West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

An Unexpected Party
Sam buys Frodo a gift that is well beyond his means, and is rewarded by a chance to be the master for a day.
Author: Bill The Pony
Rating: NC-17

 

Thanks to all my second readers for support and advice (especially Teasel for invaluable help with the smut).   :-)

*****

He wasn't quite pressed up with his nose smudging the window glass like a child, but Sam was close enough, for all that he sat atop a hogshead of the Gaffer's best hard cider nearly halfway across the market, eating an apple.

The display in the window had caught his eye right off the minute he passed by it to enter the market. He'd never been inside the store himself-- it was a fancy tailor shop, and such stuff as it held was for people who carried a great deal more coin in their pockets than any Gamgee. Mr. Bilbo, he always bought his weskits and breeches there, and his fine embroidered shirts. Mr. Frodo, too. The tailor sold fine silk shirts and brocade or velvet weskits and breeches to match, all hand-made, and not necessarily in the Shire. Sam knew the shop had fancy embroidered handkerchiefs too, and lace-trimmed bonnets and aprons and frocks, and dainty underthings for wealthy hobbit lasses and their mothers.

He would feel like his thumbs were as thick as tree roots if he wandered in there by mistake, and what's more, he'd beg to be let out again. His own clothes were rough homespun, woven of Shire-grown cotton and stitched by his mam and his sisters; they were sturdy and comfortable, if a bit plain, and he was proud enough of them. He wouldn't feel right dressed no other way.

Sam sighed and nibbled around the core of his apple. That was a store such as Bagginses shopped in, and that was the heart of the matter. For what he'd seen in the window....

Sam's eyes wandered over towards the shop again, where the item hung that had caught his eye. It was a nightshirt in pale cream silk with a deep open throat and ruffled collar. Even Mr. Bilbo didn't have its like in his well-stuffed wardrobes up in Bag End; he had a few silk cravats and pocket-handkerchiefs, but that was all. They were how Sam knew the stuff to look at, and how he knew its smoothness under a fingertip. But Mr. Bilbo wasn't so extravagant as to buy this sort of frippery, not for himself nor for Mr. Frodo neither. Their clothes were fine, but they'd been made to take wear.

This shirt, now-- it wasn't meant to be worn much at all, leastways not the way Sam had it reckoned. It was more meant to be took off, seemingly, or at least that's how he pictured it in his fancy. As such, it might be owned by either a lad or a lass-- or better, by one lad in particular. That lad wasn't Sam Gamgee, but that didn't mean Sam wouldn't have a bit of interest in seeing the shirt worn. Quite a bit, in fact, on just the right lad. Its soft ivory sheen was made to frame skin as soft and pink as the petals of a rose. Mayhap if he was right lucky, it would let Sam have a bit of a peek inside as the lad he had in mind to be wearing it moved or bent, letting him see--

He squirmed on top of the barrel, turning his face out of the bright sun. A fool's dreams, those were. As if he could dress his master up like one of Marigold's dolls for his own pleasure? He was worse than a ninnyhammer; he was a plain jack-fool, that was what. He could work every minute he had free all summer and never earn enough coin to buy such a thing, and if he did... well, what of it? He could hardly walk up to Mr. Frodo and hand him such a gift right to his face! Frodo was no fool; he'd know what the nightshirt cost. And what's more, for Sam Gamgee to be giving Frodo Baggins such a night-gown would be near the same as asking to be took to bed to enjoy Frodo wearing it-- and not wearing it, to be sure.

Sam tossed the apple core behind a bush where it wouldn't hurt nobody and felt in his pocket. He had a small knife and a couple of polished brook-stones, his pipeweed pouch and half a dozen coppers. Enough for a mug of ale at the Dragon, some more pipeweed, or a bite of bread and meat.

"Hey there!" His hand darted out and he caught a young hobbit-lad by the braces as he darted past. "Mind the bank!" He'd set up next to the edge of the Water, and it was deep right by the wall, but there wasn't no fence to keep people from toppling over and getting drownded-- a fact that discouraged more than one hobbit from ever going too deep into his cups of an evening at the Green Dragon.

A familiar chuckle caught his ear, and he looked up to find Mr. Bilbo approaching. Sam let the lad go, touched his cap, and got off the hogshead.

"We'll take two of your biggest cider barrels, Sam." Mr. Bilbo wasn't standoffish a bit; he clapped Sam's shoulder like he was growed up. "Those young cousins of Frodo's-- rapscallions, the lot of them-- are drinking me out of house and home."

Sam smiled. "Yes, sir." He took a lump of chalk and marked two barrels-- letters Bilbo had taught Sam himself. B. B. "I'll carry them up the row as soon as Daisy comes down to spell me, sir."

"That's fine. Let yourself right in. You know where the cellar is as well as anyone-- except for that Peregrin Took!" Bilbo frowned and shook his head. "I've got to buy for the lot of them, lazing about in bed after spending the night drinking up my best cider and smoking my pipeweed..." Bilbo paused, then his eyes sparkled merrily. "I think I'll let the lads cook for themselves, and that should teach them a lesson. Now, don't you go helping out."

Sam shook his head swiftly and coloured without saying aught-- what Frodo asked he'd do, and that was flat.

Bilbo almost seemed to hear what he didn't say; he looked sharp at Sam all of a sudden. "Go ahead and hoist the two old barrels out and take them for your Gaffer. There might be a mug or two left between them; you take any that's in there and drink it yourself for your trouble carrying the new up the Hill. It's a hot day."

"I can help you fetch and carry your purchases, too, Mr. Bilbo."

"No, no, I'll be fine." Mr. Bilbo smiled. "I'll find someone who isn't already busy for that." He reached into his pocket and drew out a leather pouch with a worn drawstring-- it wasn't fat, but it made Sam's pocket look like it had naught but moths inside.

"It's four silver pence for each--" Sam started and Mr. Bilbo flapped his hand crossly.

"There's no cider better than Gaffer Gamgee's, not anywhere in the Shire. That's half what you charge most folk, and you know it, Samwise Gamgee!" Mr. Bilbo shook his head, giving Sam a reproachful look.

Sam flushed, embarrassed like he'd been caught in a lie. It was the price his Gaffer had told him to charge Mr. Bilbo special if he came by, and Mr. Bilbo was right, but then most hobbits didn't give the Gaffer no spare barrels whenever they bought cider, neither. Mr. Bilbo always did, and it saved the Gaffer a fair bit of money.

Mr. Bilbo laid out two gold coins, round as Sam's own eyes and thicker than what you usually saw in the Shire. "That's for your Gaffer," Bilbo told him, and laid down two more. They were even bigger. "And that's for you, lad."

"Mr. Bilbo!" Sam hastily pushed them back towards him. "I can't take such a--"

"You've fetched and carried for me ever since you were old enough to trot up the Hill, and never asked for a thing." Mr. Bilbo scoffed and pushed them right back. "Now you're a grown lad, Samwise. " He studied Sam, eyes mischievous. "I'll wager you have a mind for courting these days." When Sam flushed deep red and looked at his toes, Mr. Bilbo laughed again. "Courting's hard without a bit of brass in your pocket, Sam lad. Take it."

"But Mr. Bilbo," Sam fretted as Mr. Bilbo's hands came down on his and picked it up. He got the coins, too, and pressed Sam's fingers closed around them. "My Gaffer--"

"Would do the same if he could, lad." Mr. Bilbo looked at him, warm and serious-like. "Now put that away right quick, and mind you have those barrels up to the smial by nightfall."

Mr. Bilbo let go Sam's hand and went on his way just like that, not looking back, whistling one of his walking songs. Sam felt the edges of the coins biting into his palm. One of them would buy that shirt, and the other... his old dad could use some of that liniment for his joints, and Marigold a new frock, and May....

Sam opened his hands-- and not four but five coins peeked out, glittering in the sun. He stared after Mr. Bilbo, tears stinging his eyes, and tucked them away in his pocket before anyone could see him standing there staring into his own hand with his lashes wet.

Daisy showed up not much later, a basket of warm bread on each elbow. He left her to mind the barrels so he could start delivering. After he'd fished his coins out of his pocket and tied them carefully in the tail of his shirt, he got to work.

Mr. Bilbo was right; it *was* a hot day, and he liked to make as few trips as he could, so he took the smaller casks two at a time, one on each shoulder, tramping about Hobbiton-- behind the Green Dragon, to Mayor Whitfoot's, to the Shirriff-house, and to wealthy houses all about. By the time he was near done, he regretted not going to Mr. Bilbo's first. He was all of a sweat, but he shouldered the two big barrels, straining a bit and ignoring Daisy when she clucked her tongue.

Sam toiled up the hill with the heavy cider, one barrel balanced on each shoulder. He regretted his decision to take both at once, but there was nothing for it but to keep on. He was right glad when he reached the smial and let himself inside, as bidden-- he could hear snoring from one of the guest rooms right through the open window. The lads were still abed then, not up and about.

It was cool inside Bag End, and he mopped his face with his sleeve, glad to be out of the sun. Finishing, he carried the barrels down the hall one by one, soft-footed as he might be. He wasn't concerned about waking Master Merry or Master Pippin, but he'd as soon not rouse Mr. Frodo, not and have Mr. Frodo see him in such a state.

Emerging from the cellar with the first of the empty barrels-- and it *was* empty, bone dry if he judged Mr. Pippin aright, though the second might have a nice swallow left inside-- he was caught. Sam gulped and drew himself up, hesitating by the cellar door.

Mr. Frodo stood in his own door, smiling. He had on a plain linen nightshirt that Sam knew was washed whisper-thin-- he helped Daisy and May on washdays, come winter. It hung most to Mr. Frodo's knees. It was soft, but not so soft as-- Sam flushed. The light was behind Frodo, and it glowed in the fabric around him, picking out his slender form with an enticing shadow. "Morning, Mr. Frodo." Sam kept his voice hushed. "Mr. Bilbo sent me up with cider for the cellar."

Frodo yawned and nodded, stretching one arm and covering his mouth with the other. Sam swallowed and ducked his head.

"Drink up what's left, if there is any," Frodo repeated Bilbo without knowing. "I hope he bought beer, as well."

"I judge he forgot," Sam ventured. Bilbo usually bought both beer and cider from the Gaffer, and his dad had put down some fine home-brewed ale this past season.

Mr. Frodo nodded, rolling his shoulder to ease it from a night's stiffness, no doubt. "Can you bring us a barrel of that, as well?"

"When I've finished this lot." Sam nodded. He would, and it would ease his mind not to ask for no pay for it, neither.

Mr. Frodo's hair was tousled and his face was red on one side, with a wrinkle from the pillow pressed into his cheek, but Sam still hadn't seen nothing lovelier. He hung back, not wanting Mr. Frodo to scent his sweat.

"You go ahead and finish. Don't mind me." Mr. Frodo gazed at him with a small smile curling his mouth, showing no sign of moving. Sam sighed; nothing else for it then. He passed Mr. Frodo as careful as he might with his awkward load, hearing his master fall in close behind him. Mr. Frodo's own fault then, if his nose were delicate about a bit of hard work.

