West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Make Me a Song
At a Lithe party, Sam tries an experiment. A sequel to "Tell me a Story" and "No Breakfast".
Author: Lost Owl
It was hot. The hole must be on fire. Sam's eyes opened and he looked around in panic. He saw no flames, but the sudden movement made his head spin.
A cool hand covered his forehead. "It's all right, Samlad. Lie down."
Frodo. Then it must be all right. He lay down again.
Sam felt the cool, wet cloth press against his head. He closed his eyes. "Where's my gaffer?"
"He's sick too." - Quickly, "He's going to be fine, he's better today."
"Helping at Daisy's. Her eldest is very ill."
And then, forestalling more questions, "You don't need to know where everyone is, Sam. All you need to know about is you. I'm here while Marigold's gone. She came by Bag End this morning to ask what to do, and this is what Bilbo and I decided would be best. A lot of people are sick right now. But you'll be fine, if you just lie quiet."
"My head hurts."
"I'm sure it does. In a little while we'll have you drink something nasty that will make you better." The grim humor in the voice was comforting too.
"You won't leave, will you?"
"No, Sam, I won't leave. Now go back to sleep, everything's all right."
"It's hard to sleep."
"Samlad, it's bedtime. How about if I tell you a story?"
"Tell me a good one. Something that ends happy."
"That eliminates elvish stories." A soft laugh, and then, "Remember the barrel ride?"
"Tell me that one again. I like the barrels."
"Very well. Now, when Bilbo had been hiding in the King's palace much of the winter ... ".
It had started the winter he'd been sick.
He had hurt so much - even his hair had hurt. His father was ill, and that made it even worse.
Mr. Frodo hadn't caught it. Frodo never was sick. Everyone who talked about "that delicate Brandybuck of Bilbo's" never noticed he wasn't delicate at all. Tougher than Sam. Tougher than anyone.
A week, Mr. Frodo spent in their hole. Day and night, with some help from Bilbo and the healer, but it was Mr. Frodo who gave them soup and the draughts the healer ordered, helped them into and out of bed, washed down their bodies with cool water - although as soon as each of them knew what he was doing, they made him stop because it wasn't fitting a Mister from the Hill should be helping them in that way.
After that, Mr. Frodo could have said, Come with me to Mordor, and Sam would have done it - and the other Gamgees would have packed for him.
But there was more, and the more was a great secret that only one person in the world knew besides Sam.
Because anyone could have guessed that Mr. Frodo's kindness was just one of many that meant Sam would love him. Anyone could have guessed that Sam's loyal heart would remember and be grateful, and want to do whatever he could to repay it. Anyone could have guessed that knowing he was so kind and considerate would mean that Sam couldn't help but worship him.
But no one could have guessed that Mr. Frodo's touch was something Sam began to burn for from that winter on.
At least, he hoped not.
When he was very ill, it had not been like that. Of course not. But as he was getting better, and Mr. Frodo continued to touch his forehead to see how he was doing, or stroke his head to make the ache go away, Sam began to notice that he always felt hotter afterwards, not cooler.
For some time he thought this was an odd aftermath of the fever, and assumed it would go away. And, of course, he never mentioned it to Mr. Frodo or anyone else, because he didn't like to complain and anyway, it wasn't unpleasant really, just odd.
Until a year had passed, and if Mr. Frodo so much as brushed his hand accidentally, Sam would feel that heat for hours afterward.
He hoped Mr. Frodo didn't notice, but it seemed as maybe he did, because after two or three years, his master seemed to touch him less and less, and never by accident - maybe a friendly arm around the shoulders if he seemed depressed, or a responsive squeeze if Sam grabbed his hand when anxious about something - an old habit he just couldn't break - but he was careful even passing the butter, it seemed, and it must have been because he noticed Sam doing something.
And then, oh, it seemed like Sam wanted to find ways to accidentally touch Mr. Frodo, so that this heat must definitely not be unpleasant to him. Taking his coat was always a good one, so Sam liked winter - taking a coat was so deferential, no one could possibly think it was forward, but he could brush Mr. Frodo's slender shoulders and slide his hands down his arms just a little - that was, after all, how one helped remove a coat.
Or catch hold of a cuff, to examine a button that might be loose - well, it might! - and to feel the delicate bones of Mr. Frodo's wrist as he examined the thread.
Or even to roll up Mr. Frodo's sleeves, when his hands were in dishwater, because Mr. Frodo could never remember that he should do that until his hands were already wet. Then Sam could feel muscle taut beneath the fine linen. Sometimes (when Sam was very daring, or reckless) he might brush his palms against Mr. Frodo's soft arms as he rolled up each sleeve.
Or, on the occasions when Mr. Frodo had just knelt for some reason, (maybe to look at something Sam was showing him in the garden) to catch his arm and help him to his feet, sometimes even putting his whole hand as far as it would go around Mr. Frodo's forearm to help him up.
But each touch was dangerous - first, because it stopped Sam's breath, and he was afraid anyone could notice how it hitched and changed after that touch. Second, because Mr. Frodo might notice or suspect that these touches were deliberate, and unnecessary, and that would make his master uncomfortable, which was not to be borne. And third, because sometimes Mr. Frodo must have noticed something, because he would blush, just a little, and then stand farther from Sam than he ordinarily did for awhile. Although he never said anything that would suggest he had noticed, or was displeased with Sam at these times. But then, he never said anything ever that suggested he was displeased with Sam.
By the time Sam was 16, he had begun to put the feelings together with comments friends made about other things, and to understand them. This is what lads felt about lasses, mostly. They didn't feel it about other lads. He was peculiar that way, and it made him most uneasy. Not for himself - but how it might damage Mr. Frodo, for someone peculiar to be serving him.
Then a wonderful, never-to-be-forgotten thing happened. Sam met an elf. And male elves, it seemed, did feel that way about other male elves. At least some of them. At least enough that there were stories, and songs, about it happening.
After he learned that, he wanted to go see the elves. He wanted to be with the elves. Songs and stories! And famous lovers! Like him!
