West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

Whortleberries
Sam prepares a surprise for Frodo, but Frodo takes charge.
Author: Semyaza
Rating: NC-17

 

When Frodo returned from his afternoon walk, Sam was nowhere to be seen in the garden.  This struck Frodo as odd so early in the day.  Under normal circumstances, he would expect to find his gardener bent over amidst the vegetable rows, carefully easing out weeds and checking for cutworms.  Today, however, the hoe was leaning against the side of the smial, the shears were abandoned next to it, and at the kitchen door sat a large basket covered by a coarse linen cloth.  Frodo peered curiously inside and discovered that it was partly filled with an abundance of small blue-black fruits.  Whortleberries!  He hadn't seen whortleberries since coming to the Shire!   Merry must have sent them over from Buckland, the first of this year's crop.

He grabbed a handful and tucked them into his clean handkerchief to nibble on while he was reading.  On second thought, perhaps he should nip into the kitchen and fetch a bowl.  He was sure to want more. He always did.  First, there was the feel of the little blue berries between his fingers-- smooth, firm and velvety. He loved the blush on the skin, the way it seemed to shade to a darker colour in places, and could be eaten without making a mess.  Then came the slight resistance they gave in his mouth before the moist, delicately tangy inside burst out.  Yes.  He most definitely needed a bowl.  He would spend the rest of the afternoon idly perusing the book he had just purchased and gradually reducing the mound of berries to a few dry stems.

Once inside the front hall he could hear muted sounds of activity and quiet humming from the kitchen.

"Sam?"

As he drew closer, he noticed an enticing odour--sweet and tart at the same time--and the sound of wood scraping rhythmically against metal.  Sam had his back to the kitchen door, steam swirling around him from the iron kettle on the stove.  A large basin with a square of thin muslin placed over the top sat on the oak table.

"Sam?  What are you doing?"

Sam glanced around quickly and then returned his attention to the kettle.  He dipped the wooden spoon in and skimmed off a bit of foam that had risen to the surface.

"Whatever you're making, it smells wonderful." 

Frodo could see now that the kettle was full of a dark, sticky substance with the occasional spot of white just beginning to form here and there.

"Jam?"

"No, sir.  It's whortleberry syrup.  For ice cream and such like.  It seemed a waste to eat all the berries up and not make something with them.  Jam, I thought at first, but then the idea of syrup caught my fancy.  The berries have been sitting in their own juices for an hour or more and now I'm just cooking them slowly for a few minutes until all the foam has gone and the mixture's good and thick.   I've seen Marigold do it with brambles a hundred times, so I thought--well, why not try it with whortleberries.  I didn't think you'd mind, Mr. Frodo.  The berries won't keep for more than a few days if we don't preserve them.  They should make a nice, rich sauce.  Something you can really get your mouth around, I'm thinking."

Frodo, who was fixedly watching the spoon rise and fall in the liquid, was momentarily stunned by this assertion.

"That's quite alright," he tried to say, but the words came out at a slightly higher pitch than he'd intended, and he coughed.

"I'm sorry, Sam.  A berry must have gone down the wrong way.  It's the seeds."

Sam took his eyes off his task just long enough to notice that Frodo had a few berries in his hand and was popping them into his mouth one by one in an abstracted sort of way.

"Why don't you fetch one of them small pots from the pantry and fill it from the basket outside.  I won't be a minute and then we can strain the syrup through that bit of cloth.  Once it cools, it'll be ready for your tea; on your pudding, I thought."

"Yes, Sam, that would be very nice.  Perhaps I will go outside and get some more berries while you finish up here."

The air of the hallway was thankfully cool after the smothering heat of the kitchen, although he suspected that his flushed face was due more to thoughts of how to put the syrup to a better use than it was to the actual temperature of the room.  He sat down on the doorstep and fanned himself with the handkerchief that he was still clutching damply in one hand.  What a mess.  Sam in the garden was one thing, Sam in the kitchen quite another.  Perhaps it was the way in which he gripped the spoon with such a sure, strong hand, or his stance in front of the range with legs slightly spread and breeches tight over his very fine posterior.  Oh dear.  This train of thought was most emphatically not making him feel any less agitated.  He felt as fidgety as a fly in a bottle.  He was sure it must be bad for the digestion.  Aha!  That might be the best way to approach the issue.  He would simply tell Sam that he wasn't feeling very well, and then Sam would put him to bed with a nice, big serving of whortleberries, and he would grab Sam by the front of those overly snug breeches and pull him down.  Yes, that was a fine idea.  And then the whortleberries would be caught between them and Sam would apologise for being clumsy and making such a mess, and he would go to fetch a cloth to wipe up and nothing more would be said about it.  He paused to assess that approach.   Possibly a more direct assault would do the trick?  Somehow, he thought not.  Sam could be remarkably obtuse.  It was hopeless, then.  Sam would put the whortleberry syrup in the pantry and go home to his family and he himself would retire to a nice, hot bath and lingering dreams of Sam adorned with nothing other than a generous helping of sweet, dripping... .

He quickly filled the bowl with berries so as not to seem completely addled when he returned to the kitchen, and picked up the basket, also, just in case Sam would like to take the remainder of the berries with him.  Then the entire Gamgee family could enjoy whortleberry syrup as well, without, he supposed, appreciating the full merits of it.

__________

Sam, meanwhile, had finished squeezing the syrup through the muslin, and was currently standing in front of the sink, washing away the skins and seeds from the soiled cloth.  He didn't hear Frodo come in over the sound of the water swirling the last of the pulp down the drain.  The basin was nearly brimming over with syrup, and just as Sam turned toward it, Frodo dipped a finger in and lifted it to his lips.  It wasn't a purposeful gesture, no of course not, but somehow the finger slipped inside his mouth and he sucked the syrup away from the length of it before he was fully aware of what he was doing.

"Mmm.  Sam, it's luscious.  Still warm."

Sam's expression was uncertain.

"It will thicken up as it cools.  It's a mite runny yet.  Another quarter hour and we can put it away."

Frodo glanced at Sam through his eyelashes.

"I like it like this.  It's just a little warmer than my skin."

He scooped out a bit more and allowed it to run down his finger before catching the drips with his tongue.

"I see what you mean.  It's starting to congeal already.  Oh my, now I'm all sticky and stained with juice.  Could you get a cloth and clean it off for me, Sam?"

He held out his hand, fingers spread and slightly moist, waiting.  Sam looked around but there didn't seem to be a fresh rag in sight.  He couldn't very well leave his master standing there like that.  It didn't look right, somehow.  With a defeated sigh, he pulled out the tail of his shirt.

"Begging your pardon, sir.  I don't want to take any liberties but there doesn't seem to be anything I can use to wipe your hand except this.  Thing most wanted, last to hand, as my Gaffer would say.  Would it be alright if I...?"

He gestured with his shirttail.

"Go ahead, Sam, take as many liberties as you like.  We really must find some cloths, though, as I expect I'll be much stickier before the afternoon is out."

Sam had difficulty wiping Frodo's hand clean without actually holding his wrist in the process, but soon the deed was done and Sam went to tuck his shirt back into his breeches.  Unfortunately, Frodo's hand seemed to have come along with it.  It slipped beneath the shirt and touched his bare skin.  He was going to apologise to Frodo for having inadvertently brought this about, but Frodo showed no sign of wanting to withdraw  the hand anytime soon.

"Oh my, Sam, you're warmer than the whortleberry syrup.  You've been working too hard today.  I think perhaps you should sit down on the settle by the hearth and have a rest.  Your face is quite flushed."

Frodo, to confirm the observation, placed his other hand gently on Sam's cheek.  Sam was now trapped between the small firm hand at his waist, stroking idly up his side, and the other just tickling the curls by his ear.  Frodo's eyes, however, seemed wholly intent on Sam's lips.  Sam was worried.  He hadn't left a tell-tale hint of syrup at the corner of his mouth, had he?  He wouldn't like Mr. Frodo to think that he'd been sampling the fruit with the same spoon he'd been using to stir it.  Frodo would never allow him in the kitchen ever again.  He shifted nervously from one foot to the other.

"Is there something wrong, sir?"

"No, Sam, nothing wrong at all.  But I definitely think you should sit down.  Right now."

Sam was never sure how he came to be on the wooden settle.  He was in a daze like, as he explained to himself afterwards.  It was Mr. Frodo who seemed to have the doing of it.  And, much to his surprise, the basin of syrup was there on the bench next to him.  Now how had that come there?  And where was his master?  Just as that thought formed in his mind, two arms closed around him from behind and a sweet-smelling breath tickled his ear tip.  One arm snaked down the front of Sam's shirt and the tongue that had been lapping up syrup mere moments before was exploring the inside of his ear.  Now that was a queer thing, and no mistake.

"Stay there and don't move an inch.  I need an item from the dresser drawer.  I won't be a moment."

Sam had no idea what he was hanging about for; but you never quarrelled with your bread and butter, and if Mr. Frodo wanted him for some purpose, then he'd bide as he'd been told.  It was only sense.  He could hear his master rummaging around and when he came back he had something in his hand which he placed on the floor to one side where Sam couldn't see it.

Sam would never have wanted it to be said that he was an unwilling participant in the events which followed.  Nevertheless, from the moment that Mr. Frodo slipped a hand in the front of Sam's breeches and the other into the bowl of syrup, all rational thought fled.  The last thing he consciously remembered as more than a blur of sensation was wondering what the syrup was for.  Then there was an odd feeling as Frodo's deft fingers applied the thick liquid where it was most wanted and Sam felt for a fleeting second the warmth of his master's breath before he was engulfed in tremendous heat.  That may have been the point where Sam received the bump, as he thrust his hips forward and simultaneously hit his head on the high back of the settle with a snap.  He hardly noticed at the time.  His world had narrowed to a tongue lapping at his cock, and a soft hand somewhere below, stroking and circling and pressing gently--oh there, what was that?--- and retreating briefly before sliding slickly inside, while the tongue continued its meandering course.  The finger was slipping in and out and around his entrance and the tongue was pressing just -yes, like that--and Sam came so hard that he thought the world had gone for a second and everything was blackness lit by stars.

