West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

At the End of All Things
Time cannot heal all wounds.
Author: Aina
Rating: R

 

My hands are shaking as I pour the tea. I don't even notice the scalding liquid spilling right over the top of the full mug until it splashes onto my left hand, which resting on the bench. I curse and quickly set the kettle down, drawing the burned hand into my mouth.

"Da, are you alright?" a concerned voice, so distant, yet only a few feet away. I lean heavily against the bench, my hand still at my mouth, eyes closed.

"Da?"

A hand on my shoulder makes me start. I quickly look up. Robin is standing before me, his handsome face concerned. "Da, are you alright?"

I nod quickly and lower my hand from my mouth. "Yes, son. Just spilled the tea, is all." I tweak my lips into a smile, but I can tell it looks as forced as it feels.

"Da, go and sit down. I'll finish the tea." I don't protest to being ushered over towards the table, where three pairs of eyes are watching me closely from upturned, solemn faces. Young Holfast scurries to his feet as I approach, offering me his seat. I glance at the tween standing before me and feel a rush of some strange, powerful emotion in the pit of my stomach.

My grandson has never been much of one for the garden, unlike his father. Instead, he seems to take after his old Uncle Andy and favors the art of roping. Already, at twenty he has strong, capable hands perfect for such a trade. He is a true Gamgee.
 

"You're a strong lad, Sam -could you help me carry these down to the orchard?"

At first I just stare at him; the empty apple crates are not heavy, even when they are all stacked up as he has them, and I know my master may not look it, but he is as hardy as any.

It is not until we are out in the orchard that I realise he just wanted the company on the walk.

He smiles at me when I set the crates down and reaches for my hands.

"You're a hard worker, Sam. I appreciate your help."

His thumbs trace circles on the hard heels of my palms, and suddenly, I can't breathe.

Soon he releases my hands and smiles again.

"Sometimes I forget you're only twenty."
 

I can't help but look down at my hands. The once worked smooth callouses are rough and wrinkled. Skin that in earlier years was darkly tanned is now mottled and cracked, covered with marks from the sun, work and age.

Breaking out of my reverie, I glance up and smile at the lad before me, taking the seat he offers. With a respectful nod and rosy tweenage grin, Holfast rounds the table to sit beside his father.

"You've been a bit distant for the last few days, Da."

Frodo-lad: always straight to the point.

"Yes," I agree, not looking at him and reaching my weary hand for the small heel of loaf that is left.

"And given such, I would not feel comfortable leaving you here with only Robin and Tolman when I journey to Bree next week. Do you want us to call Elanor back?"

"No, no, she and Fastred left just last week. You leave your sister be, she has her own family to look after," I say gruffly, looking up at my oldest son across the table, "I will be fine, and anyways, your brothers aren't hopeless."

Frodo looks as if he wants to say something more, his dark brown eyes darting from Tolman seated at the head of the table to Robin at the stove. I cut him off before he opens his mouth. "I'm telling you, I'll be fine, Frodo-lad."

It is long since anyone but me has called him Lad. Now nearing his sixtieth birthday and with a tweenage son of his own, Frodo has not been a lad for a long time. I know this, and I know he understands my reasons for keeping such an endearment.

"I really would feel better if she were here," he protests, "It hasn't even been three months since Ma passed. You need proper looking after."

Robin, now placing my favourite mug full of steaming tea before me looks indignant at his older brother's comments, but doesn't say anything. The only of my children still living at home, Robin and Tolman have long since come of age, but Frodo-lad is right. They are not the most responsible of lads, and I have been having trouble with my joints, especially since my dear Rose passed on.

"No," I say sternly nonetheless, "you mind my words, too, and leave your sister be."

All three of my sons exchange looks over my head as I glance down at my withered hands once more, knowing, knowing that as much as I love them, my children do not need me anymore. I am merely a burden for which they must adjust their whole lives. And that won't do at all.