Well, not that he was famous, or ever would be, but he was one-half of something that might someday be lovers. Except, of course, that the other half was Mr. Frodo, so it was most unlikely.
Maybe not because he was another male hobbit. Sam didn't know why, but he had a suspicion Mr. Frodo would not be completely opposed to that. Maybe it was the way he was with his cousins. Maybe it was - well, he didn't know what it was, but Sam just suspected he wouldn't be shocked, at least.
But Sam was a gardener. And, as he had told the elf, "If a minstrel isn't fitting, what does that say about a gardener?"
Of course, they'd been talking about Luthien, and it was only later that Sam remembered that Beren hadn't been fitting either, because he was a Man.
And yet Luthien had gone with him, and found him in prison by singing, and freed him, and brought down the towers of Sauron and vanquished Sauron himself for a time. Someone not fitting for her.
Sam sighed when he thought of this, which he did often while working in the garden. Because regardless of what Luthien did for someone her people did not consider worthy of her, it had nothing to do with what the Master of Bag End would do for his gardener - especially since his gardener was not the great and shining Beren, the hero of the age, but just plain old Samwise Gamgee.
And this particular day, he was feeling less like a shining hero even than usual, because he'd had a last growth spurt just a few months ago, and his clothes weren't fitting right, so he was feeling clumsy, and that made him clumsy, and he'd broken his gaffer's favorite garden fork which he'd had for 30 years, and his gaffer had lit into him right in front of Frodo, and Sam had been so embarrassed that he hadn't realized Frodo was quite that close and backed into him and knocked him down. And Frodo had hit his nose on the handle of the fork on his way down, so it bled nastily, and that had upset the gaffer so he yelled at Sam twice as much and twice as loud, and Frodo had tried to be reassuring and calming while he was bleeding over everything and Sam was apologizing and begging his pardon and his gaffer's pardon, and Frodo had finally raised his voice to be heard over both of them and said, "Will both of you PLEASE BE QUIET for a moment!" and shocked them so, because Frodo never did that, that Sam had burst into tears.
And then Frodo had said, very quietly now, "Gaffer Gamgee, I'm quite sure Sam didn't mean to do any of this, and I would like him to come help me with my nosebleed please. " And the Gaffer, who hated it when Sam cried, mumbled an apology and said he'd be getting along home and would see Sam later, and Mr. Frodo said, "I think we'll go to the Dragon for awhile," and the Gaffer nodded.
Then Frodo took Sam inside and had him find a cloth and a handkerchief, and Frodo used the cloth to stop his nosebleed and made Sam use the handkerchief to wipe his eyes and blow his nose. And after Frodo's nose quit bleeding, which wasn't too long really, he put his arm around Sam and teased him about all the laundry he was making until Sam had to stop crying and start laughing.
Then Frodo changed his shirt, because it was bloody, and they sauntered over to the Green Dragon and had a couple of ales and Frodo bought him dinner and it began to be a good evening, really.
Except nothing like that had ever happened to Beren, Sam was sure. After his second ale, Frodo asked him what would make his day better, and Sam confessed, "This does."
"You just seemed to be having a really bad day, or least a bad five minutes."
"I was. Sometimes everything gets just too awful." Then he remembered to ask, "How's your nose?"
"Just fine. Nosebleeds are so strange, aren't they - they can just appear and disappear. I think, Sam, we've been around old people too long."
As soon as Frodo said it, Sam knew it was true. The last year Bilbo was around, he'd kept Frodo with him almost all the time, and even though it was nearly a year later, the effects of that intensive attention still showed. He knew how he felt when the Gaffer was hovering. And this summer, the Gaffer seemed to be hovering over Sam a lot - perhaps indeed because of Bilbo's disappearance last fall. Changes always made his father anxious. Now he thought about it, the Gaffer had been hovering over Frodo too, asking more questions, making more requests - yes, they needed an escape.
"I wish we could go to the Sea," Sam said. "Or at least Mirkwood." Frodo laughed. "I'm supposed to be the adventurous one, Samlad," he said. "You're the rational one who keeps me reined in."
"So if I don't rein you in, can we go?"
Frodo looked thoughtful. "Not to the sea, not to Mirkwood. But we could go somewhere. How about Brandy Hall for Lithe?"
Sam lifted his ale and sipped. "Isn't that the place you said has the wildest Lithe party in the Shire?"
"Or possibly anywhere. Yes."
"I don't know. I might get in trouble. I seem to get into a lot of trouble, these days."
Frodo laughed again. "I think, this year, we'll make that a goal," he said. "It's time you got into interesting trouble, Samwise."
And Sam was feeling so miserable, and so reckless, and there was still such a line of warmth along his back where Frodo had put his arm earlier, that he lifted his glass and said, "All right, Mr. Frodo. Here's to interesting trouble."
Brandy Hall was intimidating.
He hadn't expected it to be so big. He hadn't expected it to be so ... rich.
It had two different areas set aside for dancing, with professional musicians - tables laden with food and drink, and so many people in the rich clothes Frodo usually wore, though none of these had the inkstains and frayed pockets Frodo tended to acquire rather quickly.
Frodo's cousin Merry was always well-dressed, of course, and had nice things. But he was easy to like, very much like his name, and he never made Sam feel inappropriate or inadequate. He was a real gentlehobbit, though he teased the life out of Mr. Frodo.
But Brandy Hall was enormous, and full of expensive things and expensive hobbits, all of them chattering to each other. Sam had never heard so many people making comments on so many other people based on what and who they knew, how they dressed, what they failed to understand ... a constant evaluation that seemed to put each person in a niche.
"Frodo, dear, it's time you got your hair cut, don't you think?"
"Frodo, dear, I think you should know that people are saying you've gone quite eccentric."
"Frodo, dear, I know you love Bag End, but really, you should know that Hobbiton is ... "
"Frodo dear, do you realize you've taken on a Westfarthing accent?"