It didn't seem that it was; Mr. Frodo followed Sam all the way out into the parlor. Sam shouldered through the door to leave the barrel at the gate. When he went back in, he found Mr. Frodo waiting for him with an empty mug. He took it, nodding his thanks, and headed off down the hall only to jump half out of his skin when Frodo struck each guest room door with his fist. "Up in there, slug-a-beds! It's past noon!" He had a shrill enough voice, when he had a mind. Sam laughed softly to himself-- that sharp voice wouldn't do no good for cider-head, and Mr. Frodo knew it.

He took a few minutes over the second barrel-- there was a mug and more still inside; for a wonder Master Pippin hadn't drunk it all. It was fine, aged just to prime, and he sighed over the last swallow, savoring its tart fullness on his tongue and the warm burn in his belly. That and a bath, and he'd feel a proper hobbit again.

He hauled the second barrel out, putting it by the first, and hesitated-- he still had Mr. Frodo's mug, but he hated to take himself into the kitchen like he was.

"Sam." Mr. Frodo pushed open the window and leaned out; he was still tousled and not dressed yet, for all that his cousins were up, raising a shout behind him, pots and pans clattering.

Sam padded over and gave him the mug, trying not to linger too close. "I'll be back up later with that beer," he told Mr. Frodo.

"Let yourself in when you come. Bilbo's gone for the day, and Merry and Pippin and I are riding over to Tunnelly this afternoon to visit a Longholes connexion of the Tooks. Pip says there should be a fine supper, and plenty of it."  He paused for a moment.  "Pippin will be going on to Tuckborough when we've finished instead of coming back.  Merry, are you going stay with Pip until the party, or will you lodge here?"

"There, if you're going to wake me up like this in the morning!"  Merry answered, impertinent as could be and sending Pippin into fits of laughter.

Sam nodded. "I'll let myself in then, sir, and lay the barrel right in the empty slot.  I'll warrant you'll have company and be needing it soon enough."

Mr. Frodo's lips opened, but his words were lost in a yelp as Pippin sneaked up behind and goosed him, and he spun away from the window. "Pippin Took, for shame!"

Gales of laughter greeted his indignant cry, and Sam was forgotten. He went and fetched up the two empty barrels and carried them down to his own yard. There was a plan forming heavy inside his head, just like Mr. Bilbo's gold weighing down the tail of his shirt.

Sam stopped to go inside his house and went into his room, where he tucked two of the coins away safe and secret. When he was satisfied, he took a big leather bag he could sling over his shoulder and went on out to finish his day's work. He paused at the well to dump a bucket or two over his head and wash off the worst of the sweat, then put his shirt back on and headed down the Hill to the market.

Daisy was there, looking a bit frazzled from the heat, but all of the baking was sold and there was only three more barrels to carry. Even better, all of them went on carts to be hauled away, and he didn't have to carry a one further than the edge of the marketplace. Sam marked one of his father's best beer barrels for the Bagginses and did the loading right quick while his hair and his shirt dried.

"Mr. Bilbo forgot to ask for beer," he told Daisy. "And there's somewhat else I'm to fetch for Mr. Frodo."

"Well, I'm done for the day," she sighed. "Go fetch whatever it is and come straight back so we can put this away."

Sam slipped away, uncomfortably aware of her eyes following him, and wandered sidelong around the market till he chanced on his cousin Rory Holman, just coming out of the Green Dragon.

"Rory, lad." Sam clapped him on the shoulder. "Do me a favor and turn Daisy's head for half a moment, would you?"

Rory snickered. "What mischief are you up to, Samwise Gamgee?"

"Never you mind that. Just be off and help me," Sam huffed, impatient-- he wasn't about to explain himself, not even to Rory.

"For a mug of ale at the Dragon, Sam!"

"Later," he agreed, and Rory took off-- he had a way with the lasses, Rory did, and his smile made them forget all their good sense; Samwise watched him fix one on his face for Daisy, and watched her start to simper back to it.

Trusting he was the last thing on her mind about now, Sam hurried, nipping into the tailor shop before he could so much as let himself think.

Belladonna Bracegirdle sat in her chair behind the far counter plying her needle; she was nearing ninety and already withered like a hundred. Sam figured it was her bad temper as had done it; he'd run afoul of her a time or two as a lad, playing in the street about her shop, and he hadn't been doing naught, but you'd have thought he'd set the place afire to hear her shriek.

She looked up and squinted; the frown lines on her forehead pinched deep. "What do you want?" She looked back down at her sewing without a hitch, not much interested in Sam, and he felt his back tense at the snub.

"I've come for that nightshirt in the window," Sam said right out, though he regretted having come in to start with. He should have waited a bit and talked to Marigold, perhaps told her part of his secret and got her to come in his stead.

"You haven't got the money." Her needle never paused. "Unless you stole it."

Sam's back snapped up straight. "I have, and I didn't. You can ask Mr. Bilbo Baggins where it come from, if you've a mind, for he put it in my hand himself!"

She looked up at that, eyes gleaming at him. "Show me."

Sam opened his hand, the bright gold gleaming inside it, warm from his clutch. She saw that right enough, and got up in a hurry, dropping her mending. "Is this a present for your sweetheart?" She sounded a little friendlier, and Sam bit his lip, not liking either her question or her false courtesy.

"It best be, for it won't fit *you,*" she warned, and went to lift it out of the window. "You're too broad through the shoulder, and I can't take out the seams enough to put you inside."

"You won't need to," Sam answered, a bit short. "It's fine as-is."

"Rose Cotton will like this," she gave him a sly wink.

"That she won't," Sam answered back. "It's not for her, begging your pardon." There-- he hadn't lied; let her think what she would! If he was lucky, she'd think Mr. Bilbo gave him money and sent him out on this errand to fetch it and carry it back up the Hill.

She eyed him for a long moment, folding the silk into a little square packet; it flowed like water in her hands. He had a sudden vision of her wandering about all over Hobbiton of a night, rapping on doors and windows to see if anyone answered wearing that shirt.

"Mind you, silk has to be laundered special. Not with aught else, and use mild soap, then press it with a flat iron before it gets too dry. Don't make the iron too hot, and don't use water with the iron, or the cloth will spot!" She bundled up the little packet, wrapping it in paper and tying it with a string. "Can you remember all that?"

"Yes, Mistress Bracegirdle." Sam accepted the packet and put it in his leather sack gingerly. She watched him, frowning, and frowned deeper when he waited, patient-like. Sam kept his face pleasant, but inside he seethed. No, he wasn't no fool that didn't know the value of a gold piece! He had a bit of silver coming, or he was a rabbit.

She finally stamped back to her mending desk and fetched it out for him, counting out of a wooden box. Seven silver pieces, maybe a quarter of the value of his gold. Sam accepted it and gave her a nod, trying not to show any strain in his politeness. "Thank you, ma'am."  He had no respect for her two-faced treatment; she wouldn't treat no Baggins that way, and that was a fact.  She'd be all over one of them, simpering fit to split off the top of her head, and she'd not offer them short change, neither.

Trying not to hold on to his resentment, Sam stepped outside and went over towards Daisy, where Rory was still flirting. His bag felt like that little parcel was burning a hole in it, but it hardly made a lump and perhaps nobody might think to ask.

He was lucky; Daisy was more than a little interested in the attention, hanging on to Rory when he would have slipped off. Sam reflected that he'd owe Rory more than one ale at the Dragon tonight, but it was worth it.

He stowed the casks and barrels in the store-room his father had arranged, shut it up tight, and faced the one beer barrel he'd kept out for Frodo. It was much larger than the cider barrels, and he'd need a barrow to trundle it up the hill, so he borrowed one from Farmer Cotton's Jolly and together they put it in.

"You need help settling that up on the Hill?"

Sam's heart thumped in his throat. He did, by rights, but if Jolly came along, all his plans would be spoiled.

"No, I'll manage." He thumped Jolly's shoulder. "And I'll bring this barrow straight back."

"Just bring it down tomorrow. That's plenty of time. We're closing up," Jolly thumped him back, and not easy, neither.

"All right," Sam agreed. "I'll see you tonight at the Dragon?"

Jolly waved and nodded, and Sam started up the Hill, puffing a bit at the steep part. He reached the gate at Bag End and left his barrow, walking up to tap at the door, then pull the bell. No answer; Mr. Bilbo wasn't back, nor Frodo neither.

Well, then. He could probably get the barrow up the path and in through the door, and if he wiped down the floor after he was done, nobody would be the wiser.

Sam followed his plan accordingly, struggling a bit with the stone path and the threshold, but once he was inside it went as easy as you please, and soon he was tipping the barrel into its place and turning it on its side till it lay ready for tapping. He pushed the barrow back outside right fast, not wanting to be caught having brought it in, and left it on the Road.

A quick trip to the first pantry yielded up a dust rag, and he polished the tile up as nice as you please, scuffing the rag along with his foot, till there wasn't no sign he'd been there. It gave him courage, though his heart was racing. He went to the kitchen pump and washed his hands as careful as he could, watching the Road all the while. Nobody happened past, least of all any Bagginses or their relations.

Now for it. Mr. Frodo's door wasn't shut quite tight, and Sam pushed it open without a whisper of sound. He knew the places of Mr. Frodo's things as well as he knew his own-- he'd helped his sisters with the laundry often enough, including deliveries. Frodo hung some of his things in his wardrobe on pegs, and kept others folded in a chest of drawers at the side of his bed. Sam thought it best to use the chest for this.

Trembling a little, he pulled the knot out of the string and tore the paper off the nightshirt, trying not to let it slip out of its neat folds as he did. It felt just as soft as he'd expected, and he had to stop himself from petting it so he could keep it folded. There, like that-- he lifted a few of Frodo's fine underthings and slipped it in the drawer, then covered it with them. It was done! Let him find it in a week and puzzle. He wouldn't never think of Sam Gamgee giving him such a thing as that; he'd figure it was Mr. Merry or Mr. Pippin, and that was all for the best. And maybe, just maybe, Sam would get to see him in it some morning just like he'd seen Frodo this very day, fresh out of bed and yawning.

Sam closed the chest again, stuffing the paper and string into his bag, and slipped out. He burned them in the fireplace in the main parlor, then set off down the Hill with Jolly's barrow, whistling.

*****

Sam stayed late at the Dragon and bought ales for Rory and Jolly both, so the next morning he had a bit of a head himself when he dragged out of bed at his father's call-- it was still a bit before first light, and the sky was barely grey on the horizon.

The weather was dry that day, and it stayed dry for near on a month, so he was kept busy carrying water to all the flowers and he didn't have no time to waste on wondering about whether Frodo found what he left or not except to dawdle a bit every laundry day. Just long enough to watch Marigold sort out the linens and be sure it weren't in with them, in case he needed to pass on Mistress Bracegirdle's instructions.

It was best to water before the sun got high or after it sank in the west so the water would soak in instead of drying up, so Sam went up to Bag End extra early and stayed extra late. He did his pruning in the middle of the day, turned the compost pile, and weeded around all the flowerbeds, so there was plenty to do and stay busy even on a long day.

He could smell smoke from the kitchen stovepipe as he gathered buckets and a yoke to start his trips to the well; Mr. Bilbo was up, seemingly. Mr. Frodo hardly ever rose before noon, especially when he was still recovering from a visit by his cousins. Sam kept extra quiet as he tiptoed past Mr. Frodo's window, ignoring the wistful prickle of his curiosity. The windlass needed oiling, and it rattled and squeaked a bit, but at least it was on the other side of the hole next to the kitchen.