When he opened his eyes, he saw that Frodo had rested his head in the curve of Sam's groin and his arms were about Sam's waist and Sam didn't think he'd ever seen anything so beautiful in his life.  And then he noticed something.

"Snakes and adders, Mr. Frodo.  What is that?"

Frodo's brow furrowed.

"Really, Sam.  I thought that every hobbit knows what that is long before they reach their tweens."

"No, sir, I mean that peculiar colour all over my...."

"Ah.  That.  I'm truly very sorry, Sam.  I got rather carried away with the whortleberry syrup, although I tried to lick off as much of it as I could.  I'm sure that we can find a way to remove the rest and, if not, a lovely, warm bath would likely take care of it.  It's just the occasional thumb print here and there after all.  Although I must say that your backside did get rather the worst of it.  But no one will see it there, so it doesn't matter, does it."

He tried to sit up but Frodo only held him tighter.

"Shhh, Sam.  Be still."

Now that he looked more closely, he could see that there was also a stain on the front of his breeches matching the stain around Frodo's mouth-- blue-black, almost like a bruise.  Common sense reasserted itself.  If that wasn't dealt with soon, it would set.  Marigold would never let him hear the end of it.  Oh dear.  Marigold.  However was he going to explain this stain to Marigold?

"Tell her you accidentally spilled the whortleberry syrup while you were straining it out into the bowl."

Drat and blast.  Had he said that out loud?

"And it fell right on my...on my...?"

"Yes, Sam, right there.  A most unfortunate accident.  We had such a time getting it off, too."

Frodo raised his head and eyed Sam's nether regions affectionately.

"Come, Sam.  We'd best go wash up. "

Frodo hesitated for a moment.

"I think we'll leave the syrup behind, but I'll just take this little jar of salve in case we need it."

Sam suspected that washing was not going to be an item of business anytime soon.  That jar contained the comfrey salve unless he was much mistaken and he didn't want to let his mind linger on what Mr. Frodo meant to do with it.  He wasn't aware of having any wounds or contusions, though he might yet at this rate.

Frodo held out his hand while Sam blushed and tucked himself back in his breeches, blue stain and all.  He wondered, fleetingly, if this was a practice that Mr. Frodo had learned in Buckland.  Maybe Mr. Merry had sent the berries on purpose.  There would be jokes aplenty at Yule about blue being his master's favourite colour.  Best not to think of that right now, either.  Today held enough embarrassment of its own without adding to it.

His old dad had always told him that there was no hobbit like a Baggins for being stubborn and wilful and now here he was being dragged down the hallway and into the best bedroom by the most determined Baggins of all. 

"But, Mr. Frodo, I'm all over juice."

"Then we'll simply have to remove your clothes, won't we, Sam."

"Yes.  I mean, no, sir.  Leastways--what good will it do when I haven't anything else to wear home?"

"You could wear some things of Bilbo's.  I'm sure they'd fit well enough, although your shoulders are broader and your....  Yes, I think I see your problem.  Well, perhaps if you slip into your room very quickly, no one will notice and you can change into your own clothes and take these ones home with you tomorrow evening."

"But they'd be my best clothes.  The Gaffer would remark on it at supper, I know he would.  And then what would I wear to work in the garden if those are here and I'm not, sir?"

"Sam.  Clothes.  Off."

Sam blushed again and scuffed one foot against the other.  Oh my goodness, he even had stains on his foot hair.  Now how had those gotten there?  He wasn't sure he really wanted to know. He didn't realise that Frodo had stepped so close until he felt velvety warm lips on his cheek and then on his mouth.   That tongue that had cradled him so gently was questing to be allowed in and he opened to it and their breath mingled for the first time.  In an odd way it was the most intimate thing Sam had felt in his entire life and he didn't want to let it go, not ever.  Those small deft hands were sliding up the back of his shirt and he knew right then, if he hadn't known it before, that he was lost.

Frodo drew away slightly and closed his eyes, long lashes dusting his cheeks.  Sam wanted to touch them but his hands had somehow found their way to the back of Frodo's breeches and were questing curiously amid the luxurious curves.

"Please, Sam.  Off.  I need you right now."

Sam had never removed his clothes in front of anyone before, let alone his master.  However, it seemed he would have help in this task, since Frodo had already undone the front of Sam's breeches, for the second time, and was attempting to pull the shirt over his head.  Sam lifted his arms like a wee lad being undressed by his mother, and the shirt was on the floor a second later.  As he was already standing right next to the bed, Frodo had only to push him gently, his knees hit the edge of the mattress and he toppled backwards into the depths of the feathers.  He did wonder how a body could keep a stable position amidst them, let alone actually...well, he didn't like to say what Mr. Frodo had in mind, but he thought a good firm straw pallet was better designed for the purpose.  Even so, this was very nice.  By the time that Sam had started to relax and look about, Frodo had removed his own fine shirt and was taking off his breeches in haste.  Sam soon saw why.  Oh my but that was a pretty sight, if he did say so himself.  The flushed dusky pink amidst the dark curls!  It would be soft as a rose to the touch, too.  Frodo's skin was otherwise very pale and Sam wanted to press his hand to it and see the skin blush hot like the centre of him.

Frodo climbed onto the mattress and leaned into Sam, fitting their bodies together, one leg sliding between Sam's and pressing up.  He was thinner than a hobbit should be, Sam thought.  He didn't weigh much at all really.  Ah, that was fine, that was, he thought, as he felt Frodo's hardness next to his.

Sam still had his breeches on.  He wished he hadn't, as he wanted to feel every inch of his master's skin against his own.  But with Frodo over him, undulating gently and licking Sam's left nipple, it was proving very difficult to concentrate.  He'd always thought that nothing looked sillier than a hobbit hanging out of his breeches, but he supposed that with his master lying atop of him it wasn't such a silly thing after all.  In fact, it felt very nice.  Mind you, he wanted to have a closer look at that pretty cock that he'd only just had a glimpse of; take it in his hand maybe, and feel it harden even more under his fingers.  Or he could put it in his mouth for a bit; he had thought it looked like a sweet already moist with sucking.  He groaned.

Frodo pulled away and sat up.

"I think we need to draw your breeches down."

"Yes, sir.  Please."

Frodo inched them over his hips and down to his ankles where Sam was able to kick them away.  He watched nervously while Frodo reached for the salve and twisted off the lid with one flick of his wrist.  The pungent odour filled the room.  Sam didn't think he would ever be able to use the salve again without seeing the image of Frodo kneeling over his thighs, cheeks flushed as rosy as the cock standing up against his belly, rubbing the ointment between his palms.  Sam put out his hand.

"I want...."

"Hush.  I know, Sam.  In a moment.  I need to put this on you first."

Frodo's warm fingers, slick with the stuff, wrapped around him and coated his length efficiently. Sam didn't need any more encouragement at this stage of the game.  He was harder than a ram's forehead as it was.  Frodo's other hand was doing something as well, between his own legs.  Oh, glory and trumpets, he was going to....

Sam barely had time to form that thought before Frodo had gripped him a little more firmly, hitched his own hips slightly forward and brought Sam into a place he had never thought he would ever be.   He couldn't have imagined that it would feel like this either--so close and hot and squeezing him tight, caught breathless and astonished as his head fell back again, only this time into the softest and downiest of pillows.  And there was his master leaning over him, lips curved in a secret smile, while his long fingers, still coated with ointment, massaged Sam's belly and down to where they were coupled together.  Sam gasped and reached out, touching that smooth, glistening softness that he had ached to cradle since he had first seen it.   Frodo moaned and arched back, his throat exposed, pulse beating visibly beneath the white skin.  Sam thrust up hard then, and he was nowhere on this earth except inside Frodo, so far inside that they could never be separated again. His hand stroked down to the velvety weight of Frodo's sac and he saw that they were joined in a circle that had no end, each to the other.  Then Frodo came with an almost wounded cry, over Sam's hand, bearing down hard against Sam and clutching, holding on fiercely until Sam, too, felt the pulses leaving his body and the giving that had been so frustrated in him before at last found its purpose.  Frodo's legs held him securely, and they fell over, side by side, Sam inside his master and Frodo gasping and calling out his name.

For several minutes there was only the sound of their breathing, until Frodo finally pulled back and off him with a sigh.

"Oh, Sam.  I'm sorry, but that was...I've never experienced anything like it before."

Sam could scarcely meet his eyes, when all was said and done. He wasn't sure, yet, what all this meant and what he should do about it now that it was over.  He didn't see as how he could go back to being just the gardener and not look at his master and know what it had been like to be inside him, and then think that perhaps someone else was giving him the same.  Mr. Merry maybe.  He didn't know what to say neither.

"Sorry, sir?  Why ever should you be sorry?"

Frodo laughed, but not happily.

"Sir?  And you ask me why I should be sorry?  I took advantage of you. I don't know what I was thinking.  I don't suppose I was thinking at all. " 

 He sat up in the bed and rested his forehead against his knees.

"I've made such a mess of things, Sam. "

"Well, as to the whortleberry syrup, you're right about that and no mistake.  I don't know if those stains will ever come out of my breeches.  I'm not sure as I'll be able to hear of whortleberries again with a straight face, if you catch my meaning.  It will wash off other parts well enough and no one will be any the wiser."

Frodo sighed.

"You don't understand. "

He turned onto his side, away from Sam.

"I think you'd best go.  You'll find some of Bilbo's old clothes in that wardrobe by the door."