"Frodo, dear, you brought your gardener? And he's in a bedroom? Don't you think he would be more comfortable in the servants' hall?"
"Frodo dear, I think you should know no one wears green at Lithe anymore."
"Frodo, dear, if you don't stop quoting those odd stories, people will begin to think you're odd."
By the end of Forelithe, Sam thought one more "Frodo dear," and he'd start saying it himself - in front of those people only, because it was so clearly an insult.
That gave Sam an idea, and he got silly on his second whiskey. He'd never had whiskey before. "Frodo dear," he said in a falsetto, in front of two of the ladies who had been Frodo-dearing the most, "don't you think it's time we find someone at this party who can read and write?"
And Frodo, who was on his third, thought this was so funny that he ended up laughing till he sat on the floor, and Sam had to pull him upright and walk him out the door.
"Well!" he heard behind him. "That gardener is the oddest person! Why do you suppose Frodo dear brought him?"
"Sam," Frodo said, still collapsing into giggles in the garden, "the men don't say 'Frodo-dear.' They say 'Frodo-my-lad.'"
"You haven't been talking to the men much, then. I hadn't heard that."
"Well, come along then. If we're giving you a complete education, you're going to need to hear this too." And that began a round - in the garden, where most of the smokers were - of other comments.
The gardens were extensive, beautifully laid out, and lit by hundreds of lanterns. Sam had never seen anything so wonderful.
The my-lads were, if anything, more idiotic than the Frodo-dears.
"Frodo my lad, you're looking peaky. You need to get out more."
"Frodo my lad, I hear you're Mad Baggins' heir for real now. You've done well for yourself - didn't know you had it in you."
"Frodo my lad, there's two Took lasses have their eyes on you, and all you need to do is ... "
And then ... "Frodo my lad, it's good to see you. And who is this sweet little thing?" And that one put his hand on Sam's head and sniffed his ear and hair, causing him almost to jump out of his skin.
Frodo, who still seemed to have the giggles, and perversely to be dragging Sam to where the very worst comments might be made, stopped laughing abruptly and put his hand on Sam's arm. "A friend of mine, Jicky. Not a sweet little thing. A friend."
The hobbit named Jicky then put his hand on Sam's chest, assessingly. "No, not little. But nice. Very ..." and stopped suddenly and involuntarily, as Frodo caught Jicky's wrist and twisted it down.
"Jicky, you're drunk. I advise you to keep your hands to yourself." And his voice was firm, and cold.
Then Jicky put his hand on Frodo's hair. "Well, then, what about you? Are you available?" And to Sam's utter astonishment, Frodo burst into laughter.
"Jicky, you are absolutely impossible," he said. "But keep your hands off Sam. And no, I'm not available." And he put a hand to Sam's back and steered him away.
Well, this certainly wasn't Hobbiton. It was the strangest Lithe party Sam had ever been to, and that was a fact.
"Are you all right, Sam?"
Sam noticed the worried look on Frodo's face, and thought it odd. "Why shouldn't I be, Mr. Frodo?"
"Well, Jicky ..." Frodo's voice trailed off. "You didn't mind?"
Sam shook his head. He had trouble explaining, even to himself, what he felt. On the one hand, it hadn't been especially pleasant to be examined like a lady of the evening. On the other hand, Jicky had seemed to think he was Mr. Frodo's ... whatever.
And Mr. Frodo had acted as if he were, in a way. Which felt much more stimulating than Sam had ever imagined.
And how could he explain all that to Mr. Frodo, who clearly thought Sam would be shocked?
"Want another drink, Sam?"
"No thanks, I think I've had enough. But perhaps some food?" Frodo nodded, and they strolled toward the laden banquet tables.
Frodo was looking pensive. "You know, I forgot how decadent it is here compared to Hobbiton."
"Well, you said you wanted to get me in trouble."
Frodo laughed. "And you nearly did, Frodo-dearing. But now you're back to being a nice little country cousin. What shall we do to change that image?"
Sam felt almost drunk, although in fact he had been as moderate as usual. But there was something about the air at Brandy Hall ...
"Well, to start with, Frodo-my-lad, perhaps you'd best stop protecting me from your sophisticated relatives. After all, he was admiring me."
Frodo's jaw dropped. "I didn't think you understood ... "
Suddenly, Sam had an epiphany. It was like the day the elf had told him about Beren and Felagund. His plan came together, all beautiful and clear, just like that.
"How old do you think I am, Mr. Frodo?"
Frodo looked puzzled, and did quick calculations. "You're 22."
"That's right, I am. Not 12 years old. Twenty-two. I'm in my tweens. And maybe I know what kind of interesting trouble I want to get into, here at Brandy Hall, with or without your help. Though I would like you to help."
Frodo began to look a little worried. "Sam, how many whiskies have you had?"
"Two, less than you." He took Frodo's arm and began to lead him through the garden. "We're going to look at the gardens a minute, Frodo, and then you're going to help me find some interesting trouble. After all, you promised."
"That's true, I did," Frodo agreed, but he continued to look worried.
"First, we're going to talk about elves."
That changed his expression. "Elves? Why?"
"Do you remember Lindar? The minstrel?"
"Of course. I'm not senile, you know." Sam felt his arm heating up from Frodo's touch, but this time he decided to just enjoy it. Part of his plan.
"While you and I were gone, Lindar and I talked."
"I remember coming back to quite a wild scene."
"Oh, that was later. Before, we talked about Beren and Felagund."
"Oh, the High stories."
"Lindar told me something that you never did about that story."
"Well, I'm not an expert. What was it?"
"He told me Beren and Felagund were lovers."
Frodo stopped right in the middle of the path. He just stood frozen in place. Finally, he turned and stared at Sam. "They were what?"
"Didn't you know?"
"I told you, I'm not an expert."
"He said it was in the story. It wasn't a secret or anything. Are you sure you didn't know?"
Frodo's face was a study. Even in the dark, Sam could tell he was blushing. At the same time, he looked excited in a sort of scholarly way, like here was a piece of a puzzle he'd not known existed.