He had one bucket filled when the kitchen window swung inward.

"Sam lad." Bilbo greeted him softly. "I thought I heard you moving about. Could you come in for a bit? I've need of a strong back."

"All right, Mr. Bilbo." Sam put down the empty bucket and went to the door; Mr. Bilbo swung it open and stepped back to let him in, pattering down the hall to the first pantry.

"That Sandyman piled our flour sacks on the top shelf when he delivered last, and if I go poking and prodding around in there, I'll bring the whole lot down on my head, like as not." He chuckled, a bit too loud for Sam's comfort, but there wasn't no stir from Frodo's room, and he made bold to push the pantry door to after he stepped in.

The sacks were well out of reach indeed, and Sam frowned, looking about. There was a crate of turnips and a few dozen taters in a sawed-off half-barrel. "I'll be needing a ladder," Sam explained, and started in moving the taters, stacking them up on the floor. "And a brace, begging your pardon."

"Of course," Mr. Bilbo murmured. "Such a clever lad."

Sam flushed and hastily finished emptying the half-barrel, then turned it up and braced the crate on top of it and climbed till he could reach the shelf. The sacks were whole bushel sacks, piled crossways to make them hard to handle-- he'd eat stones for breakfast if Ted hadn't done this a-purpose, and no doubt he'd had a shrewd guess or two as to who'd wind up mending it.

Mr. Bilbo's hands held Sam's waist, steadying him a bit as he tugged and grunted, trying to get one down without bringing the whole lot. "If it slides, you run," he warned Mr. Bilbo. Better a burst sack than Mr. Bilbo hurt.

Mr. Bilbo made a noncommittal mutter and stayed where he was; the sack started to slide just like Sam expected and he leaned hard against it, teetering. "Steady!" Mr. Bilbo gasped, and hung on.

Sam stifled a word he wasn't about to say in front of Mr. Bilbo Baggins and clung to the sack as hard as he could. The bag stopped, but not where he could get a proper grip on it, and his fingers were slipping. "I'm steady. Can you brace that sack for a moment, sir?" His voice betrayed his strain.

Mr. Bilbo got a shoulder under it-- a sturdy enough one, at that-- and Sam backed off enough to get a grip of his own and bring his own shoulder under it as he stepped off his rickety ladder. A job of work, and no disaster, though it had come near enough.

"Begging your pardon, Mr. Bilbo, but you ought to have that Ted come up here and fix this mess he's made." Sam wiped his face; he'd broke out in a cold sweat when that sack slipped.

"I'll do that." Mr. Bilbo clucked. "Now you come into the kitchen, Sam, and have a seat-- I'll make you tea and you can have a scone, when I've finished them."

Sam carried the sack out and filled Mr. Bilbo's flour canister, resisting the urge to sneeze at the white powder. He took it back in the pantry and propped it where a trail of white told him the empty one had been, then worked his aching shoulder-- an unbalanced load was a lot harder to carry than a balanced one. He set the crate back where it belonged and piled the taters in their half-barrel, then brushed flour off his shirt and headed into the kitchen, where Mr. Bilbo was already putting scones in the oven.

"I've put the kettle on, but it's not hot yet. Sit down, Sam lad." Mr. Bilbo puttered around, humming. Sam tried to get up when he saw what Bilbo was doing, but Mr. Bilbo flapped at him crossly and pushed him back down on the bench, then happily went about rummaging until he found plates and forks and the honey pot and two teacups, each with a mismatched saucer. "Spoon, spoon," he clucked to himself, rummaging in the silver. "Drat that Lobelia."

Eventually he located the butter dish and a knife and put them in front of Sam with the honey, but the spoons eluded him until he remembered to check the sideboard where he'd hidden them, which stilled Sam's fidgeting-- he'd known they were in there all along. By that time the scones smelled mouth-watering. Sam fidgeted, hoping he wouldn't have to say nothing-- and he didn't; Bilbo grabbed a cloth and popped open the oven and they came out, straight on to his plate and Sam's.

"Thank you, sir." Sam had already eaten cold bread and cheese for first breakfast, but this was much better. He tore open the piping-hot scone, trying not to burn his fingers, and spread butter on it, then poured honey and cleaned the edge of the jar with his spoon, proper-like.

"Tea's ready." Mr. Bilbo hastened over to the kettle, which was just on the boil, and swung the arm off the fire. "Will you have sugar and cream?"

"Yes please, sir." Sam squirmed a little, bouncing his too-hot scone from hand to hand and blowing on it to cool it.

Mr. Bilbo poured hot water into the tea-kettle and dangled his tea-ball inside. "Now what have I-- oh, yes. Frodo!"

Sam took a bite of his scone as Mr. Bilbo put the kettle down to steep and walked off to the second pantry for cream. "Frodo!" Mr. Bilbo rapped on Frodo's door. "I've made scones for breakfast. Look sharp if you want any!"

A sleepy grumble issued from the room, and Sam could hear it all the way in the kitchen. He smiled quietly to himself. Even scones wouldn't roust Mr. Frodo out when he slept in, like as not.

"Frodo!" Mr. Bilbo's voice sharpened with exasperation. "I don't know what I'll do with that boy." He appeared with a bottle of sweet cream. "Now where did I set the sugar bowl?"

This time Sam pointed; it was right in front of him on the table. Mr. Bilbo blinked at it, then smiled and sat down, spooning straight into his empty cup. "Don't let the tea steep, lad. It will be too strong."

Sam obliged him and lifted the teapot; he filled Mr. Bilbo's cup to the rim and then turned his attention to his own.

"There you are, Frodo." Mr. Bilbo announced, triumphant. "Find a plate and sit down."

Sam glanced up to Frodo, sympathetic smile ready on his face, then forgot it as he was abruptly minded of what he'd somehow managed to forget: that shirt.

The silk caught the light with a muted glow that complimented Mr. Frodo's skin and blushed it gold and rose. Soft ruffles framed Mr. Frodo's face and pulled Sam's eyes to his bare throat and chest, flushed pink from lying warm under blankets. Mr. Frodo stretched, yawning, and the silk slid over his skin; his hair caught the gilding of the firelight as he stepped forward. The nightshirt was a bit shorter than Sam had counted on, and Mr. Frodo's thighs were slim and pale.

"Sam!" Mr. Bilbo tsked and took the teapot from him; his cup was full and his saucer too, or thereabouts. "Stop your woolgathering, lad. Your scone will be cold."

Sam crimsoned to the ears and fixed his eyes on his plate, heart beating so loud he was sure everyone in the kitchen could hear it.

"The scones smell good." Frodo's voice was throaty with sleep, and the silk *rustled* as he moved, *rustled* and *whispered* and Sam could near feel the way it floated around Frodo just from the sound of it. He found a teacup and sat down next to Sam on the bench, reaching for the teapot. Sam tried to breathe; he'd been doing it all his life and yet it seemed he'd forgot how; he hadn't never realized before how difficult it were to keep air going in and out.

Frodo reached and poached half of Sam's scone off his plate; the gathered ruffles of his sleeve brushed Sam's wrist and he nearly choked. Frodo ate happily, licking butter and honey off his fingers, and Bilbo poured the tea without comment.

"I've been learning bad habits from Merry and Pippin," Frodo confided to Sam, reaching for a second scone and tearing it open. He used Sam's knife to butter it and added honey, then took a bite. "Pass me the sugar bowl?"

Sam pushed it up the table towards him, not trusting his clumsy fingers to pick it up-- nor his teacup, neither. He knew it would chatter against the saucer and spill.

He managed a scone rather better, gradually taming the slight tremor in his hands. They were good, light and hot and fine; Mr. Bilbo baked better than anyone. He stole a glance sideways at Frodo, hungry for a longer look at him, just as Frodo leaned forward to reach for more honey.

Sam dropped his spoon as the silk fell forward and Frodo's narrow chest peeked out from behind it, his nipple was shaded dark rose, pebbled taut in the cool morning air. Sam snatched the spoon, stammering an apology, and stared grimly at his plate as though his life depended on it. A scone lay there, ready to eat, and he made himself pick it up and take a bite-- when it was done, he could make an excuse and flee.

"You haven't touched your tea, Sam," Bilbo chided; it seemed he had something in his throat, and he coughed for a moment, politely covering his mouth with his napkin. "It's cold. Let me pour you another cup." He got up and found another cup and saucer and whisked the spill away; Frodo was drinking his own tea, sighing with pleasure, the cream jug next to his plate.

Bilbo poured him a fresh cup of tea and Sam somehow managed to spoon sugar and pour cream without embarrassing himself further; he wrapped his hands around the cup and sipped, staring into it as though he could read his future in the few stray leaves that had escaped to swim in the muddy dregs. He was flushed with warmth, and not just from the hot scone and tea; his whole body sang with fire.

"Begging your pardon, sirs, but if I'm not out there watering that garden by sun-up, my Gaffer will box my ears," Sam managed faintly, and set his knife and fork on his plate, and his teacup in its saucer.

"But you haven't tried the blueberry jam," Frodo protested, and held out the last bite of his third scone. "It's just as good as the honey."

Sam stared helplessly at Frodo's hand where it hovered waiting only an inch from his lips, and opened his mouth. Frodo put the bite of scone on his tongue, and Sam closed his mouth carefully and chewed-- half fancying he could taste the memory of Frodo's fingers, sweeter than the jam and softer than the silk.

"Bilbo, are you all right?" Bilbo was choking again, and Frodo's voice rose with alarm.

"Quite all right, my boy. Just a sip of tea down the wrong pipe." Bilbo sounded half-strangled. "Finish your breakfast, and let Sam get about his watering."

Sam stood up and touched his cap to the both of them, then scampered out as fast as dignity permitted, only starting to relax when he had his back up against the round green door and his front towards Hobbiton. That had been rather more successful *and* more flustering than he'd ever imagined it could be. His hand *hurt* from wanting to slip into the shadows between Frodo's slim thighs and stroke upwards along them until--

He took a deep, shuddering breath. Time for those thoughts would come later-- much later. Giving the sky an anxious glance, he trotted around to the well to find his abandoned work-- only to halt as Bilbo's voice floated out the kitchen window, which he'd forgotten to close after he asked Sam inside, seemingly.

"For shame, my boy. Sam was all a-fluster."

Sam's ears pricked up at the mention of his own name, and he stood still and silent, unable to tear himself away.

"Why Uncle!" Frodo laughed, sounding startled. "Whatever did I do?"

"Teasing Sam by coming out to breakfast in that flimsy scrap of a shirt you have on? Goodness, it's a wonder the lad didn't spill the whole kettle rather than overrun his cup." Bilbo sounded fond even as he chided Frodo, his voice gentle.

"But... I like wearing it." Frodo's voice sounded thoughtful and a little strange, a little wistful, perhaps. Sam's heart fluttered with joy and fierce pride, and with more than a little longing.

"Well, that's as may be. But Sam's not used to our careless ways, and he's not a little lad any more. You should make it up to him, Frodo. Apologize, or perhaps--" Bilbo's voice faded with the thump and click of the window pushing back into its frame.