"But, sir...."

"I'm truly sorry, Sam," he said in a small voice.  "I've made a terrible mistake and I can't take it back now.  But we shall carry on as we were and pretend this never happened.  I'm sure it will be better for you that way."

Sam knew that tears were leaking down his cheeks, but he tried to hold them back for fear of upsetting his master even more.  He couldn't imagine what he had done, but it must have been something very bad indeed.  He had felt so safe and wanted and now he saw that it was all a strange dream, something that happened at midyear and never again. He didn't want Mr. Bilbo's clothes.  He would put on his own breeches--his shirt would cover the front of them--and go home as if nothing had happened.  Apparently, nothing had.

 

Chapter 2
Bounds: Seven months later, Frodo ponders the events of midyear, although he is no closer to a resolution.
 

The preceding day had been bitterly cold.  The fog had never lifted from the low ground and the frost remained heavy until late morning.  There had been no wind, however, and the walk from Needlehole had kept him warm.   Bedding down between the roots of a tree that night had seemed less than ideal, but there was no shelter between the Wood and Overhill except for an occasional shepherd's cot.

The weather had been the same since the beginning of Afteryule--grey, chill, and misty.   All things north of the East Road were caught in a perpetual haze, and objects loomed abruptly from the landscape to baffle the solitary traveller.    Frodo liked the winter landscape best of all.   He knew that it was a time of year when no sensible hobbit would be abroad alone, but he had long passed the age where being sensible could be considered a priority. There were those who said it never had been for any Baggins.  This still and twilit world, where the air seemed to darken before mid-afternoon, gave him a sense of peace that he rarely felt in the glaring light of summer.  Things were more solid and present in their uniform shades of grey and brown than ever they were in the flourishing garden at Bag End.   He thought that, perhaps, when all that was transitory was stripped away, he would be like the roots amongst which he made his bed.  He would emerge from the numbness and find himself grasping onto the real.

The next day was quite different, however.   When he awoke, he was surprised by the sudden change.  The air was no longer cold, but fresh and wild with wind out of the far moors.  As he stepped from the shelter of the Wood, he could see right the way across Rushock Bog and west toward the White Downs.  The trees here were thin and perfectly straight, the rough bark green with moss.  Their bare lower branches rattled and quivered.  For some reason, this restlessness unsettled him.  All at once, in place of the previous day's calm, he felt deeply alone and afraid.  It was a thing he had never known before in all his travels.  Had there been a dream that had woken him briefly during the night with a sensation like hot breath down the back of his neck, or eyes watching in the darkness?  He couldn't remember now, but nor could he shake off the sudden and mounting sense of unease.  He had always felt comfortable walking by himself, even in a night of no moon.  There were no wolves in the Shire, not since the Fell Winter, and any other small predators were shy and rarely seen.  It was impossible to say what might be lurking in the depths of Bindbale Wood, yet he thought he would be glad to put the place behind him.

Few things steadied the nerves so well as a bite or two of food in the stomach, as every hobbit knew,  so he made a quick breakfast of pickled eggs, cheese and bread, and then set out in what he hoped was the right direction.  He had never come this way before, and he could make little sense of the terrain when comparing it to his memory of Bilbo's maps.  Maps were all very fine, but you couldn't carry them with you.  He had tried it once, and after struggling to decipher the dratted thing in a high wind on a hill near Michel Delving, he had given it up altogether.   He had always felt, in any case, that you could only know where you were going if you already knew where you stood.  Merry had told him once that made no sense, but then Merry was only familiar with the more populated areas of Buckland and the Marish.  The North Farthing was uncharted territory and an altogether different matter.

He decided to continue along the footpath he had been following yesterday, at first through a stand of pines--an unusual sight in the Shire--and then skirting the edge of a wooded bank that fell steeply to the east.   In the valley, a broad nameless stream flowed that eventually fed into The Water.  The wood changed at this point into areas of patchy dry grass interrupted here and there by shrub oaks.  They leaned into each other like old men festooned with moss, their stark gnarly limbs etched against the sky.  Here, where the ground fell in an almost vertical escarpment,  the path drew back a little, and angled slightly westward down through the sparse woodland to the valley some sixty or seventy feet below.  When he turned to look across the vale through the thinning vegetation, the morning sun was in his eyes and the air sparkled. 

The way through the trees was not as treacherous as he had feared.  Oak leaves were strewn thickly over the rocky ground, but the earth beneath was dry and hard.  He could see the stream now, grey like smoke through the trees, and hills rising far in the distance on the other side.   Close by, or perhaps it was a trick of the clear morning air, someone was taking an axe to a tree, and the occasional snatch of conversation could be heard.   They might be on the other side of the wood for all Frodo could tell.  He did not feel any less alone.  He tried to imagine what it would be like to have the solid presence of Sam at his back.  He didn't suppose that he would ever know, as Sam was rooted in his own place too firmly to be torn loose. 

Aside from the fall of the woodsman's axe,  it was preternaturally calm on the lee side of the hill; no wind at all and no other sound except for the clatter of grouse in the underbrush, eerie and echoing.   It still seemed as if he were being watched or followed.   He thought he might have felt a small tightening of his spine the day before, between Needlehole and the Wood, although his path then had been across open fields. He hadn't remembered about it until just now, and wished it had remained forgotten. He should have brought a companion on this walk after all, and yet Merry and Pippin were too noisy and distracting when he so desperately needed time to think.  

Where the path became too steep for even hobbit feet, a set of narrow stone steps had been cut into the side of the hill.  As he descended, it was as if he were in the midst of a green tunnel with walls of thorn and elder, and a roof of branches arching overhead, shattering the morning light into an intricate lacework of shadows.  These stairs twisted down into a well of deeper green, to a place that could not be seen from where he stood.  It appeared to be a narrow slash in the earth, where the land had split apart to leave a rough wall of stone on either side.   He hoped that once he reached the bottom, his path would continue out into the open ground and away from this unnatural calm.  He could hear wind stirring the trees somewhere above him, or it may have been the soft rush of water.  The stairs were slicked with lichen; stained with old haws that had been crushed underfoot into a bruised mass of red and purple.  Now he could see that there was a tiny stream amongst the dark tangle of ferns at the base of the embankment. The stillness which underlay the slow dalliance of stream and stone grew to enfold him.   As he paused briefly on the steps to listen, something small and furred nudged at his toes: a mouse, foraging for food while the weather was fair.  It was the only sign of life he had seen that day.

This streambed, he thought, smooth and lightly cloaked in mud, would be dry at most times of the year.  Now, it was a narrow splash of brown which wound its course through the bracken and pooled into a small round of black before disappearing abruptly into the earth through a sinkhole.

The steps brought him directly to the lip of the pool, and he stopped and gazed into it.  The water was like a compelling eye which pulled his attention down toward it regardless of his will.  He felt that if he should look for too long he would be lost.  It was so unnaturally tranquil.  The surface lay flat and unyielding, like ice, but with a warm sheen that made him think of the gloss on a satin coverlet.  He pulled his eyes away from it, and noticed, on the far side, just where the trickle of water sank into the ground, a stone face looking at him from behind a cloak of ferns.

The dampness on the surface of the rock had lent the face a greenish cast, especially in the hollows under the cheekbones.  The eyes had been inset with a milky pale green stone.  He wondered if this place could be the remnant of some far outpost of Annuminas, in the time of Elendil.   Under different circumstances he would have been interested in the origins of the sculpture but now, however, he felt that he might prefer to think about it in the safety of Bag End, where he didn't have the sense of watchful eyes upon him.   He turned from the pool and, after a few minutes of walking, came out from the shadow of the Wood and into the bright spring air.

Here, at the bottom of the hill, there were three new paths.  The first appeared to be the old one turning back on itself and climbing north-westwards.   The second, very muddy, went straight to the east across open ground, and the third branched off to his right.  He thought that the right hand path would be the shortest route to Overhill and thence Hobbiton, although he was puzzled that it appeared to head more west than south.  Nonetheless, he adjusted his pack and followed it.  After a short distance, it vanished into a dark copse and then dwindled altogether and was gone.   Perhaps it was merely an access road for foresters.  He retraced his steps and, reconciling himself to the mud, chose the eastward way.  He had thought he might have taken the wrong road when he set out that morning, but it was too late now to struggle back up the hill and still make it to Bag End by nightfall.  Moreover, he felt less overlooked out in the open.  He wanted to put as much space between himself and the Wood as quickly as he was able to.

It was shortly thereafter that he found himself up to his ankles in mud and, in an even shorter time, nearly up to his calves.  He began to think that the boots they wore over in the Marish might be a sensible addition to his walking gear, even if they added to the already common belief that he was cracked.  There was nothing more uncomfortable than spending the rest of the day with dried mud between the toes. 

This path, as he found out later while consulting one of Bilbo's old maps, was the Shepherd's Road, which wandered along below Bindbale Wood and was, in its way, as lovely as anything he had seen on his more westerly journey to Needlehole two days previously.  Or it would have been in a drier season, and with the cowslips in bloom.   With the wood behind him now and gently rolling grassland ahead there was little to distract the eye from the sheer beauty of the green countryside.  The wood had been shadowed, but now the sun was bright on the grass, melting the frost into a glistening web on every surface.  Already he felt as if he were away from those colder northern lands and back in the bounty of the Shire.

He stopped at noon for a few more mouthfuls of bread and cheese and some brown shards of dried apple.  Fried mushrooms would be nice about now, he thought, and chicken cooked with a generous addition of the Old Winyards.   Bilbo's foot hair would curl if he knew the use to which it was being put.  The chicken was a Gamgee family receipt, even though he suspected that Sam normally used cider.  When he had suggested wine that first time, Sam had given him a look and shaken his head, no doubt pondering the eccentricities of gentlehobbits and their wasteful ways.