"You know, I always wondered . .. but no. There are various terms which can be translated several ways, and the elves don't have dictionaries as hobbits and men do. So... no, I didn't. Sam, are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. We talked about it for awhile."
Frodo began walking again. Sam remembered how long it had taken him to process this information, and he tried to be as patient as Lindar had. It didn't take Frodo as long, but that was no surprise to Sam. He'd known more to start with, and anyway, he was smarter.
"Sam, why are you telling me this?"
"So you understand that I knew what Jicky was doing."
"And the interesting trouble I want to get into... " now Sam was blushing, and he cursed himself. "Well, maybe I want to find out what Jicky wanted. Or someone like him."
Frodo stopped again. He pulled away, and crossed his arms, and stared at Sam. "Sam!"
"Haven't you ever, Mr. Frodo?"
Frodo shifted uncomfortably, but Sam was relieved to notice that he wasn't getting angry. "That's kind of private, Sam."
"Yes. It's just ..."
"Well, I'd like at least to flirt. Try it on, like."
He was surprised to see a sympathetic look on Frodo's face. "I can see that. And you are ... well, you certainly look like ... a sweet young thing. You should be really popular."
"You don't think I am a sweet young thing?"
"I've known you most of your life, Samwise. I don't think of you like that."
Time you started, Sam thought, but wisely did not say this. It was not part of his plan to reveal the intended goal so soon.
"Frodo-my-lad," he said winsomely, "take me back to the party and show me off, please."
And Frodo sighed, and said, "Very well. On your head be it."
Sam had not expected to enjoy himself so very much. It was heady stuff, for while lasses liked him, he had never been sought after by more than one at a time, and anyway, lasses did things differently. The gentlemen who were interested in such things stood around him, waiting on him, paying extravagant compliments to his eyes, his hair, his hands, and - more daringly - other parts of him, seen and unseen. They brought him treats from the table and the cellar, looked deeply into his eyes, asked him questions about himself and seemed fascinated by the answers, obviously actively attracted by his experience in physical labor, rather than distressed by it. They laughed at his comments, at his accent, at his ideas - but not in a way he found offensive. They obviously found him adorable.
And Mr. Frodo stood there the whole time and just watched. Occasionally one of them would compliment Frodo on him, as if he had something to do with Sam just by having brought him, and each time Frodo would blush to his roots and say "Thank you," and then be silent again. His expression was priceless - 2/3 astonished, 1/3 embarrassed, with just a little left over that Sam didn't quite recognize, but seemed to be in the general category of pleased, or possibly horrified.
The touching - well, that was part of the flirting, he guessed, and therefore educational, although some were rather bolder than he'd have liked. Twice he saw Frodo casually move in and stand very, very close to him, deflecting the touching a little. Each time, Frodo pretended to be focused on something else entirely, obviously hoping Sam wouldn't notice. But he noticed, and he was happy. So far, the plan was working.
Frodo's cousins were there, and inevitably wandered over. They stayed for awhile, fascinated by the spectacle. Merry, their host, in fact tried to pull Frodo some distance away from Sam, presumably for a private discussion, but Frodo failed to take what began as hints and ended as a blatant invitation, making it clear he wasn't moving from Sam's side. Probably worried what I'll get up to without him, Sam thought, amused, and finally said to him, "Mr. Frodo, your cousin wants a word with you."
That of course made it impossible for Frodo to ignore Merry, but he stayed as close as he could for their discussion.
While Frodo was thus distracted, Sam became distracted as well. A Brandybuck a few years older than Frodo called Ruffles, for inscrutable reasons since his name was Prandle, took his arm and suggested a short stroll through the gardens. "There are some really spectacular light displays near the pond," he said, "which you might have a personal and professional interest in." Ruffles was what Sam would have called the most attractive of the hobbits gathered around him, a few years older than Frodo, with a sophisticated smile and fine golden hair visible at head and feet. Even if it fit in with his plan to refuse, Sam wouldn't have known how to do it without appearing rude.
Instead, he nodded, and found out Ruffles's intentions were precisely what he'd suspected them to be. Once they found those "spectacular light displays," Ruffles seemed more interested in wandering into the darker paths. His hands wandered as well, and Sam hoped Frodo would finish his conversation with Merry, whatever it was about, and come rescue him, since he wasn't at all sure quite what to do.
Well, when in doubt, his Gaffer always said, blurt it out. "I'm not sure I should let you touch me like that," he said. Ruffles was clearly startled, and then grinned, a dazzling smile that no doubt had been praised.
"Don't you like it?"
Sam thought about this a minute. "Well, not exactly, no," he said. "It's just a mite familiar, ain't it?"
"Oh, but I want to be familiar with you, young Gamgee. Sam my lad, surely you're not bound to that Hobbiton stay-at-home who brought you?"
The first answer Sam could think of would have been definitely imprudent, so he fell back on his Gaffer's sayings again. "My old gaffer always says, 'Go home with the one who brung ya,'" he said.
"No, no, little Sam, it's 'dance with the one who brung ya, go home with the one who can show you the best time.' And I'm quite certain that isn't my cousin Frodo."
Sam was unaccustomed to the playful, half-serious tone of this conversation, and completely unaccustomed to the topic. He turned and faced Ruffles, not quite sure what to say next, and discovered he could say nothing, since Ruffles simply pulled him close and kissed him.
Well, he'd wanted interesting trouble, and definitely he'd got it. The kiss was rather more than he'd ever done with the lasses, and while he had no desire to kiss Ruffles, his body seemed to think it was a good idea. In fact, instead of pushing away, his arms were wrapping around Ruffles's waist, and his mouth seemed to think it was a gateway instead of a wall. Oh dear.
When Ruffles let him go, he was shaking, which made Ruffles laugh. "You see? I could show you a very good time, Sam."
"I don't want to have a good time," Sam almost said, but recognized how silly that was and simply put his hands out in front of him, palms toward Ruffles, making a more effective barrier than his lips had. He fell back on a line the lasses sometimes used. "I don't know you that well."