***

It is dark still. Threads of mist gently curl over the quiet gardens, dancing about the sleeping buds that patiently wait for the sun's first rays. I inhale deeply. The scent of moist, fresh pre-dawn air mingles with the various aromas wafting from the garden and the warm, hair-and-hay smell of the pony at my side. I have known these scents my whole life, but today, they feel a little less like home. More like a past I can mourn, but will never turn back to.
 

"How long do you think your journey will be, uncle?"

Bilbo glances down at him from the saddle of his favourite pony and smiles, "as long as the road wants to call me, my lad, but I do hope to be back by supper tomorrow."

I can only stand there, staring at my feet with my hands clasped behind my back as the cousins say their farewells.

When the sound of the pony's hooves can finally be heard fading down the Row, Frodo turns to me with a grin. "Now we can finally have some time alone."

I try not to look pleased as I raise my eyes slowly from my feet.

"Come on Sam," he smiles, "I know of a certain book you and I have both been awfully eager to read."

I bite my lip and nod, allowing myself to be led back towards the welcome warmth of Bag End.
 

I spent a very long time writing the farewell note for my children. My hand is not as steady as it used to be, nor my eyes so sharp, so care was needed. With the note is my will, clearly outlining Frodo-lad as the new master of Bag End. Although he has a hole of his own, he is my oldest son and rightfully my heir. I can't imagine what he will say when he finds out the old smial he grew up in belongs to him.

I know I cannot bear to say farewell to my children as I should. They would want me to stay, or to follow me, and I couldn't possibly allow for either. For the first time in my life, I understand why on this exact day over seventy years ago old Mr. Bilbo left without a farewell to his young cousin. They both knew there would be too much pain in that parting.
 

"Just because I'm now the master of Bag End doesn't mean you can't kiss me, Sam." His voice is rich with laughter and his eyes bright with mischief.

I shift uncomfortably before him where we sit on the hearthrug. I cannot even remember how the conversation turned from Mr Bilbo's sudden departure, today three years ago, to kissing. It seems he must be able to read all my desires, and my hesitation.

He sets his unlit pipe on the floor at his side and shifts even closer to me, as if we weren't far too close before.

"How would it be if I were to kiss you, then Sam?" he whispers, leaning forward so that his mouth is only a breath away from mine. My heart stops. I cannot speak.

I am briefly aware of his smile before his lips are pressed against mine. Gentle, he's so gentle with me. I am frozen, and don't realise I've stopped breathing until he moves his face back and grins at me.

"How do you like that, Master Gamgee?" he asks, his voice now more husky than laughing.

Finally, I find my tongue, "I don' rightly know sir. Mayhap you should do it again."

"Oh, I intend to," he purrs.
 

Already I have taken a last stroll around the garden, stopping to smell and appreciate the beauty that blooms now due to my long years of loving labor. I have left much of the gardening to young Tolman recently, and Frodo-lad puts his hands into the soil at Bag End whenever he comes to stay. They have both done me proud. All of them have. I feel a wave of relief and mingled sadness surge through me. I know they will be alright, perhaps even better off, when I am gone.

On many mornings for the past several years, I have stood on this spot at the bottom of Bag End's back garden, watching the dawn creep it's rays over the final rest bed of my old Gaffer. Now the grave of my beautiful wife lies beside him. Rose knew, in her last days, that I would not be laid to rest with her as a husband and wife should. She knew that I would not stay here when she was gone. She had a way of knowing that I have always been longing for the past, but content enough with the present to keep me grounded.

Without her loving hand and smile, the longing is all I have, and I cannot stay with the pain I find here. Turning away from the gravesite, I wipe away the salty tears shed for the loves that have left me behind, and harden my heart for finding my peace again.

Gingerly, I mount the pony and take one last glance over my shoulder at the place I spent so much of my life. I grew up here, and even after passing through the worst dangers imaginable, I came back here, back home. But now, just like old Mr Bilbo and his spirited heir, I feel the call for something more.