Sam sighed and squared his shoulders, pausing long enough to recite a poem of six long stanzas before he stepped around the side of the Hill and returned to the well. He wouldn't never see that nightshirt again, not after that speech of Mr. Bilbo's, nor any other one of Frodo's, neither. Regret mixed with relief; he ignored both and stolidly wound the windlass, fetching up a second bucket of water and pouring it into one of the larger ones that hung from his yoke.

Apologize? Sam winced. If Mr. Frodo tried that, they'd both be all a-stammer, and Sam sincerely hoped he wouldn't, considering this whole affair was his fault and all. He might have to come out with his secret, and that wouldn't do. He'd just make himself scarce, that was what, as soon as might be.

He finally got the yoke buckets full, and he set them on the lip of the well, the better to hoist it all onto his shoulders. However, the creak of the main door warned him he'd best not pick it up just yet. Frodo's head poked out, and then the rest of him-- he'd put on breeches and a shirt, and his fingers still worked to straighten his cuff.

"Sam." Frodo looked distressed, and Sam could have kicked himself for ever bringing such a look to his master's face. "I didn't mean to be impolite this morning."

"No more you did," Sam answered him stoutly. "Begging your pardon, but I overheard Mr. Bilbo through the window and all, as I come to the well. You wear such as you like, and never mind me." Oh, but his tongue had run away with him, and there was naught to do but follow it. "You looked a vision in that pretty shirt, Mr. Frodo," he plowed onwards doggedly, and then invention failed him in his embarrassment.

A blush crept over Frodo's cheeks like a maid's, and his lips parted on a smile. He ducked his gaze from Sam's, tugging at his cuff.

"Begging your pardon, but those as has nice things should enjoy them," Sam stammered, trying not to sound a flirt, and that didn't come out right neither; Frodo looked up at him with something startled in his eyes. "Not that I'm meaning--" Sam bit his tongue before he could dig himself a deeper hole to climb out of. Frodo waited, though, and Sam writhed for a moment in misery. "Not that I'm meaning no disrespect," he finished, lame as the last pony in a race, and studied his toes, hoping Frodo would go and let him be.

"Sam...." Frodo hesitated likewise, seeming just as much at a loss for words, and when they came, they nearly bowled Sam right over. "I'm going to be attending the party in Tuckborough tomorrow night. Pippin said I could bring someone, if I liked. Will you come?"

"I... I don't know if my Gaffer can spare me." Sam bit his lip in a panic; what did Frodo think he was about? "Do you need me to carry a bag for you?"

"No," Frodo's eyes flashed with distress as he looked away from Sam's face. "We'll ride. I just wanted your company." A wren called, and then another, greeting the coming Sun. Then half the Shire erupted into song, it seemed like, clear calls flowing liquid over the Hill from the branches of the tree above the smial.

Oh, but Sam was sure the Gaffer couldn't spare him for *that.* "I'll come," he whispered, and Frodo's smile broke like the dawn, flooding Sam with golden light. He ducked back through the door quick as lightning, leaving Sam with dew on his toes and breath short in his chest and all the flowers still unwatered, with his Gaffer heading up the hill, his stick thumping on the road.

"Samwise, what are 'ee about?" The Gaffer let himself in the gate and Sam faced up to him with his heart in his mouth. "There's a spell of rain coming, my old bones can feel it. Set that away for now and come help me gather in the garden. You can finish that later; I don't want to be trampling down mud in between the rows."

"Right away," Sam couldn't believe his good fortune. "Mr. Frodo's asked me if I'd come off to Tuckborough with him for Mr. Pippin's party tomorrow, and I'm thinking he'll need someone to carry his things about and fetch for him." Not quite, not *quite* a lie, but not a very compelling reason, either.

The Gaffer frowned. "Well, Sam, it might look set to rain, but there's no telling if it will. And there's the plow as needs mending, and..." His eyes flicked over Sam's shoulder to Bag End and held for a minute as he thought. "...And I can fix that myself, I'll warrant. You can go, but come straight back, and stay out of trouble while you're there. Those folk up at Tuckborough can be queer at times, so you mind your manners."

"Yes, sir." Sam struggled to hide the way his heart soared, barely leaving his toes touching the ground. Glancing back over his shoulder towards Bag End, he saw a curtain twitch once and fall to hang still, but he didn't pay it no mind.

He didn't get much sleep that night, what with Frodo wandering through his dreams in naught but that silk nightshirt. That, mixed with the excitement of anticipating the party at Tuckborough, saw him awake well before dawn on the day of the party, rooting through the closet nook he shared with Marigold and muttering over the state of his shirts, none of which suited him, not for a party Mr. Frodo had invited him to special-like, just for company.

A rattle of wheels sounded outside his window and he wondered vaguely who might be off up the Road at this hour; the sky was all cloudy, but it was still black like velvet all the way to the eastern horizon.

Sam frowned, pulling on his best breeches, them as he'd wear to a party around Hobbiton, though he'd allow they weren't fine enough for the Thain at Tuckborough. There was a tap at the door, and Sam frowned, picking out a shirt. It was good linen, as white as he had, and it would have to do.

"Samwise!" His Gaffer sounded fair flustered, not seeming to care if he woke the lasses. "You get out of bed double-quick, lad!"

"I'm up," Sam went out into the parlor, still buttoning up his shirt, and blinked. Frodo stood there, a smile curling his lips. He was dressed to travel, much plainer than Sam, in a simple rough shirt, old breeches, and a shapeless brown coat.

"Are you ready, Sam?"

"Near enough, Mr. Frodo." Sam snatched on his coat and lifted his leather bag, bulging ready with clothes and things such as he thought he might need-- his pipe and a bit of pipeweed, mainly.

"Your carriage awaits." Frodo pulled open the door and made a leg; Sam's Gaffer sputtered and went so red in the face that for a moment Sam thought he might explode.

"Now, Samwise, don't you be getting into no mischief!" The Gaffer managed to wheeze, probably the only thing he could think of to say that would chide Sam without giving offense to Mr. Frodo for his odd doings.

"Yes, sir," Sam managed, but there was a light in Frodo's eyes as said that wasn't to be no easy job.

He was right. Sam stopped dead in the yard, staring at the carriage that waited in the Road. It was a tiny four-wheeled runabout with a raised top and a single pony to draw it, and only two seats, right close together under the top-- the prettiest carriage Hob Brockhouse's stables had, one that he rented out to courting couples more often than not. Worse, the minute the door shut behind them Frodo sneaked right up beside him and got an arm under the strap of his bag, and he took off with it, tucking it up tight in back of the runabout before Sam could say a word!

"Mr. Frodo!" Sam bleated in dismay, and never mind the mist of rain.

Frodo laughed at him. "None of that now. Go ahead, climb in, and I'll explain." He waited by the step just like a footman, and held out his hand-- held out his hand to Sam Gamgee now, just as polite as you please, and Sam gasped, glancing back at the window in a panic to see if the Gaffer was looking. Marigold was, her eyes round, and Sam flushed. Best to get out of here fast, so whatever Frodo was up to wouldn't have no more witnesses.

He took Frodo's hand and let it steady him up, then settled himself as Frodo scrambled up and took the reins. Sam hadn't even known he could drive a trap, but he snapped the reins briskly and they set off down the Hill towards Hobbiton.

"Mr. Frodo," Sam started helplessly, then didn't know what to say.

"Not Mr. Frodo today, Master Sam."

Sam thought his eyes would pop, and he stared so hard that Frodo laughed out loud. "I won't keep you in the dark any longer. The party we're going to is traditional in Tuckborough. One day every year, the Tooks throw a party to thank all those who work for them-- all the good workers are invited, and the Tooks are the servants for a day." Frodo inclined his head and touched his cap. "And you're invited, Master Sam."

"Oh, but Mr. Frodo, I can't--"

"That's just plain Frodo, begging your pardon sir," Frodo corrected him kindly, and it wasn't a bad imitation of Sam's own way of talking, neither.

Sam bit his lip; there wasn't no way he could talk to Mr. Frodo so familiar. Stars, but his Gaffer was right about Tooks!

The rain picked up, drumming on the top of the trap, and Sam had to settle back in his seat, or he'd get wet. Frodo's thigh was warm against his, and there wasn't no room to scoot further to one side so as to give him space. Sam thought of Frodo's bare thighs flashing pale under his nightshirt, and of the hours he'd spent dreaming about touching them. He cleared his throat, nervous, and looked straight ahead at the pale streak of the Road winding down in front of them.

By the time the Sun rose, they were heading west to Waymeet and had passed out of the parts of the Shire where Sam was generally known, and that was a mercy. He wasn't comfortable being seen riding at ease while Mr. Frodo drove, Took party or no.

Now that the country was rousing up, Frodo started to sing, and Sam was grateful for something to do, so he joined in on those as he knew. The pony picked up their mood and clipped along lively in spite of the mud, and they made it to the inn at Waymeet in plenty of time for noonmeal.

Frodo hopped out first and gave Sam his hand, and he deferred to Sam at table, eyes sparkling every time Sam squirmed, and his smile breaking out when Sam gave in and took charge-- talking to the serving maid, ordering stew and ale, all of which had to be done. There wasn't naught for it but for Sam to speak up, since Frodo showed every sign of sitting quiet till the serving maid flounced off and left them without a bite or sup. At least he had the coin to pay, and he squirmed a little, feeling Frodo's eyes resting on his purse with interest. Frodo's own hand slipped out of his weskit and returned to the table empty.

Sam felt himself flush again, but this time with pride, and he held his shoulders high and square as they went out. He'd taken Frodo's hand before he thought, and they were off under a clearing sky.

Sam watched the countryside with interest as they headed southward; he was starting to relax and enjoy the press of Frodo's leg against his. This party was foolishness, as he reckoned it, but clearly the foolishness pleased Mr. Frodo, so Sam would play along to humour him.

Their arrival at the Great Smials in Tuckborough was greeted by a shout from Pippin; he took the pony's head as Frodo climbed out and handed Sam down.

"You came!" Pippin seemed beside himself with joy, and went so far as to hug Frodo before making a leg to Sam. Sam flushed; he never did no such thing for Mr. Pippin, but maybe he ought. "And you brought him!" Pippin's eyes danced, and Frodo hushed him, darting a strangely shy look towards Sam. He lifted Sam's bag and one of his own, fair making Sam's hands itch to help him, and shot a warning headshake at Sam when he swayed forward without meaning to.

"I've got it, Master Sam."

Pippin tittered a bit at the look on Sam's face. "I'll take your carriage then, Frodo, and stable the pony. You should find all that you need up in the Smial; Merry and I saw to it just as you--"

Frodo shushed Pippin again, fiercely this time, and Pippin just laughed, pulling on the pony's halter. "Come on, there. I'll see you later, Frodo! Master Samwise, sir!"

"I won't never get used to that," Sam muttered. 'Master' wasn't quite the proper gentleman's title, being more of a way you'd address someone who was younger than you but had more standing-- or someone who'd given sauce and needed a wry reminder of his proper place. In either case, it was more than enough to fluster Sam, especially when both Mr. Frodo and the Thain's own heir had a 'sir' on their tongues for him!

"You don't have to get used to it," Frodo murmured at his ear. "Just enjoy it."