"You will." Ruffles came forward, Sam kept backing, and he'd never felt as relieved in his life to back into another person and realize it was Frodo, whom he knew would rescue him even if he didn't deserve it.
"Ruffles, stop, you're scaring Sam," Frodo said, and it sounded like he was laughing. Sam thought he'd never understand the party rules at Brandy Hall.
"I'm not trying to scare him, I'm just trying to seduce him, cousin. And you come at a most inopportune time."
"Do you agree, Sam?" Frodo cocked his head and smiled into Sam's eyes.
"No, sir. You're very welcome right now."
"There, you see, Ruffles. Sam, my lad, it's bedtime." There was definitely mischief in Frodo's eyes, but his hand on Sam's arm was solid and reassuring, and Sam obediently followed him toward the Hall.
"Um, goodnight, Ruffles," he said awkwardly over his shoulder.
Ruffles shrugged, pouted, and said, "Maybe tomorrow, then."
Frodo kept a tight hold of his wrist and dragged him rather quickly toward the hall.
"Have you had an interesting time, Sam?" he asked. Then he appeared to change the subject. "Merry certainly is interested in your experiment." There was an edge in his voice.
That did concern Sam. "Is there a problem?"
"Only that... Merry started asking ... Sam, how seriously are you pursuing this? Because Merry wanted to know if you were available back in Hobbiton. And I know he's your age, but I don't think it would be a good idea ... "
Sam shook his head vigorously. "A very bad idea." Privately, he suspected Merry had just been needling Frodo. Merry was quite good at that. But the information was still bothersome. Unfortunately, if Frodo didn't like the idea that Merry might be interested in Sam, there were two possible explanations. One fit with his plans, but the other would make him most unhappy. Oh, life was complicated.
"Yes, and I begin to wonder if bringing you to Lithe wasn't rather a bad idea as well. You're not quite experienced enough to defend yourself against the likes of Ruffles."
"No sir, and I appreciate your help."
A long sigh. "I did say it was time to give you interesting problems. But ... are you all right, Sam?"
"Nothing could be more interesting than this evening, sir. But there aren't too many problems yet."
"Oh, you think not?" By now they were in their guest wing, and Frodo was leading him somewhere, he hoped was his bedroom. "Wait until about elevenses tomorrow, and I'll show you problems."
He opened a door that looked precisely like every other door on either side. "This is our room."
"I beg your pardon?"
"We're sharing, Sam." Sam looked at the room. It was quite small, consisting of a bed wide enough for two, two chairs, and a small table. His bag was on the bed, and so was Frodo's.
They'd shared beds before, mostly while camping but occasionally at smaller inns. Nonetheless, it seemed odd to do so tonight.
"What will people think?" he mused, and realized he'd said it aloud.
Frodo laughed shortly. "I daresay they'll think you're my sweet young thing, after this evening."
Sam blushed. "I'm sorry, Mr. Frodo. I didn't mean to get you talked about."
"Me talked about?" The laugh was more cheerful this time. "Sam, after the level of flirting you were experimenting with tonight, this can only enhance my reputation. I'm not exactly known for having beautiful young hobbits in my bed."
Sam couldn't imagine that Frodo could be known for anything else, since all alone he was the most beautiful young hobbit Sam had ever met. But he didn't exactly feel that telling Mr. Frodo that as he was climbing into bed with him would be really good timing. Leastways, not under these conditions.
"What are you known for, Mr. Frodo?" he asked, with genuine curiosity, as he removed his weskit and climbed into bed.
Frodo followed suit, blowing out the candles. "What do you think I might be known for, Sam?" It sounded as genuinely curious as his question.
"I'll tell if you tell."
In the darkness, that seemed more than reasonable, apparently to both of them.
"All right, but you start."
"I think you might be known for being odd."
There was a silence. "Do you think I'm odd?"
"No, Mr. Frodo. I think you see things most people can't even imagine exist. It's like, most people are tone deaf, and you can sing. Other people think they're singing, and they don't understand what it is you're doing different, so they think you're pretending something that isn't so."
There was a little silence. "You know, Sam, that means you're not tone deaf either."
"I may not be able to sing like a minstrel, but I can recognize a song when I hear it, Mr. Frodo."
"Oh, Sam." There was something in Frodo's voice that made Sam realize that he was unhappy, though Sam didn't understand why. "I hope you're having a good time here."
It seemed like a complete change of subject to Sam. "Yes I am, Mr. Frodo. I haven't ever had such a good time. I wouldn't like to have a time like this all the time, but it's good from time to time."
Frodo kindly ignored the sentence structure and stayed with the thought. "Then let's hope you enjoy yourself even more tomorrow."
"You didn't tell me what you think you're known for, Mr. Frodo."
"Oh, yes." A moment's consideration. "For being a dull little nobody who'd rather read than flirt, I guess."
"Is that true?"
"Oddly enough, Sam, it isn't. Dull, maybe, but just now, I'd rather flirt than read."
"I didn't see you flirting tonight."
"Just because I want to doesn't mean I can." The dark was seductive by itself. He heard a confidential note slide into Frodo's voice. "You know, you're very good at it, Sam. I had no idea."
"Neither did I."
"Maybe you can give me lessons."
Sam was most uncomfortable with that idea. "You don't need flirting lessons. You're fine the way you are. I guess we better go to sleep, Mr. Frodo. Are you warm enough?"
"Quite warm, Sam, thank you. And thank you for ...an educational evening."
He woke on Afterlithe more or less alone. More or less, because he had both arms wrapped round a pillow and his cheek nestled against it, and he thought for several moments he was holding Frodo. Embarrassed, he backed off; then, even more embarrassed, realized what he'd been clutching.
Fortunately, except for the pillow, he was alone. Before Sam could grow uneasy about the strangeness of where he was and what he should do, however, Frodo returned, damp hair, soapy smell and flushed face testifying to his reason for having been gone.