The thought of Sam regarding him with those serious hazel eyes made him sit up straight with a jolt.  He hadn't really looked into those eyes for longer than he cared to think of.  He was afraid he would see the pain in them or, what was even worse, a quiet acceptance.  Although this Valarforsaken outing had been, in part, a way of avoiding direct confrontation with the problem, he had also intended to spend some time in deciding how to resolve it.  And now here he was, more than halfway back to Bag End and no closer to a resolution.           

For most of the past seven months, Sam had been constantly and tantalizingly about the garden, and Frodo had been forced to take long walks instead of cold baths.  Since the beginning of winter Sam had been less frequently seen and the more intensely missed, and Frodo took longer walks as a way to fill in the otherwise interminable days.  He knew what they said of him, that he was becoming as strange as old Mad Baggins, wandering about in a way that wasn't natural, spending too much time alone or with those young cousins of his from over Buckland way.  He wasn't sure which they considered worse now that he thought of it.  But what was he to do?  The easy friendship that he had with Merry and Pippin wasn't possible with Sam.  Drifting around the smial by himself like a pea in a colander with no one to talk to much of the time was beginning to wear on his nerves.  Bilbo's garrulous presence and watchful eye had helped to distract him.  Now, he found the pleasures of scholarship scarcely enough to keep his mind and eyes from wandering toward the sturdy figure endlessly pottering in the garden.  Did he have to be there quite so often?  Surely the garden was too small for such frequent attention?

He knew, as much as it still pained him to think of it, that this situation was entirely of his own making.  He couldn't blame Sam for going about his work in his usual stalwart fashion, as he had been taught to do.  And as unbearable as it truly was to have Sam there, he could scarcely let him go on account of his master's one moment of weakness.  In those intervals when he was truly honest with himself, he could admit that Sam's absence would be a terrible punishment for them both.  Perhaps, he thought, it might have come out better if Sam had burst into tears or been angry with him.  Instead, it seemed that Sam had taken it in his stride and then simply withdrawn into the garden so thoroughly that in some crucial way he was altogether absent.  Frodo wasn't sure that he understood why this should be the case, and he was afraid that Sam had believed it was simply another service that he owed and would render when asked.  That hurt most of all maybe, that Sam was calmly able to give what had shattered Frodo in the taking of it.

And there was the heart of the matter, Frodo thought.  He hadn't known the truth before that day.  If he had known it, things might have gone quite differently, and he would not be in such a pickle now.  He was falling in love with his gardener, had known it at that moment when he lay breathless in Sam's arms, and he hadn't been able to tell him because he feared it wasn't reciprocated.  How could it be?  Well, there was no use going over and over it.  There was nothing he could do about it now.

He was startled out of his reverie by a sharp whistling note.   Moments later, a large and rather ferocious dog bounded up to him, followed by a stout hobbit in a bright yellow jacket and green breeches.  This must be one of the Bounders, he supposed, although he'd never actually encountered one on his travels before.

"Good day to you.  It's a fine day after all that grey weather we've been having," said the stranger.  "Do you mind me asking which direction you came from this morning?"

Frodo, not a little put aback by the dog, felt a slight pang of unease again.

"I was in Bindbale Wood last night and have been following this path since first light.   My name is Frodo Baggins, from Hobbiton."

"From Hobbiton, you say?  You're a long way from home, young sir.  The Wood is not a safe place for a hobbit to be on his own.  Especially now."

"Why?  What has happened?"

"Well, I can't rightly say as I know for sure.  But some queer things have been seen about these parts, and queerer noises heard, most often after dark.  We've been beating the Bounds more regular like these past few weeks, and not just on the borders of the Shire neither."

Frodo's hand clenched on the pocket where he kept Bilbo's ring.  He had intended to leave it in Bag End but thought, after Gandalf's few words to him on the subject, that it was safer being kept close to his person.  Now he wasn't so sure.  What if someone were to corner him in a lonely place such as this and take it from him?

"I felt I wasn't alone in the Wood as I slept," he said haltingly, "But after I woke this morning I thought it was just a bad dream.  Perhaps it wasn't.  You're saying that I shouldn't be wandering about at all, that it's not safe here any longer?"

"Well, as to that, sir, it's not my place to tell you yay or nay.  You may wander wherever you like, and do whatever you please.  There's no one as should tell you otherwise.  This is the Shire.   My business is only to keep Outsiders out and that's a fact. Then all hobbits may sleep safely in their beds.  If those who are inside want to go out, well, I can't say as I understand it, but it's nowt to do with me."

"Yes, I take your meaning, Master.  But you say you've been beating the Farthing bounds as well?"

"Not so much beating, young sir, as watching.  It's a curious thing, this beating of the Bounds.  We've always kept to our borders, even without a king in the north to hold us to our duty.  It's tradition, that's what it is, and we've always done it.  It's our way.  But as to the Farthing borders--those aren't bounds rightly speaking.  We can call on Bounders at need to patrol them when something uncanny has strayed into our fields and woodlands.   But we don't have any bounds amongst ourselves, now do we, sir?  Those are just lines on a map, so we know where we are and who does what.  Nowt more'n that."

"Yes, I suppose you're right.  I've always thought that the farthing boundaries have more to do with changes in the landscape and the use to which the land is put than anything else.  They're administered separately because their needs are different."

"Quite right, sir.  And the marches are there to protect us even more."

"I've never been there, but my cousin Bilbo has told me a great deal about them."

"Well, that's all very fine, sir, and knowledge is a wonderful thing, but fair words butter no parsnips.  I have a long way to go before nightfall.  Good day to you, Mr. Baggins.   Hurry safe home."

"I will," answered Frodo, and with another whistle to his dog, the Bounder hefted his stick and set off to follow the unseen boundary southeast toward The Water.

As the afternoon wore on and he drew closer to home, Frodo's anxiety diminished, although he continued to feel exposed and vulnerable.

The open grasslands eventually came to an end, however, with the sudden appearance of a fence and gate. Seeing the pool of water on the latch side, he gave up the thought of trying to reach it and climbed quickly over. He had learned from bitter experience how impossible it was to put a difficult gate in place when your feet were rapidly sinking in mud.  

He was, nevertheless, excessively muddy by the time he came over the hill above Bag End, and the thing he most wanted to do was fall into a hot bath.   Hobbiton seemed very small from this distance, and the streets were deserted as hobbits took to their supper tables.  All at once a sharp pang went through him.  Everything here was so precious, however much it frustrated him at times.  He wondered what the point of his wanderings was when he felt so glad to be back.  He was still at a loss about what to do, but returning to Bag End felt like drawing on an old glove.  For awhile he had slipped into the landscape of the North Farthing, but here he was again in his own place and contented to be home.

The bath would have to wait after all, he thought, as fires would need to be laid and water heated first.  But as he walked down the last stretch of the Overhill Road he noticed that there was smoke coming from his kitchen chimney. That was odd.  Had Merry come to visit, found him away, and fetched the spare key from the Gaffer?  Perhaps, just to be on the safe side, he would come in through the entrance by the kitchen garden.

A low fire was, indeed, burning in the kitchen hearth, and the largest kettle was filled and set to one side, waiting to be hung in place to heat water for a bath.  Plates and cutlery were carefully arrayed on the table and a soft wool blanket hung over the back of one chair.  Apart from these signs of occupancy, all was quiet.

"Merry?  Pippin?"

Silence. 

"Anyone?"

Unless his cousins were hiding in the pantry preparing to ambush him on his way past, which seemed unlikely given Pippin's inability to remain quiet for more than five seconds, he was alone.  He dropped the pack from his shoulders, and threw his dirty cloak on the floor beside it.  That could wait until the morrow.  For now, he wanted a bath first; his nightshirt and dressing gown second; and, finally, something warm inside him.  A cup of hot chocolate would do nicely.  Proper food could also wait. More than anything else he needed a restful night.

When he opened the door of his bedroom he found that the quilt had been aired and was folded down over clean crisp linens, his pillows were plumped up and resting against the headboard, and his night things were laid out neatly on the sheet. 

At this sight, all thought of bath and chocolate fled from his mind.  He stripped his clothes off quickly, and gratefully pulled the nightshirt over his head, sighing at the feel of the cotton brushing his legs.  How much pleasure there was in small things.  It was so wonderful to not be lying down in his rumpled clothes on a hard earthen bed, with only a small fire for warmth and his pack for a pillow.  He thought he would never take his smial for granted again, even though he wasn't able to be here as often as he would have liked.  There was really no helping the way things were after all.

He crawled in beneath the quilt and pulled it up to his ears, and although a warm body at his back would have been a very nice addition, he fell asleep the moment his head sank into the pillow.

He awoke the next morning to the sound of whistling and the steady snick-snick of Sam's clippers.  He leapt out of bed, pulled on his warmest dressing gown and threw open the window.  He could just see Sam's back in amongst the shrubs near the front door, branches quivering as he cut away the dead wood from the crab-apple tree.

"Sam!  Sam!"

Sam stiffened and turned to look at his master.

"Ah, you're back, sir.  It's another cold morning--you'll catch your death leaning out of the window like that, if you don't mind me saying so."

Frodo sighed.

"Yes, Sam, I know it's cold.  Early, too, in case you were going to tell me that as well.  Would you mind coming over here?  We don't need all of Bagshot Row to hear this conversation."

"Aye, sir."

Sam placed his clippers carefully on the bit of tarp he had laid on the ground to take the prunings, wiped his hands on his breeches, and walked slowly up the path toward the window of the best bedroom.

Frodo tapped his foot impatiently.  This was going to be difficult.

"What I would like to know, Sam," he began, "is how a fire came to be burning in the kitchen while I was away, and who could have done it.  You wouldn't happen to have the answer to that, would you?"

Sam appeared somewhat abashed.