Sam didn't know the matron who opened in answer to his timid rap at the door, but she looked imposing, a tumble of white curls escaping the bun atop her head. Her face didn't look the sort that was easily given to humor. He hesitated, and Frodo kicked at his heel.

"Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, by invitation of Mr.--" Frodo's toe tapped at his heel again, and he swallowed, changing his words. "--Of Master Peregrin Took," Sam stammered, and she nodded sharply.

"Come right in, sir." Sam swallowed hard and glanced back at Frodo, not quite knowing if he should tremble or no. Frodo smiled and stepped in right at his shoulder, then took his coat in a twinkling and folded it over his arm-- another thing Samwise hadn't never thought to do that maybe he should have, by rights. He squirmed.

"You're here for the party, that's clear enough." Her eyes moved past his shoulder to Frodo, and she shook her head. "Master Gamgee, that servant of yours is a scamp, and you should give him a proper tongue-lashing if he doesn't mind his manners."

Sam rubbed the back of his neck, he was that nervous, and tried to meet her eyes. "He gives perfect satisfaction," he managed at length, surprised when she very nearly cracked a smile in response.

"See that he does. You've a room down the hall, and Pervinca will be showing you to it. Vinca, Master Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins." She shut the door behind them and went to sit, waiting for the next knock.

The young lass curtsied deep to Sam and trotted off down the hall; he followed, sparing Frodo a wary look, but Frodo was bearing up right well under both their bags.

There were other hobbits in the hall, most of them looking less ill-at-ease than Sam felt, but all just as well-dressed as he, or more. He couldn't pick out which ones were the real servants nohow, unless they spoke up, and then he could tell, all right, for they sounded like him. At least in most cases.

He was glad when they reached the door of the room he'd been granted.

"My master will be having a bath to wash off the dust of the road. Have it drawn for him, if you please, Pervinca." Frodo's tone was nothing short of a command, and Pervinca's eyes glittered at him, but she gave a curt nod. Sam was so relieved he sagged when the door swung shut on her stiff-kneed curtsey.

"Who were they?!"

"The wife of the Thain, Master Sam, and her youngest daughter." Frodo's eyes danced.

Sam groaned and flopped down on the bed, covering his eyes. "This party's going to be the death of me. My Gaffer would skin my hide if he thought the Thain's own wife met me at the door like I thought I was quality!"

"A hobbit's quality has little enough to do with his family tree," Frodo said, and stowed Sam's bag in the cherry wardrobe that dominated the far corner of the room. He unpacked Sam's bits of things and laid them out proper, hanging his shirt and breeches on a peg.

There were already clothes hanging inside one half of the wardrobe, and Frodo made a little murmur of pleasure. He took out a deep red jacket in a rich red brocade, and another in fine green velvet. "This one, I think," he held up the green. "And the weskit to match, sir? And a white shirt." He didn't pause for approval, laying out the fine clothes next to Sam on the bed. Sam blinked at him warily. Had he thought he'd be dressing *Frodo* like one of Marigold's dolls?

"And these," a pair of braces flew to land next to Sam on the bed. "And this." A flutter of unidentifiable green cloth. "And these, of course!"

Sam's eyes went wide; those were silk underbreeches that Frodo was holding in his hand.

"Mr.--"

"Sir." Frodo's warning sounded more merry than stern as he interrupted. "It's my job to help you dress for dinner." The silk breeches flew and landed next to Sam, and he stared at them, all of a dither.

A tap came at the door, and Frodo nodded approval. "Just in the nick of time." He opened it, and three hobbits about Sam's age, all without a trace of callus on their hands, carried in a copper tub, buckets, and hot kettles each with cloth wrapped around its handle. They set it all down, puffing. Mr. Merry was among them, and he tipped Sam a sly wink that made Sam colour in spite of himself.

"Is everything to your liking, sir?" Merry inquired of Sam, and he nodded, all of a fluster.

"It's perfect, Merry," Frodo winked at Merry, secret-like, only Sam caught it in the mirror. "Just as specified."

"We aim to please. This much again, lads, then we'll leave them to it," Merry directed, and they filed out, only to return in a twinkling with more hot water. Frodo was already pouring the bath, the steam pinkening his cheeks, and Sam watched him warily, not sure what that wink meant or how far the playacting might go.

Sure enough, when they filed out, Frodo marched over and put himself behind Sam. "Hurry while it's hot, sir." He reached up, hesitating a bit himself in spite of his advice to hurry, and then slid Sam's braces over his shoulders.

Sam shivered, unable to help himself; Frodo's breath had ruffled his hair and touched his ear. He bit his lip as Frodo stepped in front of him and began working his buttons, bold as you could ask. "Please, sir--"

"Frodo," came the inevitable reminder. Fingers flickered as quick as dragonfly wings, opening his shirt and tugging it out of his breeches, pushing it back and down over his shoulders. Sam could see the pulse beating in Frodo's throat; it was rapid, and his eyes locked to it, half-dazed by its quick flutter.

"Frodo," he repeated more firmly, and pushed Frodo's hands away gently when they returned, his stomach doing a delirious flip-flop inside him. "I'll be doing that myself."

Frodo's lips curved with amusement and he turned away. "Yes, sir." He went to fetch linens from the closet, bath sheets and soap and a cloth for washing. Sam settled into the tub rather quicker than was prudent, not quite avoiding Frodo's quick glance nonetheless, for he gasped at a critical moment when the hot water touched delicate parts as weren't accustomed to such.

Frodo looked like a cat licking cream off its whiskers as he advanced on Sam with soap in one hand and a cloth in the other. Sam dared to raise one hand from its position covering his lap to snatch them and started to scrub himself, relieved that Frodo wasn't insisting on doing that, at least. Instead Frodo busied himself at the bed, fussing with the clothes he'd chosen while Sam soaped and rinsed his hair, using a dipper and a bucket Mr. Merry had thoughtfully left ready by the tub.

"You shouldn't ought to do so much for me, when I don't do such for you. It's not proper-like." Sam shifted, sinking deeper into the tub-- the hot water was glorious, soaking tension from his bones whether he was willing or no.

"Well, you're a gardener, not a valet. I could hardly serve you by weeding Esmerelda's posy-patch."

Sam laughed out loud. "Now you're no proper servant at all. That's cheek, that is."

"Will you give me the rough side of your tongue?" There was a dare in Frodo's eyes that made Sam back down, blushing and staring at his knees poking out of the water.

Frodo walked over and knelt down behind the tub with a nail-brush in his hand, reaching for each of Sam's hands in turn and cleaning them with utmost attention. When he finished, he picked the washing cloth out of Sam's hand. "A good servant offers his master a bit of sauce every now and then, just to keep matters interesting," he finally spoke again, thoughtful-like. He slid the cloth over Sam's shoulders, right where he couldn't reach on his own. "But he makes himself so useful his master forgives him, every time."

"When have I ever offered you cheek, nor sauce neither?" Sam blurted, then caught his tongue between his teeth. Frodo's *hand,* wet and soft and slick with soap, rubbing his *skin--!*

"Listening at the window?" Frodo chuckled and pushed Sam forward, wetting the cloth and rinsing away the soap. "Making free to come in to my room and leave me presents?"

Sam flinched so hard water splashed on the floor. "Mr. Frodo, I--!"

"Stand up, Sam." Frodo's voice caressed and soothed him. He stood with a towel ready, and Sam stood with shaky knees. Frodo wrapped him in it, not bothering to direct his eyes away; he wore the strangest half-smile.

He pointed Sam to the dressing table and toweled his hair, then brushed it, then toweled the curl back in gently. He took his time about it, his eyes never rising from the job to meet Sam's look in the mirror.

"You've fine hair, sir, with the Sun caught in it to shine all night after she's gone," Frodo murmured, his lips barely moving. "The lasses will be all over you at the dance."

Sam squirmed, self-conscious; lasses made him near as nervous as Frodo was doing. Gifts? Maybe Frodo meant the flowers Sam often cut and brought in to the smial; he put those all over Bag End, but he made a particular point to bring a vase into Frodo's room every time. Maybe that was all. Maybe--

"Let me show you how silk feels next to your skin," Frodo murmured, and that wasn't a proper thing for a servant to say, not at all. There couldn't be no ducking that.

Sam stood up at the press of Frodo's hand and let himself be led to the bed, shivering as Frodo unwrapped the towel and handed him the underbreeches, standing back to watch as Sam stepped into them. He didn't hesitate, wanting to be covered; Frodo's eyes were hot on him and that made his cheeks burn, and it made other things start to happen, too.

Sam shivered at the touch of the silk on his skin, light as air as it settled on his hips and against his-- he bit his lip; it *caressed,* making his problem worse instead of hiding it. Frodo mercifully handed him his breeches, and those felt a bit better after he had them fastened. They were as fine as anything Mr. Bilbo had ever worn in his sight, heavy and smooth and lush to the touch. They fit him like they'd been made to his measure.

The shirt came next, woven whisper-thin, cool and airy. Frodo helped him into it, mercifully quiet as he guided the sleeves to Sam's hands and lifted it over his shoulders. Buttons next, a tease of hands gliding down Sam's front. Sam stuffed the shirt-tail into his breeches himself as Frodo untangled the braces, but Frodo buttoned them to his trousers, fingertips dipping slightly inside the waistband, making Sam's breath catch.

The odd-shaped scrap of green silk came next, and Sam eyed it with open doubt. Frodo laughed, soft breath against Sam's cheek as he leaned forward to pass it behind Sam's neck. His eyes fell, intent on the fabric as his fingers moved, and Sam could smell the sweetness of his hair. His hands clenched to fists and he hardly breathed as Frodo finished and lifted his head, just a breath from Sam's mouth, and hesitated there, waiting.

"Proper servants don't kiss their masters," Sam breathed, his voice half-choked with yearning, and he didn't know which of them he meant by either.

"Don't they?" Frodo licked his lips, drifting closer.

"No, they--"

Frodo's mouth. Sweet and wet and warm, covering his, tongue brushing Sam's lips.

Sam moaned desperately against Frodo's mouth and gathered Frodo in, palms behind his neck and on the small of his back, crushing them together. He drank deep, his tongue pushing Frodo's mouth open, and he felt plaster against the back of his hands-- the wall, he was pressing Frodo against it, and Frodo was whimpering, clinging to Sam and kissing him back with all that he had, straining against him even as Sam pressed forward.

Dizzily Sam drew back to breathe, his head swimming; Frodo was panting, his breath sweet and hot against Sam's mouth, their lips still touching. "--definitely don't never do nothing like that," Sam continued shakily, the very words a kiss as they brushed Frodo's swollen lips. "Nor this, neither."

He dove in again-- more, the curve of Frodo's head warm in his hand, his curls tickling between Sam's fingers, and his tongue dancing inside Sam's mouth like a flame.


Flash-fire, quick as a lightning-strike, roared through them both. Sam had both hands on Frodo's head now, tilting it to press the kiss deeper, Frodo's cry muffled in his mouth. Then he slid his hands down, Frodo's shoulders and his narrow waist under his palms, and Frodo moaned, curling one leg around Sam's, his teeth closing on Sam's lip.

Frodo gasped as Sam's mouth drifted along his jaw, taking little nips of skin on his way till he reached Frodo's ear. Frodo wound both arms around Sam's neck and hung on, breath coming in heaving gasps like sobs as Sam fastened his mouth to Frodo's throat, teeth and tongue busy against it; after a moment the sounds penetrated Sam's brain and he tore himself away, looking at Frodo with alarm.

