sam was here and waiting. He put down the plate, deciding that one piece of toast had been enjoyable but that more might be unwise in the circumstances, despite the diversionary usefulness.

He must simply say what first came to mind and hope that Sam would understand what he was attempting to convey, even if his usual ready facility with words seemed to have deserted him. "Sam, I - I need to apologise. For last night. For all of it, I mean, but especially - I hope you know that I - that is, when I was sick and I - nearly fell and you had to catch me. I would never - It was not deliberate, as I am sure you must realise!"

No, there was no way he could be any more direct in his reference than that. And he couldn't laugh, either.

"That's all right, Mr Frodo." That wasn't so bad, but his next words seemed to speak themselves without any encouragement whatsoever from Sam. "I didn't mind at all."

In the sudden silence Sam was sure he could hear the blood thundering through his body, as excitement and apprehension quickened within him.

"You didn't mind?" Frodo thought his heart would stop, so great was the pulse it gave.

It was not easy but, knowing what he thought that he knew, what he knew that he wanted (and that he had in any case, come much too far to turn back now), Sam took a deep breath, looked at his toes, and spoke the truth. "I liked it. The only thing wrong was - was that it was too fast!"

Well, that was it. Either his every wish was about to come true, or he would be out on his ear within the minute, and whatever would his Gaffer say to that?

Frodo sat bolt upright. "Sam? Did you really just say what I thought you did?"

"Yes, sir. Sorry sir!"

"Never mind the sirs! You wanted to - to touch me like that?"

"Yes." Sam was whispering now, eyes still downcast; he knew he must confess the rest, whatever might come of it. "I love you, Mr Frodo. And - and I want you like that, even if you don't ever want me."

"Sam! Oh, my Sam!" Frodo scrambled to kneel at the edge of the bed and pulled Sam into a hug. "Of course I want you!"

They held each other close, hands clutching, stroking; taking deep breaths to ease the tight relief, and a joy too full to keep within, neither wanting yet to break such taut expectation for fear that this might not be real.

Then Sam asked, in a wondering whisper, "It was me all along, and not Mr Merry at all?" though his answer was clear in the constant flow of Frodo's hands across his back.

"It was you, is you Sam. I love you, and I want you, too," Frodo murmured into Sam's curls. Pushing back, so they were face to face, he had his own question, now. "Sam?"

"Mr Frodo?"

"May I kiss you?"

Now there's summat as didn't need asking was Sam's last coherent thought for quite some time.

Their first kiss was hesitant, Frodo's mouth just meeting Sam's, a gentle brush and slide. Then a knowing smile, and Sam took Frodo's bottom lip in his, and his mouth was sure as it teased and inflamed Frodo's, his tongue clever and insistent, with a fine talent for seeking out tender places to quicken swift desire. Frodo realised fleetingly that this level of skill must prove that not all of Sam's tweener games had been interrupted.

Frodo's hand moved into their kissing, softly tracing the crinkled, sun-shy laugh lines at Sam's eyes; a careful brush to the fuzz of tawny lashes that fringed them, picking up, he was sure, the golden glints that sparked within, where green met hazel and neither could hold sway for long. Frodo had often suspected such veiled secrets, and now close scrutiny would reveal the truth - a closeness given only in loving. And there was so much more that he did not yet know of Sam...

When at last they must pause for breath, he toyed with the buttons of Sam's waistcoat, then looked up to say, teasingly, "It has been scarcely fair, you know, Sam."

"Fair, Mr Frodo?" Everything now was fair to Sam, fair and beyond all comparison, here within his arms.

A finger to his lips. "Not now, Sam - just Frodo. Please? Scarcely fair that you have seen me naked quite several times, and I have yet to see you, to touch you..."

Sam's eyes darkened. "I never - "

"I know you didn't, Sam. But now, I want to see you, and," he grinned happily, "I am going to!"

Sam smiled and moved to take off his waistcoat, but Frodo pushed his hands aside. "I'd like to undress you - only fair?"

"Only fair," Sam agreed with a blush that Frodo relished, and laughed that it should spur him so deeply, being so much his Sam. He unbuttoned shirt and waistcoat both, spreading them slowly, then set his palms to Sam's waist, working upwards and outwards, sweeping flat and firm in circles that increased in size until they pushed the clothes from his shoulders; broad, steady strokes to ground Frodo, to convince his hands that this was real, that Sam really was here, blushing but eager beneath his touch.