As I flick the pony's reins I realise that, just like my Gaffer and sweet Rose will always exist in spirit on this hill, a part of myself will always live on in the gardens of Bag End. But I won't be coming back.

***

The firelight dancing before my face is stinging my eyes. I am weary, both from travel and the pain in my heart. It was still early today when I stopped to make camp, for I find it hard to ride for too many hours on end. However, sleep seems to want to evade me, and I can only stare into the fire, thinking...
 

His body seems to glow as I lay him down on the hearthrug. The orange flames reflect off of his pale skin, dancing over every curve of his supple naked flesh.  My hand trembles, sliding down his soft belly. He arches gently into my touch, his eyes liquid and dark. I have wanted this for all my life.
 

By the light of the flames, I glance at my old withered hands once more. It is hard to believe these are the same hands that once brought such pleasure to my tweenage lover. But they are, and his loved me in return. Sometimes I wonder if, had I been older, I would have been able to resist his shy charm. I know now that it was far beyond my place to entertain fancies of being with him, but even now I cannot bring myself to regret it.
 

His laugh is shrill and piercing. I cannot stay mad at him, though I told him specifically not to touch those mushrooms I was saving for dinner. I knew they would be gone the moment I saw that guilty, yet satisfied expression on his face.  Tickling his ribs, I manage to back him against the wall. His laughter immediately gives way to a more primal sound as I show him that he is now right where I want him.
 

With a sigh, I turn over in my bedroll. It has been long since I camped outdoors on a journey, and the stars above my upturned face dazzle me. I have not just looked at them for a long time. They remind me of so many nights spent lying on the soft turf of Bag End's roof with my master, watching those blessed elven jewels shine down upon us. I am not sure whether it is a comfort to be so reminded of him at present. The memory does not give me any kind of happiness; instead, it seems to shake me to my core. He was my first, my only lasting love, even if the affair did not last long.
 

"There's something we need to talk about, Sam."

"What's that?" I ask sleepily, rolling onto my side to look at him.

The air is fresh and crisp up here, the night clear and enchantingly still. Deep, lush grass crinkles beneath me as I move, stars wheeling out of my vision as I lower my eyes to the fair face by my side. The flush of our lovemaking is still evident in his cheeks, but his eyes seem disturbingly black. I can see no trace of the usual sparkle that flashes warmly there after loving.

"Us. We can't do this anymore." It is barely a whisper, but it takes my breath as surely as if he had screamed it.

"Wh-what?"

"This can't go on, Sam. You are due to come of age in April, and I... It's not right of me to keep you from a hole and family of your own."

My chest feels like it has caved in on itself, my mind spinning. His voice is cold and calm, almost matter-of-fact, as if he has practiced saying this before. His gaze is fixed on the stars above, head resting back into the arms folded beneath it. Why isn't he looking at me?

"This -this thing that we have Sam, it's wonderful, and I have enjoyed it very much, but it is time for you to grow up. For us both to grow up. We have to return to a normal relationship, Sam. And you need to start thinking about your future."

"My future, Mr Frodo?" I manage to croak. My tongue feels heavy in my mouth, and I wonder if he even understood my words.

"Yes, Sam, your future. You will have to be married one day soon, and start a family of your own."

"But, but you are my family, Mr Frodo. I don't want naught but you."

"Sam," he says, and his face turns to mine. The look I find there is startling. His brows furrow like they always do when he gets stubborn about something, but that sternness doesn't reach his eyes. They are wide, almost frightened. The pain I see there takes my breath.

"You must understand, Sam. It is time for us to face reality. And the reality is that you cannot be tied down to someone who will not give you heirs. Don't you see? This was all in fun, you and I. You have no future with me."

Feeling like all the air was slowly being crushed out of me from some great weight on my body, I watch as he quickly scrambles to his feet. He takes a few steps away from me, hugging himself, before turning to look me in the eye.