"Well as to your being away, sir, you were back by nightfall I'm thinking, as here you are."

"Ye-e-e-s.  Quite so.  But no one knew that, did they?  I don't recall telling anyone how long I was planning to be away."

"No, sir, but I thought--that is, we thought, the Gaffer and I--that a smial without a fire burning in the evening could get uncommon damp so I--we--thought mayhap it were best to lay one, like, to keep the chill off."

"Every evening?"

"You weren't gone but three nights."

"Yet I might have been gone longer."

Sam shook his head at the folly of his betters.

"All the more need for a fire then, I'm thinking."

Frodo groaned inwardly.  He often wondered if Sam were even capable of being straightforward.

"And what of the plates on the table and the nightshirt on the bed?"

"Marigold's idea, sir."

"I see.  Well, then, you may thank Marigold, and the Gaffer of course, for their kind thoughts and attentions.  They were much appreciated and I'm very glad to see the last of the North Farthing mud."

"I'll do that, Mr. Frodo.  Will you be needing anything else?"

"No, Sam, thank you.  Carry on with your pruning."

And with that he drew his head back in and shut the window rather too forcibly for the old catch, which nearly came away in his hand.  Blast the dratted thing to the four winds.  And why did he always have to be so short-tempered when Sam was about?  Sam had done nothing at all to deserve a sharp tongue from his master.  He worked long hours in the garden.  There had never been a garden in the Shire that had flourished in quite such an unexpected way as had the garden at Bag End under the caring hands of Samwise Gamgee.  It was said that he had the skill to make even a stick grow.  Frodo couldn't have imagined that such a small space could produce so much for the kitchen, and at all times of the year he had only to look out of a window to see some patch of colour to brighten up even the bleakest of winter days.  Frodo knew very little of gardening, but he did know that it took more than hard work to create what he saw from his study window every day.

The one place where Sam was rarely to be found now was the kitchen.  If anything of that kind needed doing that Frodo couldn't do for himself, then Marigold was sent up from the Row.  She was very kind, and an excellent cook, but it wasn't the same as having Sam about the place, humming under his breath and talking to himself as he prepared tea.  Frodo had expected that there would be a trace of awkwardness for awhile after the incident, certainly.  He couldn't blame Sam for being a little resentful about his master overstepping the bounds.  Proper behaviour was due from both sides; he had passed the mark and he was sorry for it.  That should have been enough, but now every time he looked at Sam, all he saw was a distant reserve.  Every now and then, when he caught Sam unawares, there was a look in his eyes that Frodo could only describe as baffled hurt.  It was a horrid situation and he didn't know what to do about it.  He could go for as many walks as his poor feet could stand, but he could never walk away from the pain that he was causing them both on a daily basis.

_____

It was almost time for elevenses, and Frodo was just warming the pot while he prepared a tray of biscuits to take into the study, when there was a loud knock on the door.  Ah, second post most likely.  He put the tray to one side and hurried to open the door to the Messenger.  The latter was a stout party with a large canvas bag slung over one shoulder and a red feather in his cap.

"Fine morning, Mr. Baggins.  You've a parcel here from over Buckland way.  A large, heavy parcel I might add."

Frodo looked at the square box, wrapped in brown paper and secured with string, and then at the Messenger's inquisitive stare.

"Books, I should expect, Master Chilperic.  Just books."

In truth, Frodo had no idea what the parcel might contain, but he wasn't about to share his ignorance.  He tucked it under his arm, signed for it, and then with a terse 'good morning to you, Master' retreated back into the safety of his smial.  The box was certainly very heavy, and might well be a book, he thought.  He'd know soon enough.  He shifted the teapot and tray to one side and quickly cut the string with the bread knife.  The paper unfolded easily, and just inside, on top of the mysterious mathom, was a letter sealed with the Brandybuck crest.  Frodo ran his nail under the seal and opened the letter.

"Dear cousin Frodo", it began and then continued "will you please stop being such a fool of a Baggins (I thought you had more Brandybuck sense of adventure in you) and do something about that gardener of yours!  Pippin and I are sick and tired of seeing your long face on our doorsteps, and we don't want to see it again until you've TAKEN CARE OF THE MATTER.  Anyway--here's a little something I took from the library that I thought you might find interesting.  Eru knows there's no one here who's likely to make use of it, except myself, of course, and I've known it by heart since I was a little lad.  And in case you're worried--the family won't miss it as I don't think they knew it was here (certainly not since I hid it).   Best wishes and DON'T TELL PIPPIN ABOUT THE BOOK.  He doesn't know.  Too young yet."

Merry, what have you done now, Frodo thought with a sinking feeling.  The object in front of him looked more like a box of chocolates than a book.  It had a smooth purplish-black leather binding, bumped at the corners, with the words "The Delight of a Hobbit's Heart" in raised gold lettering on both the spine and the front cover, and the frayed end of a pink ribbon peeking out one end.  He opened it gently.  The inside of the cover was lined with pale mauve silk, of all things, and the paper was crisp and heavy.  It was really one of the most garishly bound books he had ever seen.  He turned to the title page.

Oh, Eru blast Merry for a meddler.  This wasn't going to help matters in the least.  The page was adorned with an engraving of two young hobbit lads sinuously entwined, making it very hard to determine which limb belonged to which hobbit, no matter how you turned your head and twisted the book about.   In Frodo's opinion, most of the hobbits he knew were incapable of achieving that particular...pose.  Not that he knew this from experience, of course.  It just stood to reason.  You'd need much longer legs to...to...do that.  He flipped to the middle of the book.  Hmm.  No pictures here.  He glanced at a paragraph:  Then firmly seizing hold of him, I took him to the bath, but no sooner was I comfortably mounted than....  He quickly turned to another page.  Come now, I bid you to insert your.... tight young....sated at last.

Oh dear.  This really wouldn't do.  Perhaps he should just go back to bed.  Take a nice soothing cup of tea with him, maybe a book or two--not that book--and settle down to a quiet afternoon of reading and dreaming and....Yes, that would be a splendid idea.  He picked up the tea tray, retreated into his bedroom and firmly shut the door.  Merry's book was left abandoned on the kitchen table.

 

Chapter 3
Inside: Sam is confused and Frodo is ill, but together they reach the heart of the matter.
 

Sam had no need to be in the kitchen at Bag End since things had come to such a pretty pass between him and his master.  It wasn't that he had made a purposeful decision that way; there seemed to be so much more work to do in the garden this summer just gone and scarcely any time left over for owt else.  It wasn't proper anyhow, he told himself.  He was only the gardener after all.  He had no business being in the smial.  And if the sight of that wooden settle troubled him, the sooner that he got over his qualms about it the better.  You can't make the mill go with water that's passed, as his old dad would say.  He shook his head.  There were times when his old dad had altogether too much to say.  You couldn't always let things go so easily as all that.

He hadn't spent so many hours at Bag End during Afteryule as he had in earlier months.  The work was harder on his back, to be sure, but the garden didn't need the constant attention of weeding and watering that he gave to it during the spring and summer.

He had begun this particular morning with the cutting out of the dead wood from the fruit trees.  After the brief interruption by his master, he was able to finish pruning in time for elevenses.  While he sat by the kitchen door eating his bread and gooseberry jam, he thought about the words that had passed between them.  He had a notion that Mr. Frodo was nettled by him.  He wasn't exactly sure why.  Any sensible hobbit would be glad to have his smial all snug and warm at the end of a long journey.  As for the nightshirt on the bed-- well, it saved a trip to the clothes press, now didn't it?  He scratched his head.  Gentlehobbits had mysterious ways, and that was certain.  He did feel a slight twinge of discomfort, though, about the nightshirt and the plates on the table.  He was very much afraid that he had lied about them.  It had all been his own idea and Marigold had naught to do with it.  Mr. Frodo didn't ever need to know, but the lie still niggled at him.

By the end of the afternoon he had mulched the apple and pear trees, and put what was left of the barrow full of mulch around the raspberry canes.  The heavy soil of the kitchen garden had been dug over the previous day, and before long he could sow the first carrots and beetroot if he gave them a little protection.  Mr. Frodo loved the beetroot pickles, although they did stain the hands something fierce.  Best not to think about stains.  He was thankful not to be the one who would be putting up the pickles, after the talking to he'd received from Marigold about the whortleberries.  To make matters worse, she wouldn't stop ragging him about his reluctance to eat the syrup when she'd gone to all the bother of making it for him.  What would Mr. Frodo say if he knew that his gift of the berries was going to waste?  He thought he'd never hear the end of it.  To tell the truth, he hadn't had much appetite for them or anything else since the start of the summer.  He even missed second breakfast more often than not.  Marigold said the lasses wouldn't look at him the same way no more if he lost his nice round hobbit stomach, but what if he didn't want them looking at him in the first place?  He had his duties at Bag End.  He didn't have time for carousing with the Cottons over at the Green Dragon in Bywater or spending all his hours thinking about his next meal.  There were more important considerations.  No, he really hadn't felt quite right since midyear. 

The daylight faded so suddenlike in Afteryule.  He had just finished putting his tools away in the shed, and when he stepped out into the garden again, the sky was one great swath of pink from east to west like an orchard of cherry trees in full blow.  He stood to watch in a kind of awe that something should be so beautiful and yet so fleeting, and the pain that was always with him at every waking moment, swelled in his chest so that he thought he would choke on it.  He wished he had a way to express how it was, but the words never came to him like they did to some folk.  Things just grabbed him and lifted him up.  Mayhap there were no words for it.   If a hobbit couldn't say it, right out like, it wasn't any less true for all that.

He wanted to ask Mr. Frodo if he could fetch a bucket of water from the kitchen to wash himself off with before he went home.  He was covered with muck from his toes to his knees, and then some.  He brushed the worst of the drying mud from his soles, and stepped into the hall, just inside the kitchen door.