He stood before Frodo now, just as he had seen him so many times in the garden: stripped to the waist, toiling under hot sun and a film of sweat, at the very centre of Frodo's desire. And Frodo remembered that, remembered his own suppressed reaction; his smile alive with anticipation, slowly, very deliberately, he undid the buttons on Sam's breeches, and pushed them down.

His gaze alone trailed arousal in its wake, a teasing trace of no touch at all, but Sam was afire with it; his knees gave way entirely, and Frodo caught him up, rolled him onto his back beside him on the bed, and leaned close. Sam had never known before, how sensitive his skin could be, shivering and burning both, as Frodo touched him now, fingers brushing a light and loving torture, soft lips and sly tongue, here and here, his hair too tumbling a silky torment. He took Sam's mouth for another slow, deep kiss, then more kisses, tiny ones, skittering here, alighting there - everywhere except where Sam ached most for his touch.

Frodo raised his head, and Sam gasped, for Frodo's lips were swollen and inviting, the coral ripened into flame by so many kisses. His eyes were half-closed, clouded and heavy with desire, and they burned through Sam so he must choke and beg, "Please, Frodo?" just as Frodo asked, "Sam, may I?"

This was the Frodo that hope and desire had painted for Sam, taunting his hope-less need. And now it was real - but now it was Sam who sighed to the stroke of Frodo's fingers, slow and smooth across his skin; Sam who smiled as Frodo kissed and suckled sleek dampness, nuzzling the ruff of curls that glistened in his downward path; Sam's sudden hitch and moan as Frodo's mouth welcomed him and took him high and fast, so that his "Frodo!" of fulfilment sounded far too soon.

It was enough and never could be enough. As on so many lonely nights, Sam was hard again and wanting, but more, now, from the knowing that he could have, could take and touch and - 

And Frodo is here, watching Sam, eyes telling his desire, his body waiting, waiting for whatever Samwise would...  

Sam undresses him, slow despite the pleading protest, for Sam is sated and desirous both, and his images of the night are real, are tangible now. Though his hands still shake, this new right is the reason, the right to touch at will; and buttons give way quickly, with gentle brush and tender, wondering caress to Frodo's skin beneath. When he pulls Frodo up to him, Frodo is lithe in his arms, wanting as Sam wants; the breath along his neck is warm with the murmured whisperings of desire, and Sam quivers as they spill along his skin. This pause is Sam relishing his control, a delicious hesitation at the brink, knowing that this is no longer forbidden, nothing is forbidden and Frodo is open to his love.

The shirt slips down, trailed by endless, longed-for kisses - slow, uncounted kisses that revel and cherish without restraint, for Sam's moon-silvered images are here beneath his lips and fingers, warmed now to ivory by the day's seeping sunlight, the copper hot and tempting, everywhere his to explore. And Sam understands now, that he has never heard Frodo's response to his imagined touch, has never known that a sigh, a breath indrawn and keen with want, a choked whimper, could shiver from Frodo to increase his own desire so richly.

Removing Frodo's breeches is practicality no longer, but opportunity unconfined - unhurried touch roves freely over skin known only briefly in the mishap of the night. Caress may linger now, long and slow, and Frodo responds in disjointed murmurs, sharp, panting breaths and, over and again, Sam's name - a plea, a cry of joy, an avowal of his love. Sam's hands spark fire from Frodo, fanned to flame by Frodo's sighs, setting both of them alight. And each sigh, each sound confirms that fleeting touch was good but sure, smooth stroke is better, with fingertips tantalising, fast and teasing, and meant now to be so; but using his mouth is best of all...  

Frodo is heated need, swathed in dusky velvet; his breath short, demand clear in pleading fingers and in wanton voice as Sam bends to take as he has dreamed. Frodo gives Sam's name to a taut whisper that could be agony, but is desperation under such slow seduction to the very edge... And Frodo is poised there, tense, straining, aching for the final sweet enticement of Sam's mouth that - Ahhh!  - flings him suddenly down the long, careening slide into completion.