"Good morning, Sam," he said. "It's after nine, it's a lovely day, it's time for you to get up." Sam groaned and rolled over.
"Another day, another set of interesting problems?" he said.
"Have a bath," Frodo replied kindly. "You'll feel better."
Within half an hour, Sam was clean and tidy again, he did feel better, and they were on the hunt for food. Lots of food.
They saw few of the people they had ended the evening with. "Too early," Frodo said. "But we'll see more of the Frodo-dears and my-lads."
Breakfast, in fact, was made more challenging by both. "Frodo dear, where were you last night? I wanted to introduce you to my niece."
"Frodo my lad, I saw you last night in the gardens, and I thought you should know that your reputation will be damaged if ..."
"Frodo dear, I'm sure your friend won't mind if you come sit with me and Vanna - my daughter, you remember her - and tell us all about ... "
That one Sam thought might require a bit of extricating, but with a vague smile and a "Oh, I couldn't leave poor old Sam alone, he doesn't know anyone here," Frodo managed to slide out of it.
"Lithe is Brandybuck mating season," he explained, as Sam worked hard to stifle a snort. "Deer have spring, dogs have whenever, my mother's family has Lithe. It's been a bit more difficult since I became Bilbo's heir, though - more serious offers, not just the Jicky kind."
As they were finishing an excellent breakfast, Merry, circulating among the guests, joined them. "Well, Sam my lad," he said. "Are you enjoying Lithe?"
"Very much so, thank you, Mr. Merry," Sam said, feeling Frodo stiffen beside him. He hadn't seen that happen before, leastways not with Merry.
Mr. Merry had that gleam Sam had long ago learned to associate with serious teasing, so he was not particularly surprised when Frodo's cousin leaned forward and stroked Sam's hair. "You know, I never realized what an attractive hobbit you were, till I saw you out of your usual setting," he said.
Sam of Bagshot Row would have been flustered and speechless, but Sam the guest at Lithe felt like an entirely different person, especially since he could tell Merry was teasing, and the teasing was not really aimed at him. "If that's the case, Mr. Merry, you can't have been looking very hard," he said, fluttering his eyes.
Merry looked pleased. "You're right, I've been remiss. How can I make it up to you, now that I've noticed?"
Sam considered. "Convince Mr. Frodo, I suppose," he said thoughtfully. "I don't think he's noticed yet."
Under Merry's laugh, he heard Frodo's gasp. That should get his attention, he thought, a little anxiously. The game was fraught with risk, but Sam considered the stakes worth it.
"Well," Merry said thoughtfully, "first we have to find out if it's true. Frodo, have you noticed how attractive your gardener is?"
Frodo was tough, and rose to the challenge, which didn't surprise Sam.
"Actually, Merry, I think it's hard not to notice. It's only the most unobservant, such as yourself, who missed it."
"You wound me. And what precisely do you think makes Sam attractive?"
"Well ..." and Frodo looked at Sam thoughtfully, which made his toes curl, and other parts of his body respond as well. "I like his mouth, myself. Yes, I think Sam's mouth is his best feature." Sam began to blush. Maybe he shouldn't have started this.
"Frodo, my lad, only you could select something so innocuous. Why, it's as easy to compliment your mouth. But I'd have to go on to your eyes, and your legs, and ... "
Suddenly, Sam was tired of all this. The game was too much a game. He felt hot, and bothered, and all he wanted ...
"I think I'll go look at the gardens in daylight," he said, interrupting Merry. Frodo and Merry were staring directly at each other, a look in each one's eyes that held challenge and something else, something he didn't want to think about too much.
He stood up abruptly and headed down the nearest path. After a minute he felt someone beside him, and when he was brave enough to look up, it was Frodo, his hands stuck deep in his pockets, blushing a little.
They walked for a few minutes.
"Well, you started it," Frodo finally said.
"I know I did, and I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry I embarrassed you."
"I'm sorry I put you in that position."
That pretty much covered it.
They smiled at each other, their relationship back to normal.
They were beginning to meet some of the acquaintances of the night before, and while these hobbits weren't as chatty, they were infinitely better than the my-lads and Frodo-dears. Greetings and groups began, but then Sam spied a very small purple flower on a shiny, trailing stem and went down on his hands and knees to examine it further.
He ignored the pleas of the others to leave it and come. Eventually, except for Frodo, they wandered on.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Now Sam, you should know better than to ask me. It's a flower. It's a purple flower."
"Yes, but wouldn't it look nice under our sugar maple? It's a shade plant, you can tell how it's flourishing here, and there's a bare spot..."
They discussed this, and agreed that begging some starts of this would be a good idea. "I'll talk to my aunt Esme," Frodo said. "But if you're going to be looking for starts, I'll show you some others I've never seen in Hobbiton."
"Oh yes, please."
Fortunately, it hadn't rained for a week, or Frodo's velvet breeches would have been mud-covered within an hour (Sam's best cotton breeches would have been too, but he would never consider that a problem. He was the despair of his family for his failure to pay attention to the state of his dress any time he found a new plant or critter.) They ran across Frodo's aunt Esmeralda at some point, and she willingly granted Frodo's request that they be allowed to take some starts home. Sam, anxious that she might change her mind, or that the next morning leavetaking might leave them with no time to take them, immediately pulled out his pocket knife and dragged Frodo back to the purple flowers.
Frodo had been on such expeditions with him before. They had never been scheduled, of course. It would not have occurred to Sam to ask the Master of Bag End to assist him in digging up and dividing perennials - until, of course, he was on-site and the thrill of the hunt distracted him from what was fitting.
Frodo, who never cared what was fitting, willingly followed directions and donated his pocket handkerchiefs, wet at the ornamental pond, to wrap up some especially healthy roots. He was used to this and usually carried two for that reason.
He paused, kneeling, to watch his enthusiastic gardener consider if they had enough of a burden or should add to it. Sam knelt in the middle of a dug-up patch of dirt, a dirty smear on his face, his eyes bright, his hair disheveled, glowing from his finds. The acquaintances had long since stopped even greeting them, partly because of their concentration and partly because they both looked so eccentric, digging in the dirt. Frodo put down his burdens and just watched Sam.