"Mr. Frodo?  Sir?"

He knew that if Frodo had gone out he would have seen him leave, and yet the smial was as quiet and deserted as it had been while Frodo was abroad.  He thought he'd best take the water and go in case he woke his master with too much shouting and stomping about.  As he went past the kitchen table he noticed a large and rather eye-catching book, seemingly abandoned amidst a small pile of crumbs and a bread knife.  "The Delight of a Hobbit's Heart" it said on the cover.  He hadn't known that Mr. Frodo collected cookery books.  Maybe he would take a quick look inside.  There might be a receipt or two that he could give to Marigold, to keep her off his back for a bit.  He didn't know how to open the book with his hands all dirty, until he spotted a piece of paper sticking out at the top of the pages.  He took it carefully between his fingers and, using it as a lever, flipped the book open.  His mouth fell open at the same moment. 

That looked uncomfortable, that did.  The poor young hobbit was trussed up like a hen at the fair.   He couldn't imagine why a body would want to do such a thing.  And without his clothes, too--he'd catch his death.  He couldn't even blow his nose with his hands roped to his sides like that.   Now, how had they tied the knot, he wondered, and what kind of rope had they used?  That could chafe a bit if you weren't careful. His eyes flicked to the next page.  He blushed, and his toes gripped the tiles in surprise.  Well, that explained it.  Those other two hobbits were keeping him rather busy; too busy to be cold, certainly.  There was some writing at the bottom of the page and, unlike most of Mr.Frodo's books, it was in the Common Speech.

"'And then he said to his master: "Verily my lord, you may do with me what you will, for my body has always been yours, to use for your pleasure."  And his master laughed and answered, "You have the right of it, oh my prettiest of slaves.  See how my jade stalk rises at the sight of your marigold bud.   Oh, your behind is like the full moon, white and round.  And I will enjoy it as many times as I am able before this night is out.  Not I alone, but my good cousin as well, who will place his precious sceptre in the silken confines of your cinnabar palace."  And then the servant wept for joy and said---'"

He said what any self-respecting hobbit would say, I'm sure, thought Sam.  Jade stalk, cinnabar palace!  He'd never heard a hobbit talk like that in all his born days. He had to admit that the master did have a very nice jade stalk and of a good, sturdy size, but he couldn't imagine actually bowing down to it like that.  He was about to set the piece of paper back in place when he noticed that there were some words scrawled on it, in a handwriting he thought he recognised.

He shouldn't have looked, he supposed; he knew he would regret it later.  Nevertheless, he did look and then he read the message.  His hand gripped the edge of the table and that odd pain welled up in his throat and stopped his breath.  So that was it then.  He wasn't a gardener any more; he was just a servant here to do his master's bidding.  And Mr. Merry and the others had a good laugh about it all no doubt, as he had feared they would.   Mr. Frodo had told them about the whortleberry syrup and they had thought it a fine joke.

He heard a gasp behind him and turned guiltily, his hand clenching on the bit of paper and the held breath coming out of him all at once.

"I'm sorry, sir.  I shouldn't have looked, but I thought it was a cookery book and then the paper--well, I read it and I wish I hadn't but please don't turn me away."

If he hadn't been so tangled in his own shame and embarrassment he would have noticed right away how pale and ill Frodo looked.  His hair lay in a damp tangle around his face, and his shirt was open and pulled half out of his breeches.  He blinked uncertainly in the light of the kitchen, as if he had just emerged from some very dark place and his eyes hurt at the sudden brightness.

"Oh, Sam.  Whatever are you talking about?  What paper, and why would I turn you away?"

He slumped down onto a stool next to the fire, although his face was already sheened with sweat, and poked idly at the glowing embers.

"Mr. Merry's letter, sir.  I read it and I didn't mean to."

Frodo laughed wearily.

"Oh, that.  Don't pay any attention to Merry.  Why he thought I would enjoy that book I can't imagine."

"But he said that you should..."

"He said a great deal too much, as usual.  What did you think he said?"

Sam shifted his gaze uneasily, from the table, where the book lay, to the pot hooks hanging above it, to the dresser cluttered with tea cups and plates, and finally to the fire, just next to Mr. Frodo's toes.  He was beginning to suspect that he had already said far too much, and now he was being asked to say more.  This was the first conversation he had had with his master in the kitchen since the incident at midyear.  He wished he'd just gone straight home when he'd finished in the garden, mud and all.  Well, might as well say it and be done with it.

"He said you should do something about me, sir.  I thought he meant that it was time you let me go.  I know I haven't been what you wanted me to be, but I've tried.  I really have.  And I've tried to put some things out of my head, too, but I can't do that neither.  If I'm a burden to you then let me go on my way.  I could live in Overhill with Halfred and you wouldn't have to see me no more.  I wanted to be the best gardener Bag End has ever had, but if I don't suit then..."

Frodo wasn't looking at him.  Was he even listening, Sam wondered?  Perhaps he had already been dismissed and should go now.  He wanted to turn away, to have this pain stop, yet there was summat about the tightness in Mr. Frodo's shoulders that made him want to ease it.  Then Frodo glanced up, and he saw the deep weariness in his master's eyes; the effort it was taking to even hold his head up.

"Mr. Frodo?"

"I'm not well, Sam.  Something's happening to me.  After I received that book this morning I was--upset--and I went back to bed.  I was going to read for a little while, but then I fell asleep and had the most horrid dream.  I don't know if I can talk about it now."

There you go again, Samwise Gamgee, thinking of yourself when you should be looking to others.  You can't see what's right in front of your face.  He closed the book with a snap, not minding the dirt on his hands this time.

"Have you eaten anything today, sir?"

Frodo shook his head. 

"A few biscuits since breakfast.  I told you--I went to sleep.  I didn't intend to."

"I think you should go back to bed, sir.  Here, let me help you."

Sam held out his hand, filthy as it was, and not afeared now that he had a purpose.  He could do this one thing for his master, at least.  And if Frodo let him go after, then so be it.

Frodo didn't take the hand, but he allowed it to support his elbow as he stood, and guide him toward the bedroom; then an arm at his back to hold him steady as he stumbled slightly in the darkened hallway.  Sam was shocked by the coldness of the bedroom.  The shutters were closed tight, to be sure, but there hadn't been a fire in the hearth since the day before and a chill moisture clung to his skin.  He led Frodo to the bed and settled him on the edge of the mattress.  The linens were in a sorry state; the bottom sheet was rucked up and the quilt had slumped onto the floor at the far side.

"I'll just light the fire, sir, and a lamp or two to chase away the dark.  Then you can change into your nightshirt while I make you a nice, hot cup of tea and a toasted crumpet with honey.  I'll straighten the bedding when I come back."

"That would be lovely, Sam.  Thank you."

Sam heaped up a few sticks of kindling over a wad of crumpled paper and lit it using the tinderbox he always kept in his coat pocket.  When it was burning steadily, he added a small log or two and then took a spill from the jar on the mantel and lit the lamps as well.  Frodo remained motionless on the bed, staring blankly into the fire, almost as if he were bespelled.

"Mr. Frodo?"

"Hmm.  Yes, Sam?"

"I'm going to leave you now.  I won't be a moment.  I'll fill the hot water bottle to warm your toes.  You get into your nightshirt while I'm gone."

"Yes, Sam," Frodo answered dreamily.

Sam shook his head ruefully.  He knew that when he got back Mr. Frodo would still be sitting on the edge of the bed looking into the fire, and seeing something in it that Sam couldn't.

He took the stoneware bottle from the chest of drawers and carried it out to the kitchen sink to rinse the stale water away before filling it again from the kettle.  He set it by the fire while he warmed the teapot and then added a generous scoop of passionflowers and dried hops to the pot.  He preferred a cup of regular tea himself, not much caring for the hoppy flavour of the herbs, but Mr. Frodo needed a little summat to relax him and this was the very best thing that Sam knew of.  While the tea steeped, he fetched two crumpets from the pantry and stuck them on the toasting rack above the fire, took a pat of butter from the buttery and a small crock of raspberry honey from the cupboard.  When all was ready, he placed the things on a tray and bore it back to the best bedroom.

Sure enough, Frodo hadn't moved an inch.  Sam sighed inwardly. There was nothing for it then but to undress Mr. Frodo himself.  He placed the tray on the chest and cast about for the nightshirt, which he eventually found lying amidst the dust mice underneath the bed.  Well, that would have to go in the wash and no mistake.  It looked as if it might have travelled to the North Farthing and back along with its owner.  He took a clean one from the clothes press and shook it out.  It smelled faintly of rose petals and citron, fresh and crisp.

"Begging your pardon, sir, but you'll have to get out of those damp togs.  You're all in a sweat and it ain't healthy.  My old nan had a deal to say about such things and she lived to a great age.  If you could stand here by the fire, and pull off your shirt, I'll slip this on you and then you'll be a sight more comfortable I'll warrant."

While Frodo was hopefully following his suggestion, Sam briskly pulled the bedding together and slid the hot water bottle underneath the quilt, right down to the foot of the bed where it would do the most good. It wasn't like having a warm body next to you, but it would take the chill off well enough.  Frodo continued to gaze at the fire, but he had removed his shirt and the orange glow of the flames played across his smooth skin.  Try as he might, Sam couldn't hold the memories back.  It wasn't right somehow, thinking of Mr. Frodo like that, when he was so ill and small and lost.  Yet he could feel the softness of Frodo's belly under his finger tips, while the same touch was on his own flesh.  He wished he could give Frodo more than this distant comfort now.  He wanted to cast his arms about him and never let go, so that nothing could ever hurt him again.  He knew it wasn't possible.  Even such small comforts as he could give might be taken amiss and he daren't overstep the bounds and be turned away again.  Trying hard not to touch anywhere, he dropped the nightshirt quickly over Frodo's head.