Frodo's eyes were wild, his curls tousled-- he looked ravished, his mouth swollen rosy-pink and his eyes dark and gleaming. There was a patch of dark pink on his neck, and his cheeks wore a delicate blush of color-- all from Sam's mouth. He licked his lips once, twice, and his arms loosened around Sam's neck, and slid down his back. "They don't?" He tried to sound calm and failed. "It seems a pity."

"We don't," Sam heard pain throttled up tight inside his voice. "And it is a pity, begging your pardon." He made himself loose his arms, being sure that Frodo was properly on his feet before he let go.

Frodo looked at him soberly and didn't speak.

"I'm not myself like this," Sam mumbled, burning with shame, brushing at his coat to settle it. "And you're mussed." He pulled himself together and took a deep breath. "You won't be wanting to go out that way." He straightened his coat-- it was a foolish thing: heavy and stifling. He could feel a dew of sweat on his brow and between his shoulders already. His mouth felt clumsy and hot. His heart thumped like it was trying to burst right out of its place, and his whole body quivered.

"This discussion isn't ended, Master Samwise." Frodo went to the dressing table and picked up the silver brush that lay there, whipping it through his curls so fast they crackled. Sam winced; it had to hurt. "But it will wait until after you've dined and danced, for while I may not make a 'proper servant,' I do make a good one."

Sam swallowed hard, all of a dither-- he'd let the cat out of the bag now, and Frodo didn't sound like there'd be any putting it back in.

"Don't fret," Frodo said softly. "There's the dinner gong. You go ahead, and I'll follow."

He was as good as his word, trailing Sam at a proper two steps' distance, milling about and helping him find his place in line, and then waiting behind him at the board-- along with an astonishing array of Tooks, many more than were needed, including the Thain himself. He stood looking kindly down at a fancy-clad old hobbit with more earth under his nails than even Sam's Gaffer.

Sam hardly tasted the fine fare he put in his mouth, though there were as many courses as he might have wished-- better than food or wine was the lingering savor of Frodo's mouth on his. Frodo remained a silent presence behind him, pouring wine or serving him clear soup, game hens, and roasted beef. Sam ate a little of everything, not wanting it, but Frodo's hands had given it to him, and he couldn't have rejected such as that.

He watched the other hobbits at the table, starting to understand that there was a ranking among the guests-- the Thain's favored plowman had standing beyond any other, and as far as he could tell the others sorted themselves out by the ranks of their masters too, meaning that he stood high enough among them to hold his head up. He sat near the Thain on the right-hand side, with only Pippin and Merry waiting on the two aged servants between them-- an honor that made his cheeks heat and his fingers stiffen clumsily.

The gentry for the day held themselves as polite as they knew how, eating and drinking with their best imitation of fine manners, talking pleasantly; Sam saw some few of the lads tugging at their collars, and the lasses looked uncomfortable, bundled into dresses with high bustles and low necklines. It made him feel a bit better at first to know he wasn't the only one who didn't wear it well, but when three lasses had met his gaze and let their lips part, fluttering fans or letting their fingers rise to play in their curls, he understood what his looks were doing and quickly snapped his head away, vowing to keep them to himself.

Frodo laughed very softly behind him and leaned down to fill his glass. "You're the highest-ranked bachelor at the table, Samwise," he murmured, and stood back again.

He was right, at that-- the plowman had to be married, and the other servants on Sam's left were much older than he, and at least one had a silver band visible about his finger. Sam blinked at his plate and looked sideways down the table, cautious-like. Far too many girls' eyes looked back, and he nearly choked on a sip of wine. Was this why Frodo never lacked for partners at a dance? It was, seemingly. Sam felt a cold sweat gather under his collar like the table was full of wolves and he was a fat sheep for the slaughter.

Merry snickered and Sam watched Frodo elbow him out of the corner of his eye. Frodo passed a dessert plate forward-- yellow sponge-cake with cream whipped thick and piled on top, and sugared berries drizzled over all. Sam winced even as his mouth watered; that meant it was almost time for the dancing.

He drew out the dessert as long as he could, but at last Eglantine sailed up, her skirts billowing, and bowed to the group. "The field is ready and the lanterns are lit, sirs and ladies. Will it please you to go out?"

They got up in a scraping of chairs and a rustle of skirts, the men reaching for their pipes and tobacco; Sam patted his own weskit out of habit and found his pouch nestled there waiting. His eyes flew to Frodo, who gave him a crooked little smile and bowed him out.

Sam occupied himself with his pipe as they went out, and he tucked himself away by the side of the dancing field where the sweet smoke was already starting to rise thickest, hoping to hide out for a bit, but he'd hardly filled his lungs when a bright-eyed lass darted through the throng and caught his hand. "Won't you dance?" She was the one as had fluttered her fan at him, and he had no idea who her mistress was, but she'd sat straight across from Sam at table, so it had to be somebody important.

"I'll hold your pipe." Frodo was right at his side, already reaching, and Sam could hear his delighted laughter as the lass spun Sam out and the fiddles struck up a lively air-- and there was Mr. Pippin, playing with the musicians, no less! He caught a glimpse of Frodo lifting his shoulders in a shrug and putting the pipe to his own lips-- a fine cheeky servant indeed.

It was the last he saw of Frodo for some time; the lasses kept him spinning through the dance, all of them bright-eyed and face-flushed, each with more of her skin on display than the three of Sam's sisters ever managed all at once.

Finally he spun himself out, gasping for breath and footsore-- not all of the lasses knew how to do such fancy dancing, and one in particular had preferred his feet to the grass. Just that quick Frodo was there with a glass of wine punch in his hand. "Here you are."

Sam gulped thirstily. "Thank you, s--" Frodo's eyes went wide and Sam stopped himself. "Frodo," he amended, and Frodo smiled. His lips weren't kiss-stung no more, but his eyes were bright.

"How do you like this, Master Sam?" Frodo took back the empty glass and watched him intently, a flicker of his last smile playing about his mouth-- there was no malice in his look, just curiosity. "Is it everything you thought it would be?"

The band struck up again before Sam could answer, and Frodo melted away. Then the wolves descended on him, and he didn't have no more time to think on his answer.

The moon was sinking over the hills and the dew made the grass slick before the party quieted down, true gentry and false alike snoring over their cups or hobbling off the dance field to sit down. A few stubborn ones remained-- most of Sam's lasses, their feet seeming untouched by weariness, though their hair was starting to frazzle in the damp, and a few new-married pairs.

At least the music was slower; Sam's feet were starting to drag and his courtesy to wear thin; he needed another drink and a pipe and a nice sturdy chair.

"Your pardon, Master Sam." Frodo was at his elbow again, and Sam pulled back from his lass, the one with the fan. Peony, her name was, and she was Eglantine's favorite maid, as she'd taken no end of pride in telling him every time he'd listen. He bowed to her and turned his back on her firmly. Frodo had another glass and Sam took it, gulping half in haste, then making himself sip the rest-- it was a strong vintage and he was that tired; his head was unsteady enough.

Frodo looked him over while he drank, eyes shrewd. "You might walk out and sit a while in the grass under the stars, but you'd not get up again and come in," he judged. "So we'll go in."

"Are all servants really in charge of their masters?" Sam frowned at the wine; maybe he'd drunk more than he ought, at that.

Frodo gave a peal of delighted laughter. "You tell me, sir." He led Sam away, pausing just long enough for Sam to leave his glass on a table, its cloth wine-stained and askew, with glasses scattered about its top and more on the ground.

They slipped into the Great Smial; most of the halls and rooms were quiet, with light flickering under only a few doors. Frodo knew his way, leading them back to Sam's room without error. He pushed the door open, then lit a taper at a spill from the fire and set it to the lamp.

Sam sat down on the bed, yawning, then blinked shyly; there wasn't but one bed, and the party was over. It was Frodo's, by rights. He stood, uncertain. His collar was stiff and it galled him, and he'd sweated through his shirt under the heavy velvet.

"It lasts till tomorrow," Frodo whispered, reading his question in his eyes. "There's a trundle under the bed, or I can go to the servants' quarters--"

Sam shook his head, vehement. "That you won't!" The wine had gone straight to his head, and that was a fact.

Frodo nodded, that little smile curving his mouth again, and tossed the taper into the fire. He stacked wood from the woodbox and blew on the coals, and Sam noticed anew the rough clothes he'd worn for the day-- the seat of his breeches was shiny, and his shirt stained and rough-sewn.

Sam's heart gave a funny double-thump and he sat down heavy, looking at Frodo through eyes that shimmered all of a sudden and wouldn't clear. *Those as have nice things ought to enjoy them.* Frodo had given him that for a day, and taken the rough to himself.

"You didn't answer my question," Frodo spoke softly. The new fire crackled merrily, curling up splinters from the split wood. "Was it everything you imagined?"

Sam stared at him for a second; Frodo's braces would be rubbing that rough cloth against his shoulders, and it would chafe. He ought to have silk by his skin every day, and leave such a thorny weave as that to Sam... no, it just weren't *right.*

"Begging your pardon, sir, but it wasn't!" Sam blurted, and Frodo's smile deepened, his eyes warm. It gave him the courage to continue. "Not a bit of it. What with all them lasses thronging about, and growed ladies both, I felt like a chicken for the plucking! And they didn't want me, what's more, they wanted who they thought I was, and that's just who I wasn't." He paused for breath and got on his feet, pacing about the room. Frodo stood quite still, watching.

"And I couldn't sit down and have a proper talk with nobody; I had to sit up there with folk I didn't know, and the whole table watching me like I'd growed another head and all. And there you are, fetching and carrying for me like I done something to deserve it when I know I haven't. You fetching me wine, minding my tobacco pouch when I'm too much of a ninnyhammer to remember it myself... you, eating and drinking somewhat I bought, like I'd a right to take care of all that for you--"

Sam choked up of a sudden, scrubbing at his eyes with his sleeve and not minding the fancy velvet. "And the worst thing of it all, I can't kiss my--" words failed him. Master? Servant? He'd no idea, his head was such a muddle. "I can't kiss you," his voice broke. "Because it ain't proper, and no matter that I'm you for a day, I still can't, seemingly."

"Sam." Low and soothing, Frodo's voice touched him like a kiss. "You are a ninnyhammer."

Sam blinked at him, bewildered, and Frodo stepped near, helping him off with his coat and tossing it rudely on the floor. "It's not the clothes that make the hobbit." He fingered the delicate links that held Sam's cuffs close about his wrists, and slipped them out of the cloth one by one. "Or the name, either." A tug on the silk cravat brought it slithering from its place around Sam's throat. "And you, Samwise... you don't need velvets or titles to turn my head." His fingers slipped the button at Sam's throat, then the next. "I don't need silk or proper talk." More buttons slipped free, and his braces, and the shirt peeled off his skin to let the air in, soothing and cool as Frodo's voice.

Sam stood still, trying to breathe, hanging on Frodo's words. "Or proper doings, either. Sam Gamgee, I'd kiss you in velvet..." he leaned in and his tongue drew an icy-hot line up Sam's throat, tracing the throb of his pulse. "Or in homespun..." he caught Sam's wrists and brought Sam's hands to lie on his own shoulders. "Or better yet..." his fingers touched Sam's breeches, and Sam trembled as they caught in the waistband and pushed his trousers down, "...in nothing at all."