It was several minutes before Sam noticed that Frodo had ceased to make any reply to his enthusiastic comments. He looked up to see the Master of Bag End staring at him as if he were Frodo's favorite dessert after not enough dinner. A favorite dessert when there were too many guests and courtesy required saying, "Oh no thanks, I couldn't eat another bite."
This was not a look he was accustomed to seeing from Frodo. He blinked, and stared back.
"Is ... something wrong, Mr. Frodo?"
"Of course not, Sam." Frodo seemed to discover where he was. "Do you have enough specimens?"
"Perhaps we should go clean up and return to the party."
Sam recollected their location and purpose. "Oh, I'm sorry! I was that distracted."
"You were that," Frodo agreed, smiling.
They left the collection in a cool corner of the stables. Sam noted that Frodo's breeches had dirt at the knee, and as they ambled through the less-occupied gardens, suggested they return to their room so Frodo could change.
"What about you, Sam?"
"Oh, I'll brush mine and they'll be fine."
"You know, Sam, you're just not wild by nature. I think you had more fun in the last hour than you did last night."
"I think I did too," Sam agreed. And with Frodo smiling wistfully at him, suddenly he didn't want to wait any longer for the conversation he'd been putting off seven years.
"Sir, I need to talk to you."
Frodo looked surprised. "Certainly."
Sam cast about for a way to open the conversation, and finally concluded that he would return to a subject that made him uneasy. Because if the answer to that turned out different than he wanted, there was no point asking the real question.
Sam took a deep breath. "Last night, when you found me in the garden, you'd been talking to Merry. And you seemed a little distressed because Merry was 'interested in my experiment.' When you were concerned, Mr. Frodo, was it for me - or for Merry?"
Silence. Frodo's face was completely closed and neutral.
After a minute, Sam tried again. "Does it bother you that your cousin might be interested in someone? Or me, in particular?"
The answer was cold, colder than Mr. Frodo had ever been to him. "I hardly think that's your business, Sam."
Oh, dear. Bringing it up seemed like an enormous mistake. All he had to do was trip Frodo and start his nose bleeding and then everything would be as bad as it had been that day in Hobbiton.
But Frodo saw his face change. "Oh, Sam, if you really want to know, I don't care if Merry tumbles one or a dozen hobbits, as long as it isn't ..." the last word cut off, and Sam's hopes began to rise again.
He moved a little closer to his employer. "As long as it isn't ... ?"
A second's pause. "As long as it isn't ... in Hobbiton."
The heat was flushing up his back, and arms, and down his legs. He clutched at Mr. Frodo's hand, his own shaking. Then he realized Frodo's hand was shaking as well.
This gave him the courage to say, "I hoped maybe you was going to say 'As long as it isn't you.' "
Frodo's voice silent, Frodo's face terrified. Oh dear. What should he say or do now?
"Mr. Frodo-dear," he said very softly, looking directly into the other's eyes, although Frodo hastily looked away, "I think you should know... that your gardener is about ready to run away and live with the elves from not mindin' his position proper and being afraid he's gone too far... " And then, as Frodo continued to look anywhere but Sam, "And I think you should know that he may be good at flirting but this ain't flirting, and the only way you're not going to have to look for another gardener as soon as you get back to Bag End is to kiss the one you have. Right NOW."
And then he waited.
Slowly, Frodo removed his hand from Sam's, and for an instant, Sam felt despair. But the hand went up to his cheek, slid around to the back of his head, and, still slowly, giving him time to change his mind, pulled him forward.
Then Frodo was leaning forward a little as well, his mouth slightly open, and Sam felt his lips, soft and warm, slide gently onto Sam's and hold them. For an instant there was just the soft touch, and then Sam's mouth opened wider and he felt Frodo's tongue slide along every surface of his mouth, exploring and welcoming both, soft and warm and wet and oh, so much nicer than Ruffles's last night.
It was a little harder to breathe now, he was gasping so from the shock and pleasure, and he felt Frodo's other hand pull his body tight to him, and they fit just the way he thought they would, like he'd grown up with Frodo's measure so he could shape himself to be right for him. He was beginning to shiver all over now, even though he was still hot everywhere, hotter than he'd been even with the fever.
He could feel a warm, hard swell against his own and realized he had been afraid Frodo was just humoring him, but this was proof that Frodo did want to kiss his gardener, more than just a little. There they were, in the hot sun in the middle of a garden with who knows watching, and he didn't care about anything but the feeling of Frodo next to him and the new, sparking feelings in his own body, which made all the feelings he'd had before like a backyard creek compared to the Brandywine.
His own hands were tight against Frodo's back and pulling him close, as if he feared Frodo might change his mind. But that seemed very unlikely, since the Master of Bag End had just pushed him against a tree and was moving against him, breathing raggedly.
"Sam, oh Sam... " Well, that was the reassurance Sam wanted to hear, and no mistake.
He found himself moaning. That was all right, that was good, and Frodo seemed to like it, because when Sam moaned, Frodo would give a little gasp and push harder. But some Gamgeean corner of Sam's mind remained sane enough to notice that this was quite a public spot, in full daylight, and perhaps Mr. Frodo might, at some later point in the day, prefer not to have been seen here by who knows what relatives in this particular position, especially since one hand was inside Sam's waistband by now in the back, and the other hand was inside Sam's shirt in the front.
"Sir, maybe we'd best go somewhere a bit more private ... "
Frodo stared blankly at him for a moment, like he didn't know where he was. His eyes were dark and heavy lidded. Sam could see something like awareness come back, just a flicker. Then - glory! Frodo grabbed his wrist and dragged him under a nearby box hedge, and maybe there was an advantage to growing up here, because after a moment of crawling it turned out the hedge was hollow at its center. There was no room to stand up, but plenty to lie down on soft moss and humus, and the arrangements of hedges and flowering plants guaranteed privacy, unless others came looking for the same place or if whoever hid there were really loud. The music from the dancing might hide that, though, Sam thought, and then became distracted as Frodo returned to what he'd been doing.