"I want us to be friends again, Sam. It was wrong of me to start something more."

"It takes two to start something like this," I choke.

"Yes, and two to end it. Can you do that for me, Sam?"

I swallow hard, my face stinging with tears I hadn't noticed falling, and nod.
 

A desperate sob escapes my lips and I curl up in my bedroll, turning away from both the fire and the stars that threaten to drown me in memory.

***

Her long, golden curls stream out on the wind, weaving and twining about themselves in the air. She doesn't seem to notice as she takes the soft leather-covered book from my hand.

"Da, what's going on?" Her voice is barely a soft breath, and I can tell she already knows. I had tried to arrive quietly, leave the book, and slip away without her noticing, but they don't get many visitors here on the Tower Hills, and the sound of a pony's hooves can hardly be ignored.

"I have to go, Elanor," is all I can manage in response to the blank despair in her eyes.

"But... Da!" Her hand is trembling as it takes mine, and I can feel the tears I had been fighting so hard to hold back begin to spill down my cheeks.

"Please try to understand, love," I whisper, squeezing her fingers in mine. "Do you remember the stories I told you when you were a lass? About my master Frodo? Do you remember that you always wanted to know why he had to leave? Remember what I told you?"

She takes a deep, shuddering breath and whispers, "because it was his time, and that he would die if he stayed here much longer. That he -was like a flower in the shade, and his pain was the shade. He had to move into the sun if he was to live."

"Aye love," I breathe, amazed at the way her memory of my words brings waves of bittersweet emotion to my heart. I reach out and gently thumb her jaw, "and now it's my time. I need to find my sun."

She bites her lip, and nods. I gaze through teary eyes at my daughter and sigh. She understands. Of all my children, I knew that she would. My first-born, my beautiful Elanor. She's always had something uniquely special about her.
 

He looks thoughtful for a moment. "Well, Sam, what about Elanor, the sun-star, you remember the little golden flower in the grass of Lothlorien?"

I feel a thrill travel up my spine. "You're right again, Mr Frodo! That's what I wanted."
 

"I have to go now, Elanor," I whisper, "keep the Red Book safe, won't you?"

"Of course Da," she breathes and suddenly, I am struck by how much she looks like her mother. I have always known this, of course, but right now it occurs to me so profoundly that when I tilt her chin up to look in her eyes and whisper "goodbye", I may not be speaking only to my daughter.

Wearily struggling up onto the pony once more, I cannot bring myself to turn and look at her, though I know she will be standing there staring after me for some time. I cannot look back.

***

I can smell the sea, and the scent is heartening. I am almost there. Not long now and this land will open out, and then I will see the ocean spread before me. I'm coming home.
 

"Just imagine it, Mr Frodo," I whisper, "when we get home, there will be no more of this. No more sleeping on hard rock. No more thirst. No more Lembas bread." I try to give a lighthearted chuckle, but it comes out all bitter and dry.

Shivering, he looks up at me. Seeing that dead pain in his expression will never hurt me any less. He is an empty shell of his former self. His blank eyes flicker at me from his Mordor-ashen face, and suddenly, I regret speaking at all.

"Home, Sam?" he croaks, "please don't speak to me of home today... I don't think I can bear it."

"I'm sorry master," I mumble hurriedly, hanging my head. But then I hear him shifting, moving away from where he is slumped against the rocky wall of the small hollow we have found to rest in.

I almost flinch in surprise when I feel his arm slide about my shoulders.

"Why don't I speak to you about home today instead?" he breathes, his mouth close to my ear.

I can hardly keep back a surprised gasp.

"How about it, Sam? Let me see... Oh, do you remember when we met for the first time?"

I nod, a smile breaking out on my face just as quickly as my eyes fill with tears.

"You were only, what was it, nine years old? I was sleeping late because I'd had a long trip from Buckland the night before. And you were -"

"Waterin' the posies in your window box," I finish, my voice hitching on a half-sob, half-laugh.