With that he proved it, leaning to catch Sam's mouth. Sam hesitated, but Frodo was too sweet to resist, lips moving ever-so-gentle on his, tongue coaxing till he touched its tip with his own. He was too tired to catch fire as fast as he had earlier, and that made the kiss all the sweeter-- slow, melting strokes of lip and tongue, Frodo's face warm in the curve of Sam's hand.

The homespun *was* rough, and he wanted Frodo's skin instead, but Sam was almost too shy to ask for it, for all that Frodo's mouth welcomed him like nothing he'd ever dreamed.

"Will you--" Frodo broke his mouth away and gasped as Sam kissed his throat instead. "Will you be needing this shirt of mine any longer, sir?"

"No," Sam admitted, his voice hoarse, and dared to slip one of Frodo's braces off his shoulder. Frodo laughed, fingers flying to his own throat, popping buttons free with unseemly haste. Sam didn't wait for him to finish before he pulled back Frodo's collar and put his mouth on his shoulder-- right on the red chafed spot he'd expected to find. He fumbled for the other brace too, and then pushed at Frodo's shirt, impatient-- tangling himself up in Frodo's own efforts to be rid of it, and making him laugh again.

"Patience is a virtue, master Sam," Frodo whispered against his ear, and licked it, and then Sam was free and his arms slid around Frodo and pulled him up close.

Sam sighed at the feel of Frodo's skin-- living and supple, *moving* against him. Frodo's teeth left neat little bites down his throat, then his tongue darted out and slid over Sam's collarbone-- tasting him and murmuring with delight. Sam moaned and let his palms wander over Frodo's smooth back. He was slender and well-made, and his heart beat swiftly against Sam's chest.

"I won't be needing those breeches, neither," Sam ventured, bold, then couldn't quite believe his cheek. "Unless... unless you do."

"I've never needed anything less," Frodo tilted his head and his voice dropped low, his hands wriggling his breeches off his hips-- he didn't even bother with the button.

And then Frodo was against him. All of Frodo, lean and sweet, soft in all the right places and hard in the others, and Sam whimpered, the wanting so hot in him he trembled all over, mindlessly pressing Frodo against himself and nearly tripping over both their breeches. He kicked them away impatiently, feeling Frodo laugh into his mouth.

Sam swallowed the laugh, feeling it burn warmth through his bones, and he drew back.  He rested his lips against Frodo's throat, giddy confidence sweeping through him.  "Well, then.  Seeing as how you feel that way..." he let his hands slide down along the smooth skin of Frodo's back to his waist.  "And seeing as how this lasts till tomorrow, as it were...."

Frodo drew back to arm's length, his eyes lazy with heat, a smile curving the crushed pink of his mouth.  "How may I serve your pleasure, master Sam?"

Sam let his hands rest at the narrow of Frodo's back, enjoying the way they fit there.  "I understand we're not strictly needing it, but... I don't suppose you thought to pack that pretty shirt of yours?"

Frodo's lashes swept shut, demure, and opened again to let azure flame burn into Sam's eyes.  "I'd be a poor servant indeed if I didn't anticipate my master's wishes."  He turned lazily and padded across the floor towards the wardrobe, the measured ebb and flow of his stride making Sam's mouth turn dry.  Sam's fists curled tight, and he held himself still only with effort.

Frodo bent, apparently quite unashamed, to rummage in his pack-- and when he straightened, the nightshirt flowed from his hands like water.  It had gathered a few wrinkles during the journey.  Frodo draped it against his shoulders and ran one palm over the fabric, smoothing them and making the shirt cling to his lean form.  He closed his eyes and sighed, plainly for Sam's benefit.  The loose folds draped close to him, catching and tumbling, gathered in places that made Sam's mouth water again. 

Sam stepped forward-- one stride, then two, unable to help himself.  "Put it on."  He heard the rumble in his tone only after he spoke, and he blushed at his cheek.  But Frodo was smiling, dark lashes hiding his eyes as he looked down at the silk and gathered it in his hands, obeying Sam's command.  He turned and let it slide down his arms.  The cloth rippled over his body as easy as air, hiding it from Sam's eyes, and Sam could bear it no longer.  He stepped close, hands sliding around Frodo's chest and belly, and pulled Frodo against him.

Frodo's nipple had pebbled hard and proved easy to find under the silk, which warmed quickly with the heat of his skin.  Sam pressed his fingertips against the nipple and laid his palm flat against his master's belly with the other, urging Frodo's hips to nestle against him, the soft texture of the silk caressing his hard flesh as it settled against Frodo's bottom.  He rubbed his fingers in circles, burying his nose in Frodo's hair and just breathing the scent of his master.

"You feel so good," he heard himself mumble, inadequate, and he flushed with shame, but Frodo breathed out with a soft moan of pleasure.  Sam's hand wandered and found a place where the nightshirt's drape tugged taut over swollen flesh, a round spot of damp spreading where it was tightest.  His hand closed, knowing its business, and he stroked the silk-sheathed flesh slowly, pinching Frodo's nipple between his thumb and forefinger.

Frodo gasped, rewarding him, and shuddered in his arms.  Sam moved his face and very lightly sank his teeth at Frodo's throat, feeling his master's pulse pound hard in the veins there. 

Memories flared in his mind even as he stroked the petal-soft fabric: his master at breakfast, especially the compelling tease of the shadows between Frodo's slim thighs.  Sam swallowed and pushed his hips forward, letting his hands sink till they found the hem of the shirt.  Finding it, he curled his fingers around the curve of Frodo's thighs, sliding them slowly up along the tender flesh between Frodo's legs, pushing the nightshirt up as he went until the frame of his open hands settled at the verge of soft, dark curls.  The silk almost seemed to breathe against his hands, bunched over them and around them.  Frodo's throat tasted of salt and the faintest hint of something like metal as Sam's mouth worked, suckling until blood rose to stain its perfect surface.

Frodo's arms rose, hands stealing behind him to cradle Sam's head tightly against his throat, his trembling fingers threading into Sam's hair.  Sam strained against the silk, driving his hips forward, pushing himself against the cleft again and again.  Frodo's breath hitched against Sam's chest, and then he was moving, gracefully turning in Sam's arms for another kiss and then sliding down on to his knees.  His face turned up and his tongue crept out to wet his lips, gleaming pink as his hand reached to guide Sam's straining flesh towards his mouth.

Sam tried to breathe; he could see down the long open throat of the shirt, past the ruffled neck into the delightful shadows around Frodo's chest-- his nipples darkly visible behind the ruffle, which hung forward as Frodo leaned closer to Sam.  As the cloth draped away from Frodo's chest he could see even farther, the ripple of belly where Frodo's navel must be, and then the pale arch of his hipbone.  Anything below that was lost in the folds.

Frodo's breath caressed him, light and warm, his hand firm by comparison.  Sam's nerves sparked and flickered, tingling with anticipation, his eyes locked on the nape of Frodo's neck as Frodo bent to him, hand tightening gloriously, tightening and sliding back, pulling the loose sheath of skin with it, baring the tip.

Frodo paused, lips parted, and looked for a long moment at what he held.  He stilled his fingers, then turned his gaze up at Sam, his eyes soft and hazy with wanting, and let his mouth fall open.  He knelt there, waiting patiently, the lamplight catching the gleam of moisture on his lip.  Sam felt himself frozen, torn between the need to push himself forward into the haven of Frodo's mouth, his instinctive fear of forever changing what lay between them, and the longing that this moment could last forever.  He wished he would never have to look away from the soft, welcoming heat in Frodo's eyes.

But Frodo was waiting, and need lay curled around Sam's spine like ivy around the trunk of a tree, sending its tendrils curling through every part of him, until he couldn't resist.  With a low whimper, Sam let himself push forward and felt Frodo's tongue pillow him as he moved-- slick and soft and hot.  Frodo made a soft sound-- a satisfied murmur, and slid forward, mouth closing around Sam.  Deeper, deeper, hands curving around Sam's hips to pull him forward when he would have stopped, until Sam was sheathed and Frodo's warm, wet mouth enclosed him all the way to the root.

Sam's knees wobbled, threatening to give way, and he clutched with one hand at the dressing table where Frodo's pack lay, barely catching himself in time.  Frodo's hands helped steady him, and Sam curled his fingers tightly around the edge of the table, gulping air like he was drownded and trying to brace himself as Frodo drew back, cheeks hollowing.  The sensation sent another wave of dizziness through Sam; he moaned aloud, quivering in every limb.

The head of his shaft nearly breached Frodo's lips but then Frodo slid down again, still sucking hard, the tip of his nose cool against Sam's belly.  Frodo's throat worked, swallowing, and Sam sank his teeth in his lip to still a cry.  As he drew back again, Frodo was purring, a soft little hum that buzzed in his throat and sank bone-deep into Sam, sending lightning flickering through his nerves.  His hand found Frodo's face, palm sliding around the hard angle of his jaw, and Sam's fingers found their way into Frodo's curls, knotting there fiercely. 

Frodo hung fire, eyes flashing up again, startlingly clear and hot, and Sam pushed his hips forward even as his hand tightened, drawing Frodo's wicked mouth down over him again until he was buried.  Frodo went easily, then withdrew and sank forwards again, faster. Sam could no longer remain silent and his cry echoed in the unfamiliar room, but he could not care who might be next door to hear, not with Frodo's mouth so wet and tight around him, urging him to push his hips forward faster and harder.  He had both hands tangled in Frodo's hair now, the soft curly strands twined between his fingers, and the silk nightshirt brushed his thighs with every stroke.

It was too much to last, and Frodo's lashes were growing wet, his cheeks flushed from the difficult work; after a few delirious moments he pushed Sam's body away, hands flat on his hipbones, and breathed raggedly for a moment, taking deep gulps of air, licking his lips.  Sam felt the cool of the air caressing him, then the soft press of Frodo's right hand on his shaft, and after it his lips and tongue and the light sting of his teeth, little kisses and licks and nips down the length of him, calming and arousing at once.  Sam too was breathing harshly, having all but forgotten the need for it somehow.

Frodo's left hand roamed, busy, fingers caressing and parting, finding their way between and down.  His eyes were on Sam's again, his brow faintly wrinkled with a question, and Sam obeyed the gentle request, setting his heels farther apart to yield those fingers what they sought.  Frodo smiled, and then his mouth settled again, taking Sam inside.  It tightened, sucking hard, his tongue fluttering, and his hand tightened with it, pumping Sam slowly. 

Sam sighed, letting his head tip back, drinking air in long, deep draughts that still didn't seem enough.  There was a single finger teasing him, fluttering and pressing, withdrawing and circling.  Frodo's deft tongue echoed its motion, and his hand moved firmly, with just the hint of a twist.  His lashes lay soft on his cheeks, deceptively demure.