"Mr. Frodo?"

"Yes, Sam?"

"Would you like to sit up in bed and have a bite of something?  The tea will be getting cold."

Frodo appeared to rouse himself at last.

"Yes, of course.  I think everything is fine now.  I felt very cold before and then I heard you in the kitchen and I was afraid...well, I can't really say what I was afraid of."

He drew his breeches off and climbed into bed, whilst Sam tried not to stare at what the sheer white fabric and the firelight so clearly revealed.  He felt almost like a peeping Tom, and blushed slightly, trusting that if Frodo noticed he would think it was the fire that was putting roses in his cheeks.  Once Frodo was settled, Sam placed the tray carefully in his lap, and poured the tea for him.

"This ought to settle you, sir.  And if you think you might want supper later, I can stay and make it for you."

"Won't the Gaffer..."

"Don't mind about the Gaffer.  I'll tell him you were ailing and he'll think no more of it."

Sam was going to sit on the stool by the fire, but Frodo brushed his arm gently in a fleeting caress.

"Would you sit here next to me, Sam?  I'm still a little cold."

"On the bed, sir?  But my clothes are all over muck from the gardening.  I don't think it's fit."

Frodo laughed.

"I wasn't much cleaner when I got into bed last night.  Just take off your jacket.  I can change the bed linens tomorrow."

Sam hung his shabby old coat carefully on the brass hook behind the door, rubbing his hands furtively against it to clean them.  They didn't look so grimy after all, he supposed.  The worst had rinsed off while he was preparing the tea, and there were just a few flecks under his nails.  Getting into Mr. Frodo's feather bed!   Bless him, he never did seem to know what was proper, did Mr. Frodo.  He sat gingerly on the edge of the mattress, until Frodo pulled him over and they were resting shoulder to shoulder.

"You didn't bring a cup for yourself, Sam."

"Begging your pardon, sir, but I prefer my hops to be in my ale, if it's all the same to you."

"No doubt you're right.  It does taste rather abominable, although a little smidgeon of this honey might help.  Hmm. Yes, that's better."

Frodo drank his tea down rather too quickly for Sam's liking, and then started in on the crumpets.  He ate one, sat back against the mound of pillows, and sighed.

"This is nice, like this."

Sam felt one of Frodo's hands nudge his and he opened his fingers to let the hand slip next to his palm.  He didn't like to ask, but he hoped that his master would be able to talk about things now that the queer dreaminess of earlier seemed to have gone.

"What was that dream about, Mr. Frodo?" he asked hesitantly.

Sam could tell that Frodo's shoulders were tensing, and rather wished that he hadn't asked after all.

"I can't really say for certain.  You know what it's like to wake from a dream and still see it so vividly behind your eyes?  Then as time passes, you begin to forget.  Parts of the dream disappear and you wonder how you could suddenly not know something that you knew so well such a short time ago.  The dream is gone, and only a taste is left behind, a whisper in your head that you can't quite catch, like the flick of someone's back as they move out of sight around a corner. Whatever I've been dreaming about lately, there's a sense of disquiet that stays with me, and the knowledge that a thing I can't truly remember is affecting my thoughts and my actions.  Nothing more.  I can't explain it.  It's as if it's planted a seed in me, a darkness that will grow and blossom in some time beyond my reckoning."

Sam gripped his hand a little tighter.  Frodo's hand was not as cold as it had been when Sam first touched it, and the long fingers wrapped around his more firmly now.

"Would this be the first time that you...?"

"No, Sam, I don't think it is.  I felt it during the night in Bindbale Wood, but I didn't realise what was happening then.  I thought that I was being watched, and the further I walked the next day, the more I sensed an eerie presence in the back of my mind.  It seemed as if there was something that I should recall and yet I couldn't quite do it.   I decided it must have been a dream.  There wasn't any other explanation.  I never met a soul on my walk except for the Bounder."

Sam started slightly.

"A Bounder, sir?  What would a Bounder be doing so far inside the Shire?"

"I wondered that, too, Sam.  He told me that there had been strange doings inside our borders of late, things that had been heard in the night but not seen."

"In the Shire?" Sam said, with a tone of outrage in his voice.  "There hasn't been the like for many years; leastways, beyond my reckoning."

"I know.   That's when I thought perhaps it hadn't been a dream after all.  It's not that I saw anything precisely.  It was simply as if someone was watching me all along.  If there had been eyes on me, during the night, I might have recalled them as a dream."

"You shouldn't go walking on your own, sir.  I've always said it.  It ain't natural."

"That's more or less what I said to the Bounder.  Well, not about its being unnatural, just that it wasn't such a good idea if anything uncanny was abroad in the night.  He said I should do as I wished, and that the bounds and their guardians would keep me, would keep all of us, safe.  He said that we oughtn't to feel that we can't go where we choose and do what we like.  That's not what the bounds are for, after all, to lock us up tight in a gaol."

He was watching Sam closely, but Sam turned away from the intense gaze, not knowing what his master wanted of him.  He shouldn't be here, not with what happened the last time. Yet he daren't leave Frodo now, when he was so vulnerable.

"But you did have a dream, sir.  You said so yourself, when you came to the kitchen afore."

Frodo sighed and cast his eyes down to their joined hands.

"I thought so, but how can I say for certain?  I had been reading one of Bilbo's old books, a tale of the fall of Numenor.  Remind me to read it to you some time; you'd like it.  I fell asleep afterwards, as I was still very tired from my long walk.  When I woke it seemed as if I hadn't been asleep at all, and yet I knew that I had been because there were images in my mind that didn't belong to any waking thoughts.  And as I lay there, there came a sudden buzzing in the air, and I couldn't breathe.  My heart was pounding so that I feared I might die. Yet--there was nothing--nothing in my memory, nothing in the room with me, nothing wrong at all.  The fright passed away but it left me light-headed and weak.  That's when I heard you in the kitchen and came out to you.  I was never so glad to see anyone in my life."

He paused for a moment.

"I wish you'd been with me on that walk, Sam.  I think I should have been so much less afraid."

The sky beyond the windows had completely darkened into night, but the room was much warmer than it had been, with the cheerful fire in the hearth and the lamps gleaming in the corners.  The two hobbits sat in companionable silence, close together on the bed.  Frodo picked up the second crumpet, which was cold by this time, the honey thickening slightly on the surface.  He looked at it quizzically and then took a small bite.

"What did you mean, earlier, about Merry's letter?"

Oh dear, that's torn it, thought Sam.  He had hoped that Frodo had forgotten about the letter.

"I shouldn't have looked, I know that, sir.  But the words jumped off the page at me, if you catch my drift.  I thought Mr. Merry knew something about...well, you know, sir...and that you were tired of seeing me about the place and were trying to find a way to let me go.  Either that, or...I don't think I can say it, but the pictures in that book...."

Frodo sighed around a mouthful of crumpet.

"Merry doesn't know anything.  He spends far too much time conspiring to find out, but I haven't spoken a word about what happened between us.  It's no one's business."

"That picture though, sir. The master and his cousin and the servant.  That's where the letter was, sticking right in that page."

Frodo giggled and very nearly choked on the crumpet.

"You didn't think he meant...?  Oh, surely not, Sam.  Merry would never...Hmm, perhaps he would, but not with me, and most certainly not with you.  I would never allow it."

Sam hung his head and stared at his feet, which were sticking out from the bottom of the quilt.  Staring at his feet always brought him comfort.  There were words he needed to say, even though he knew there was no way to soften them.

"You don't own me, Mr. Frodo.  I take care of your garden because there's naught else I would rather do.  But no one has the ordering of me."

"And you thought that because I had that book, and I had been looking at the story of the master and his servant, I believed that I did?"

"Yes," Sam whispered.

"Oh, Sam.  If you had looked further you would have seen that everything an eager hobbit could imagine is depicted in its pages and then some.   I'm sure that no one has ever managed to get through all of it.  I doubt if most of those positions are even possible, or comfortable.  Fervent attempts have more than likely resulted in pulled muscles and strained backs.  I opened a page at random and stuck the letter in.  I scarcely looked at what was printed on the page.  It had nothing to do with you."

Sam felt such a fool.  He had said too much, that was dead certain, and he couldn't call any of his words back.  It was time, he thought, to return the tea tray to the kitchen and maybe sit there for awhile and smoke a pipe or two.  Then he would warm up a piece of chicken and mushroom pie and a bowl of potato soup for Mr. Frodo's supper and be on his way home.  The affair at midyear had been an uncomfortable business at best, and he hadn't believed that he could make it any worse.   Now he'd really muffed it.   Even so, he took some small comfort in the fact that he hadn't been made a complete ass of to Mr. Merry and his friends.   He could see to the garden now without feeling that he was being talked about behind his back.  If Mr. Frodo still wanted him there, of course.  He had some doubts on that score.  Take a deep breath, he said to himself, and do what needs doing.

"If you're finished with your tea, sir, I'll take the tray and go and wash up.  Give me a shout if you need anything else.  You should be having a little sleep now, I'm thinking."

He plucked the tray from Frodo's knees, but Frodo was too quick for him and grabbed his arm before he could slip from the bed.

"Could you sit here with me for awhile longer?  Please, Sam?  I'm afraid of having another attack.  I would breathe so much easier if you were by me.  Please stay."

Sam wasn't sure about the wisdom of this request, not sure at all.  This was how it had started before, with a seemingly innocent appeal for help that all too soon had led to clothes being doffed and bodies twining together on the bed.  And as they were already here in the bedroom, the likelihood of it happening again was all the greater.  Their ease of a few minutes ago had been lost, and Sam was tense and anxious.  Ah well, he thought, better to meet trouble half way.  He put the tray on top of the chest of drawers and sat on the bed again, but not as close to Frodo this time.  They stayed this way for a moment or two and then Sam spoke up.