"You were. And do you remember, you were so surprised to see me in the bed that you yelled right out and woke me up! You gave me such a fright, too!"

I laugh, feeling my heart swell as I hear an answering chuckle from Frodo beside me. He presses his cheek against mine and I can feel his smile.

"Oh, do you remember the fun we used to have, Sam? With Merry and Pippin, and Fatty and Folco. Or just us, Sam, just us. We had such wonderful times."

"Aye, that we did sir."

He moves his head back a little and looks at me. "Sam," I lift my gaze to his, "when you were a lad, and we... Sam -do you remember-"

Suddenly, his lips are on mine, and my heart swells in my chest. I make a muffled sound of surprise, but quickly bring my hand to his neck, holding him there as I kiss him back. His lips part and tongues meet urgently.

I have not tasted this for so long, but, oh, it is just as sweet as ever it was.
 

There is a gust of air fresher than any I have know in many years. The pony tosses his head and grunts. He can feel the lingering magic on the breeze as it blows from the sea just as clearly as I can.

The sun is just beginning to dip from the sky as a faint and fair-sounding music reaches my ears. And as I turn into the havens I see before me the boat drawn up and ready just as it was all those years ago when they took my master from these shores.
 

His breath is hot on my face, driving away the cold black of the night. It seems to soak into my body, heating my blood and making me sweat. I moan and kiss him once more, shifting between his thighs as he lies back onto the floor of our small shelter, dragging me with him.

The memory of his body swells within me, and I cannot believe I have lived so long without it.

"Oh Sam."

"Frodo."
 

I nod silently to the tall, fair figures that greet me. Dismounting from the pony, I begin to unpack my things to take aboard the ship. It is no surprise to me that the elves are already prepared to leave, nor that they seem to have been awaiting my presence.

When I have unloaded my things from the pony, I gently unfasten his bridle and prepare to send him on his way. I would not have taken a pony at all if it could be avoided, or have left him at the tower hills with Elanor, but in my age, I would not have easily managed the journey on foot. I am not worried about his well being, however, as I turn him back towards the road and pat his flanks in fond farewell. He is one of the descendants of my dear old Bill, and so gifted with a highly attuned sense of direction. Besides, the roads between here and the Shire, and all the lands beyond have been without danger for many years. Even if he does not return to the hands of a master, he will be able to run free on safe grasses for the rest of his life. The thought is comforting. 

Solemn Elves come and take my luggage for me, uttering quiet words of respect and welcome. I can only bring myself to smile weakly in return, swallowing hard as I turn towards the elven ship, and the rest of my life.

***

The stars are brighter up above than I have ever seen them. They blanket the sky so thickly that at times it is hard to tell if a particularly bright spot is one huge star, or a cluster of many tiny ones.

But this is the first night since our departure from the havens that I have not stopped to admire them. Instead, my gaze is fixed on an illumination bobbing on the horizon. It seems to be a row of many lanterns, shining out from the great dark landmass we are gradually nearing.

It must be near to middle night. The elves came and woke me with their gentle voices and soft torches not more than ten minutes ago, informing me that we were nearing our destination.

I can feel a strange charge tingling through my body. I cannot tell if it is the elusive sense of magic in the air, or merely the overwhelming excitement and nerves writhing in the pit of my belly.

I'm almost there.
 

"Oh Sam!" he almost screams the words in his release, and if I wasn't in the same position, I would be fretting about the kind of attention we could be drawing to ourselves. As it is, I cannot muffle a moan as my body lurches forward into his one last time, and I too am spent.

Naked from the waist down, we lay tangled together in the dirt, sticky and filthy, but I have never known such a wondrous feeling. Vaguely, I become aware of Frodo's sobbing breaths, muffled by my chest as he burrows his face into it.

"Mr. Frodo sir," I breathe, "are you alright?"

"Oh Sam, I love you."