Then his hands were gone, and he sank all the way down again, taking Sam deep and swallowing; Sam heard a desperate moan, almost agonized, torn from his own throat.  A dozen long, hard strokes followed-- all the way down, swallow, slow retreat, then a fast push down again, and all the muscles in Frodo's throat tightened and rippled around him.  Then he pulled back up deliberately, almost slower than Sam could bear-- until at last Frodo's hands returned again, but this time they were slick, and they knew what they wanted.  One curled around his shaft, dragging quick fierce strokes towards Frodo's mouth, and the other slid between his hips and pressed, one finger breaching him and sliding deep.

Sam's knees swayed and he scrabbled for the table, tasting blood as his teeth sank in his lip, struggling to hold back the sound that welled in his throat.  He failed and it escaped him, bursting forth as a frantic, feral wail that mingled pleasure and pain in its harsh echo and near deafened him, rasping pain along his throat.  But already the pain was fading, eclipsed by the sweet tight grip of Frodo's hand stripping him with quick hard strokes, and the tight inferno of his mouth, his tongue slipping beneath the loose skin to circle at the tip. 

Then Frodo's finger moved and pleasure blossomed inside Sam, bright and hot and completely unexpected, like lightning from a blue sky.

Sam cried out again, shrilly this time, and his knees gave way.  He flailed, reaching out in a wild attempt to catch himself for the table, but he missed and teetered, on the verge of falling forward.  Frodo pulled off and caught him awkwardly, helping him collapse in gentle stages.  After a moment's struggle he lay with his back on the rug and Frodo kneeling between his legs, finger and mouth finding their places once more, pulling more pleasure from Sam than he had ever dreamed might exist, dragging raw, helpless cries out of him and draining his very wits away.  Frodo's merciless, wonderful finger stirred and pressed inside, sending bolt after bolt of lightning cascading up and down Sam's spine, making him arch and strain until only his shoulders and heels touched the carpet- his whole body desperate for more of Frodo's touch. 

He let his hips fall and his heels scrubbed against the carpet, struggling for purchase and making a frantic percussion in syncopated time to the hammering of his heart and the gasping pull of his lungs.  It was gathering, building in him, inevitable and untamed and thunderous, with all the force of a summer storm.   His breath left him in an ascending scale of cries that steepened with each stroke of that relentless finger, each curl and ripple of that tongue and each strong pull of Frodo's mouth, until the storm broke over him with a blinding flash and a roar of fury. 

Sam threw back his head as release tore through him, the last of his breath pouring from him in a wild cry that echoed in the room.  He filled Frodo's mouth with gush after gush of his seed, his heels drumming.  His fingers scrabbled at the carpet in a frenzied effort to contain the unendurable, terrible pleasure that lifted him, held him suspended for an eternal moment, shook him like a child's rag doll, and then left him gasping on the carpet, spent and wrung out, gasping and trembling and unable to speak.

Frodo licked his lips, smiling like a cat licking cream from its whiskers, and slipped up to nestle into Sam's arm, pressing his cheek against Sam's sweaty chest and settling there with his ear over Sam's pounding heart.  His hand moved lazily to the base of his belly, stroking there, and Sam felt a pang of guilt at his idleness.  He forced himself to move, reaching for Frodo, but Frodo smiled against his chest.

"Lie still; you're worn out," Frodo whispered, chiding gently.  "Tomorrow is soon enough for you to start taking care of me again."  He kept stroking, slow and firm.  After a few moments his body went rigid, shuddered, and Sam felt warm wetness against his thigh.  He sighed, melting against Sam, and buried his face at Sam's neck.

The pleasure ebbed slowly, leaving Sam limp.  After a few minutes Frodo lifted his head to press a delicate kiss against Sam's mouth. His breath was shallow, and Sam stirred again, nestling them up tight. He was undone, all his secrets gone and all his heart bare, and the sweat started to dry on his ribs, making him shiver.

Frodo's hand slid over him, languid, hesitating at the curve of his hip. "Mmmmm." He nestled tight. "We're on the floor."

Sam fumbled behind himself and pulled up the edge of the throw rug to drape over them-- he didn't think he could move another muscle, except to nuzzle at Frodo's ear, mouthing the lobe and tracing the tip of his nose against the delicate point.

"You taste good," Frodo's tongue-tip touched his shoulder.

"I'm all of a sweat," Sam protested, squirming.  Every part of his body felt heavy as lead, drenched and drowned in pleasure.

He felt Frodo smile against his skin. "Is that supposed to bother me?"

Sam sighed, weary but content. "I don't know what bothers you and what don't, seemingly." He let his hand wander, Frodo's spine tempting his fingertips along its path.

"You've had me hot and bothered for a long time." Frodo's fingers circled at Sam's waist. "Why else do you think I kept coming out to greet you in only my nightshirt?"

"Frodo Baggins!" Sam drew back, indignant, a measure of life returning to him. "You lied to Mr. Bilbo!"

"No more than you did to your Gaffer." Frodo chuckled. "After I said you weren't needed to fetch and carry!"

"You listened!'

"More of my cheek," Frodo snuggled, his motions languid and sultry, the kiss of the silk he still wore sending a last rush of lazy heat radiating through Sam's skin. He curled his arm around Frodo, caressing his back through the thin fabric.  Frodo sighed, a slow, satisfied rise and fall of his chest.  "Thank you for the shirt, Sam."  His voice was gentle, all teasing gone.

Sam flushed with pleasure.  "I just knew it was for you the first time I saw it.  Mr. Bilbo, he gave me a bit of coin one day for fetching and carrying, and I reckoned you might not notice...." he pressed his mouth against Frodo's hair. 

"I did, and I'm glad."  Frodo lay still for a moment, and Sam felt himself begin to drift towards sleep, but Frodo wasn't finished.  "Bilbo's a meddlesome old dear."  He chuckled, sounding fond.  "I meant to ask you, but I didn't quite know how-- I might not have had the courage, if he hadn't prodded me when he did.  At any rate, your Gaffer knows all about the Tooks' midsummer party, for Bilbo once brought him as a guest. He must have thought you didn't know."

"He judged right." Sam let his teeth touch Frodo's ear, soft as breathing, and Frodo arched his neck, inviting Sam to dust little love-bites along it down to his shoulder, each one as delicate as a kiss. "I'd never heard of such, and it caught me flat-footed, so to speak."  But that wasn't the foremost matter in his mind. 

"I reckon Mistress Eglantine was right about what I should do, too." He licked a spot that made Frodo shiver. "I'll have to be putting you in your place for that kind of cheek." The daring words made his heart flutter even now that they lay together.

"And where is that?" Frodo breathed.

"Anywhere I am." Sam searched Frodo's eyes, sober.

"Yes," Frodo's voice broke on his whisper. "Sam--"

Sam smothered the words with his mouth, kissing Frodo deep and slow. All his limbs moved sluggishly, pleasure spreading over him like poppy syrup, dragging him towards sleep. He lifted his mouth from Frodo's and curled next to him, sighing and closing his eyes.

"Sleep," Frodo breathed against his skin, and he slipped out of Sam's arms, making Sam blink with momentary distress, but he was only going to the hearth, where a kettle and basin sat to replace the copper tub they'd used earlier. Frodo wet a washing cloth and brought it back to the rug where Sam lay, gently cleaning Sam's belly and then his own.

Sam watched him-- his slim bare body burnished by the dying fire, the embers putting faint auburn highlights into his hair-- as he finished and returned the cloth to the hearth, then pulled the quilts off the bed and made a nest for them where they lay on the rug.  He blew out the lamp, leaving only the dim light of the fading embers on the hearth, and snuggled up next to Sam, drawing the quilts over them and urging Sam to roll over until they were atop the quilts, as well.

Then he pillowed his head on Sam's shoulder and Sam wrapped Frodo in his arms, and they let themselves sink.

*****

*Epilogue*

*****

"Good morning, Master Hamfast."

"Mr. Bilbo." The Gaffer gave a final tap of his hammer to the metal cotter-pin that would steady the blade of his plow, then looked up from his mending. "That lad of mine get in all right?"

"A sight better than all right," Bilbo chuckled. "Frodo took good care of him.  He should be down presently. Gaffer, I've been meaning to have a word with you about that boy."

"If he took advantage at that party, I'll--"

"No, no." Bilbo shook his head, eyes twinkling. "Quite the opposite." He chuckled, remembering the shy, happy look in Samwise's face when he returned from Tuckborough, and how he and Frodo could barely stand to let go of one another.  He leaned against the stout fence.  "How's your latest batch of home brew?"

The Gaffer brightened. "First-rate, if you'd care for a sup."

"I don't mind if I do." Bilbo rubbed his hands with pleasure, waiting till the Gaffer fetched out two clay mugs of beer and handed one over. "Fine head on it."

The Gaffer beamed. "Your health."

"Yours." They drank for a bit, and the Gaffer gave a contented sigh. "That's a proper brew, that is, if I do say so myself. The hops were good this year."

"Mmm, yes, yes. Better every year." Bilbo wiped his lip, which had grown a beery mustache. "Gaffer, I think we'll be needing Sam's services a bit more often up at Bag End," Bilbo judged at length. "I've got him in and out nearly every day as-is, helping me lift and carry. I may not look it, but I'm getting on a bit, and Frodo's not as stout as some. He'll be needing someone to take care of him after I've gone."

The Gaffer nodded, sympathetic. "I know what you mean, what with the rheumatism getting worse in my knees each winter and all, and that's true about Mr. Frodo, begging your pardon. He's a fine lad for book-learning, but just a bit thin, I judge."

Bilbo frowned regretfully at the bottom of his empty mug. "Sam will take care of that. He's got a good hand in the kitchen. He can take on some of the cooking, do a few odd jobs, and still keep the garden. I'll raise his pay, of course," he added hastily.

The Gaffer bowed a bit, pleased. "It does my heart good to see him situated, sir."

"That's settled, then!" Bilbo set his mug between two fence-slats, beaming. "We may keep him a bit late now and then, but he'll have a pallet in the kitchen and he'll bide just fine-- and get breakfast started all the quicker." That made the Gaffer blink a bit, but Bilbo prattled on, content. "Look here!" He pointed off down the hill, where a waggon was rattling along the Road. It paused and two lads hopped down, starting the long tramp up the Hill. "Company again, and I was just starting to settle from the last time. These lads will be the death of me yet."

"Tell Sam to stay where he is and help with them, sir. No reason he shouldn't get started straight away," the Gaffer said stoutly, and Bilbo nodded his gratitude.

"A wise idea, Master Hamfast, and I'll do it. Good morning Merry, Pip!" Bilbo tilted his head and looked at them thoughtfully.

"Morning, Bilbo!" Pippin kept his place next to Merry, not scampering ahead as he might have done only a summer past. Bilbo considered that for a moment, then beamed.

"You're growing up into a fine lad, aren't you, Peregrin Took!"

Pippin swelled up near to bursting with pride. "I am," he confirmed, and Merry cuffed him, laughing.

"You're a young rascal, is what you are, Pip!"

Pippin's face fell just a little, then firmed with determination. "I'm *not* young. Merry, I'm not!" They pattered away up the hill, Pippin protesting shrilly every step of the way.

Bilbo chuckled, eyes alight. Oh, yes. Yes indeed.  Here was another pair who looked to need a nudge, and this time it wouldn't even cost him a copper penny!  He took a moment to nod to the Gaffer. "Have a fine day, Master Hamfast." He leaned over the fence with a wink. "I'll be trotting along now. There's another job of work for me up at the smial!"

 

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