Almost Sam follows him, but he knows that there is more that he desires. He holds Frodo close, gentles him until his breathing slows and the sparkles fade along his skin. He runs a finger, soft down Frodo's face, so full of love, and whispers this new need hesitantly. Frodo quiets, and Sam thinks that perhaps after all there are things, at least this one thing, still forbidden, as he knows that it generally is forbidden, though it happens, he knows that it can happen.

"Sam, have you...?" 

Sam bites his lip and shakes his head. "No, but I know - and I - I would... Have you...?"

"Once. It was... not pleasant." His eyes lower, concealing pain that has not quite faded with the years.

"No matter, then." Sam kisses him tenderly, regretting now that he has asked, for what he has already is far beyond his wishing. "This is more than ever I dared dream!" 

"You dreamed of me, too?" Frodo sighs for the many cold and empty nights they might have had together.

"Always!"

"And you dreamed of - of that?"

"No, not of that. I dreamed of you, and of loving you, holding you, sharing with you everything that I had to give of me."

More kisses spin out long and slow, and though Sam's need is greater now, he does not seek release. He sets himself to ease the memory of that far-off hurt with mouth and hands and careful touches, setting love in every kiss, in each caress, till Frodo's body shows a red flush simmering at the surface of his skin, and he is all imploring, shivering sensation at last. Sam smiles down at him, rejoicing that he can do this for his Frodo. 

Then Frodo pulls away; but Sam's sudden confusion blossoms soon to hope and wonder, as he sees him reach to the nightstand for a small covered pot - the salve that Sam himself has made not long ago, to sooth a summer strain.

Frodo pauses, turns the pot in his hands, then smiles at Sam, and opens it. The fresh sweetness of lily of the valley spreads upon the air as he scoops out its fragrance. Sam gasps at the coolness and at Frodo's fingers deft upon him.

"No, sir," he says. "No need - "

"Every need," Frodo says, his voice hoarse with want; his body resonates so much desire that choice is past and only action now remains. "Yours and mine, Sam..." He hands the pot to Sam, and lies back, eyes no longer shaded with remembered pain, but bright and yearning, now. "I would share this with you, Sam, please?"

Sam needs no second asking, but leans to kiss once more, willing Frodo to know how much he cherishes this trust. He knows that Frodo must be opened to this love, and his hand trails down, laden with salve, easing him with kisses and sure caresses as his fingers find this new path.

Frodo shivers at the cool, at the touch, at the intrusion, breathes hard in careful control, and then - Sam's fingers brush deeper.

Frodo shudders and his breath makes a screaming whisper of Sam's name as tingling pulses run from toe to tip; run and skip and run again, as molten heat cascades along his spine at every stroke.

And Sam might stop at this, but for Frodo's entreaty; he is torn between a want so great he knows he has scarce wanted at all, before, and the fear of hurting his love. But Frodo demands, his need for Sam too far whetted now to be denied. He pulls Sam to him, and they are awkward, not knowing how best, or where, until a way shows clear, and at last - at last! - Sam pushes forward, infinite patience reining infinite desire; desire mastering the vestiges of fear as Frodo takes him deep.

Sam sets a steady, careful rhythm, revelling in such exquisite tightness, and again that burning rush shrieks wild down Frodo's every nerve. Their pleasure flashes keener, ever more intense as Sam fills and Frodo takes and gives again; fast and faster, at Frodo's desperate urging now, Sam's fierce plunges bringing them so close. And in the white heat of the moment, they understand that this is how it should be, will always be for them: brilliance burning as one at the fine edge of delight, before they fall, completing and completed by each other.

Long minutes tremble with tender aftershocks; skin quivering against skin, more alive, more knowing than ever before, more tranquil and serene.

When Sam raises himself, to part them carefully, Frodo sighs for the loss his Sam has left within. "Sam, I - there are not words..." But with all the love that is in him, he breathes, "Thank you."

"We didn't need words." Sam's answer is as gentle as his fingers, soft on Frodo's cheek. "I reckon love were enough."

"I have wanted you so long, Sam, but I never thought I should have you to my own. I thought that you would cleave to another, and my wishing all in vain."

"My wish has always been for you!" And Sam laughs in sheer delight that misery and longing can be transmuted to such joy. "I wished more carefully than I knew, for my wishing is given to me, in you."

 

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