My stomach clenches and I almost moan once more for the joy of it. Who would have thought that in this wasteland, I could find such completeness just being in his arms, and having him in mine? But then, I am made for simple things.

"Oh Frodo, I love you too."

"I have always loved you Sam, always. I have thought about loving you like this every single day since we ended our affair. And do you know Sam, sometimes I've regretted it more than anything I could ever think of."

I bite my lip hard to try and fight back the tears.

He lifts his head to look at me, and seeing his wet cheeks near to has me undone. "Please Sam, please don't make me regret this."

"Never, Mr. Frodo."

"Please, Sam. Know that I love you, but should you ever return to the Shire, with or without me, you will forget this once more. Promise me you'll get married and -have as many children as you could wish for."

"Frodo..."

"Promise me, Sam!" He says it with a sob, and my heart breaks to hear it, "Please promise me, and don't make me regret my selfish ways. I cannot keep you, and I will not try. You have too much to do and to be. Please, Sam. You have made me so happy, and we will always have this of each other. But don't let me, and especially not the memory of me, keep you back from the things you were destined to have. Promise me, Sam!"

What can I say to that? How can I deny my master this one thing when it is so uncertain that we will live even another day? "I promise, I promise!" I sob, holding him close as he weeps openly into my chest.
 

Well, Mr. Frodo, I have kept my promise true. It seems that you always did know the best for me. I have loved my family, my wife, and my role in the Shire with all I have. I have been happy and complete.

Now it seems, for the first time in years, your words come clearly back to my mind, and I finally understand them.
 

"Your time may come. Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do."
 

You were right again. I was torn so impossibly in my life, between my undying faithfulness to you, and my love for my wife and children.

I understand why you had to leave, and I have never thought of it as you leaving me because I never had you as mine in the first place. And you never had me.

You could have, you know. You could have had me all to yourself, and given yourself to me, and we would have lived happily together always. But you have always been wiser than that, Mr. Frodo. You knew that I had a calling to home and family, just as your Mr. Bilbo had a calling to journey and open roads. Even if it did mean giving me up, you did not want me to be torn.

Well, I have been whole. For many years, just as you said I would. I have found enough joy in what you blessed me with to keep me happy and to keep the memory of you a fond, if bittersweet, one.

It was not to stay that way. I can't even remember when I began yearning for something more, but I know that for a good time, I have felt -incomplete. Rose's death hurt me in more ways than one, because it was then that I realised I could not stay torn like this forever. She knew it herself. She knew I would leave and come after you, seeking my peace.

But you knew all along, didn't you, Mr. Frodo? You said my time would come. You knew the whole time that, at the end of all things, I would come back to you.

I brush the tears hastily from my eyes as there is a sudden bump, and we are finally there. Great thick ropes are hurled from the sternum and the small ship is gradually dragged ashore.

Looking out over the edge of the boat as figures beside me hurry with the gang plank, I can see that the rows of lanterns I had been watching as we arrived are oil lamps, suspended on the end of many tall poles held in the hands of singing elves. I would close my eyes and sigh at the sound, if it weren't for the sight of two shorter figures, standing before the others and closer to us. Only one of them is holding a lantern-pole. The other bears a small glass phial, it's silvery glow piercing as it faintly illuminates the white cup of his hand and his fair face, windswept raven curls dancing on the breeze.

I am the first one off the boat. I shake as I stumble across the fine wet sand towards the enchanting light.

His voice penetrates my body just as I reach him, "Sam," and I fall to my knees at his feet, sobbing. Then I can feel his hands, dragging me in close as he kneels before me.

His heart is thumping against my chest, and I bury myself into his familiar warmth, his scent, his touch. He is here. With me. My heart breaks for the joy of it, and the memories of the pain we have endured so often on the various paths towards this finality together seem distant and unimportant. There is no pain, not here in the arms of my love.

Suddenly, I understand, and I am whole.

 

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