It smelled as good as gardens always smelled to Sam, warm humusy earth cradling them and giving off the scents of brown and green as they writhed together. But the taste of ink in his mouth as he sucked on Frodo's fingers, the crisp, clean smell of new linen as he kissed Frodo's shirt open, oh that was different, unfamiliar mixed with the crushed moss smell. As was the scent of Frodo's skin, rosemary soap mingled with something sharper, saltier, and yet the sweetest thing he'd ever smelled.
Frodo pulled his fingers out of Sam's mouth, and Sam made little moans of distress and frustration, till Frodo replaced them with his tongue. Frodo seemed to think he needed his hands to frantically work at Sam's trouser buttons. Well, he had to admit, that was a good idea. Sam tried to reciprocate but Frodo just wouldn't hold still, oh good, there the buttons went, now Frodo's too and oh, oh, skin against skin and Frodo's voice making sounds like sobs, no maybe that was Sam's, but those were definitely Frodo's hands, and if Sam could just slide his own hand down a little ...yes.
He heard a gasp in his ear, and Frodo nipped it, which he thought probably was not showing displeasure. Just in case, he stroked gently, and felt Frodo's gasp. Definitely not displeasure. He slid his hand up and down some more, going mostly on what he liked to do to himself, since he didn't know what else he should do.
It seemed to work, because Frodo's voice became more desperate and made less sense and Frodo began thrusting hard and oh, that was delicious, all Sam could do was put his legs tighter around Frodo and keep stroking and squeezing and kissing until lor! that was Frodo gasping in his ear, and pounding him into the moss, and Frodo's wet, warm stickiness pooling on his belly and his hand and his own hardness, and then suddenly the world began to whirl around him and he was thrusting back so hard he couldn't hold on and everything was letting go, everything except Frodo, and the only thing Sam could do was bury his face in Frodo's neck and muffle the sounds as best he could, discovering his voice and his body were pounding to the same rhythm, surely that was the world's rhythm, who would ever have thought it would feel this good, he was going to die, he was going to.. and he felt himself spurt all over everything -- grass, humus, his belly, Frodo's, quite possibly up to the stars themselves, and then he lay in Frodo's arms while his lower body, gone completely independent of the rest of him, went into little aftershocks and quivers for almost a minute.
Then there was a time when they just lay there panting, too astonished and exhausted even to say each other's name.
Until Frodo, for the third time that festival, though with rather a different tone of voice, asked, "Are you all right, Sam?"
Sam found it difficult to make any articulate sound for awhile. "Ngeaaahhh," he said, and then, realizing that might be hard to interpret, "Weogghhhhh." Trying a third time, "Frodo. Oh, Frodo."
A tremulous laugh. "Sam?"
"Mmmmmmmm." Sam tried one more time. "I love you."
That got him kissed again, gentler this time, and sweet, which was nice, because more recent events had made him forget already how lovely Frodo's mouth felt. Slowly, Sam's brain came back.
"Are you all right, Frodo?"
"Except for feeling that I'm so surprised I'm going to die, yes. I've never ... I never dreamed ... . Oh Sam, thank you."
"For what?" he asked lazily, feeling the pleasure had been undeniably mutual and needed no thanks.
"For ... getting us here. I really don't know how to flirt, and I thought I was going to have to so you'd notice me among all those others."
"Ha," said Sam. "None of those others even know how to take perennial cuttings."
He felt Frodo's body shake with laughter. "So you're not tone deaf and I know plants need roots to be replanted. We may be meant to be together, after all." And then, after a short silence, "Unless ... this is just the first stage in getting into interesting trouble?" He sounded anxious.
"How could it be? I've been in love with you since I was 14."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. And I've known I was ever since Lindar told me about Beren and Felagund."
"Oh Sam," and Frodo's voice almost broke. "I love you. I did say that, didn't I?"
"Actually, you didn't."
"Oh, no!" And Frodo began kissing him hard and rather messily. "I thought I said so. I kept thinking it, only I was ... . I do love you. I've loved you for years now. I couldn't even touch you without feeling I was going to burst into flames. And you were way too young."
"No," said Sam drowsily, "you just thought I was. Until you noticed that other people thought I was a sweet young thing, not just young."
He snuggled in to feel that delightful fit between them again.
And then a thought struck him. "We could just lie in bed and I could touch you wherever I want, couldn't I?"
"Get me there, and you've got full permission," Frodo promised. "We might even go a little slower this time. But getting me there requires our leaving here, and I don't like that part."
"Three words," said Sam softly. "Bed. Walls. Locked door."
"It's three if you say it fast."
Frodo looked as if he were going to argue, and then Sam saw him abandon the argument as pointless. "Sam, my lad," he said lovingly, "it's bedtime."
"Now that means something it didn't mean 10 years ago."
"It means something it didn't last night. It means I want to lie in bed and sing, with you in my arms."
"I couldn't sing that kind of song with anyone else, Frodo. Not ever."
"Well," Frodo said, "that really does it. We have to go find us a bed. I'll make you a song. "
Sam found Frodo in the library. They would be leaving in a few days, and Frodo had been as busy reading books as Sam had been checking gear.
"What have you been doing, love? You're all inky."
"All over your body?"
Frodo smiled mysteriously. "You'll see."
Back in their room, Frodo took off his shirt. Sam just stood staring at his chest, his mouth open. There was writing on it from shoulder to shoulder, neck to navel, in Sindarin.
"What is it?"
"I've been reading about Beren and Felagund, and I started remembering our first Lithe, and how you told me you wanted to make a song with me. And then I started writing one for you."
"But love, why did you write on yourself?"
"Oh, it's silly, but ... Well, Samlad, I made you a song, and this was the only way I could give it back to you."
And it was a good thing Frodo had also written it down on paper, because the song soon was too smeared to read.
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