"You didn't take advantage of me," he mumbled, under his breath.

"Sam?"

"I said, you didn't take advantage of me."

Frodo's eyebrows drew together in puzzlement.  Sam sighed.

"At midyear last. "

"Oh."

"You thought you did, but you should know now what I would have said then if you'd only given me time:  I wanted every minute of it.  You took me by surprise like, that's all."

Frodo looked at him carefully, but his face revealed his unhappiness.

"It doesn't matter really, does it, Sam?  I didn't ask you, and I didn't care to ask you.  I'd been wanting you for so long and I took what I wanted. It's as you said.  Some part of me no doubt thought you would do whatever I asked of you.  I can't bear it when I think of it now.   And afterwards, I realised...."

He bit off the words and twisted his hands in his nightshirt, head turned away from the light so that Sam could no longer read his face.

"Realised what, sir?" Sam asked softly.

Frodo turned to look at him then, and his eyes were brimming with unshed tears.

"That I love you, Sam.  That I love you."

There was that burning in Sam's chest again, but this time all the pain that he had felt over the past months was washing through him like fire and pricking his skin as it passed out and away.  The dark void that had twisted inside him, that had pulled so tight he had thought sometimes his heart would burst, was opening up and going and was gone.  He caught his breath and for once the air was clean in his lungs and he rested quietly for a moment in gratitude that all the waiting had borne fruit after all.  Everything that he had lost was his again, all with those few words. 

"You didn't have to say it, sir.  You never had to.  It was enough for me that loved you.  That was all."

Frodo sniffed and rubbed his hand over his cheeks.

"You did?  I mean, you do?"

"Yes, sir.  Whortleberries and all."

"Then I trust you'll stop calling me 'sir'?"

"Well, as to that--you'll always be my master, whatever else you may be.  So if it slips out now and again..."

Frodo giggled.

"I hope that doesn't mean that you want me to tie you up and assault your...whatever it was he called it?"

"I can't say as I'd thought much about it before I opened that book.  I'd have to think on it for a spell.  It did have me hard in my breeches looking at it, but as to the actual doing...."

Frodo bit his lip.

"And now?"

"I'm not sure I take your meaning."

Frodo laced one arm around his neck.

"Are you still hard now?"

Sam glanced shyly downwards.

"I wasn't.  I was too upset like."

"S-a-a-m..."

Frodo leaned further over and toppled them down onto the mattress, his soft weight feeling very comfortable and natural lying half over him, Sam thought.

"It seems to me that you're not upset just now, Sam."

"I reckon not, Mr. Frodo."

Frodo's nightshirt had twisted up around his hips rather temptingly, and Sam brushed his fingers across the oh-so-soft skin of Frodo's behind and down into the heat between his thighs.  Frodo parted his legs slightly and pushed into Sam with a little whimper that reminded Sam of a kitten butting its head against your hand, it was that innocent and needy.  An odd feeling stirred inside Sam then, as if he wanted to both protect his master from hurt and take him hard to hear that whimper again.  Frodo nudged Sam's chin with his forehead and then kissed him just below his earlobe.

"Why are we always wearing too many clothes?"

He rolled over and tore the linen garment off, throwing it down behind the bed.  Another one to be rescued from the dust mice later on, Sam thought.  Maybe Frodo didn't want to play at master and servant, but there was no doubt he needed looking after.

Frodo lay on his side for a moment, regarding Sam seriously. 

"What would you like, Sam?"

Sam lowered his eyes.

"I'd like to take a closer look at what I barely caught sight of the first time," he answered, with a bashful expression.

"And that would be...?"

Sam snuck a hand down between Frodo's legs and cupped him tenderly.   Frodo moaned and leaned into Sam, hooking one leg over Sam's hip and drawing him closer.  He grabbed Sam by the ears and whispered,

"I don't think your herb tea worked, my dear.   I'm not the least bit relaxed.   I'll need something...stronger to send me to sleep."

Sam was becoming used to this side of Mr. Frodo by now.  He had to confess that he liked the feeling of the pliant body rubbing up and down his thighs and pushing into his hand.  He certainly didn't need a book to tell him what he wanted to do right this very moment, nor any pictures to show him how to do it neither.  Especially not when Frodo had one hand down the back of Sam's breeches, and was brushing a finger idly back and forth in a place Sam had no name for.  Sam let out a choking sound.

"Does that tickle, Sam?"

"Not tickle exactly.  No, I wouldn't say that.  But two fingers would be very nice."

Frodo kissed him for reply, a wet greedy kiss, and thrust harder.  He licked a raspy tongue up Sam's neck, biting just below the jaw line, then nipping the tip of Sam's left ear and taking it into his mouth.  Oh, why had Sam never noticed before how sensitive his ears were?  What a queer feeling that was, he thought.  That went straight down to his....  He could wish that Frodo's mouth were around his cock right now, like it was afore, and yet at the same time he cherished the weight of Frodo in his hand, warm and slick and so hard.  He wanted Frodo to come like that, there against him, hot across his belly.  He didn't know what Frodo wanted, what he himself wanted, other than that.  Those slender fingers never stopped seeking and pressing and his balls ached with the need for something to happen.  Now, soon, now.  He pulled away slightly and choked out,

"This isn't..."

Frodo moaned and tried to drag him back, but Sam reluctantly took his hand away with a final caress.

"Frodo, I need you to....  I need you."

Frodo stilled utterly.

"Sam?"

"Please?  I've never...and maybe you don't want to, but I thought...I wanted...."

"Oh, Sam."

They kissed again, wide open and hungry, Frodo's tongue probing deeply into Sam's mouth.

"Then you'd better take your clothes off while I get a bottle of oil from the oak chest.  If I can still walk, that is."

He slipped out of bed and quickly knelt in front of the chest under the window.  Sam's glance lingered on him for a moment as he lifted the lid of the chest, on the fine pale curve of his back where it dipped into a perfect round arse.  Great glory, he was starting to sound like Mr. Merry's book!   He needed to get his clothes off right now afore his breeches choked the sense from him.  He'd never been so hard since he first popped out of the parsley patch.   He should have had them off long ago, dirty as they were and him lying on Frodo's fine, expensive sheets.  But Mr. Frodo had a way of distracting a fellow, and when Frodo's hand was toying with his backside he'd lost all knowledge of where he was.  Oh, that was better, he thought, as he freed himself from the breeches and the cool air of the bedroom wafted across his rigid flesh.  He tried not to put his hand to it, even though it was begging for attention and needed to be touched so badly.  He lay back in the bed, and moments later Frodo was beside him, warm skin sliding against his.

"You've felt this before, when we.... "

He gestured toward the kitchen.

"I think you'll like it better than the whortleberry syrup.  It has no scent, so you won't go home smelling like one of Marigold's summer puddings."

He tipped a few drops of the oil onto his palm and smoothed them down the length of his fingers with the other hand.  He leaned over to kiss Sam reassuringly, and Sam felt a gentle touch behind his balls, and then a little resistance before the long slow glide of the finger easing into him.  He gasped at the sensation and arched his back, moving into it.

"Oh that's...I don't know as I can..."

Frodo smiled against Sam's shoulder.

"You don't have to, my dear.  I'm the one that has to, after all."

Frodo's finger pulled out just enough to allow a second to join it and Sam pushed hard against Frodo's hand, trying to take the fingers in deeper.

"Mmm," Frodo sighed.  "You look so nice like that.   Why don't we try something else, though I won't say a word about cinnabar palaces."

Sam was well beyond bashfulness now.  His master could do anything he liked, as long as he kept touching him that way, taking him apart just with his hands.

He thought he might die as Frodo's beautiful warm mouth came around him once more, sucking hard and swallowing him down, while the fingers continued to thrust in and out, touching that place that was like fireworks going off over the Party Field, only inside him.  He knew he would come soon; he was aware of the tightening all through his body.   His mind and heart were fixed on nothing but that point of tension in his groin and Frodo moving over him.  Then Frodo withdrew, and gently rolled Sam onto his side, facing away, one hand still gripping Sam's cock.

"You're absolutely positive about this?"

"Oh, glory and trumpets.  What a thing to ask me now.   I need you, you know I do.  You're everything....I want you to be inside me the same way I was inside you, and then neither of us need never be frightened, ever again.  Please."

Frodo touched Sam's inner thigh tenderly and lifted it up over his own.  Sam felt the moist silken head of Frodo's cock nudge his entrance with a tender pressure, warmth meeting warmth.   In absolute trust, he opened himself up, leaned toward the sensation, and the hardness was pulled inside him, the same way his hands were by the yielding soil of the Shire.  He could feel it all the way in and he gasped and gripped the sheet in front of him, needing more, wanting what he couldn't name.

Frodo began to move then, slowly taking him while his hand held Sam's thigh, stroking it gently.  Sam hadn't known that this was what he'd wanted, all along.  The grief that had torn at him, the sense of absence, the solitary purpose and dumb anguish, all were brought to fulfilment in the bliss of Frodo inside him, behind him, with him at a depth that he had never realised was possible.  He was aware of nothing other than Frodo and of every place where he was being held and loved.

That thought was enough to tip him over the edge and he came quite silently while Frodo's hand held onto him.  Frodo slipped a pillow in front of Sam and shifted him over so that he lay on his belly.  Sam was boneless and sated beneath him, perfectly content as long as he could feel the hot, supple movement against his back, and the hardness driving into him.  It wasn't long, though, before Frodo stilled for a moment and then with a stifled sob, came inside Sam.

Frodo lay curled over Sam's back for the longest while, so that Sam was afeared that his master might have blackened out.  Then he felt the brush of lips at his nape and that comfortable weight was gone.  He rolled onto his side, not wanting to do anything suddenlike that might startle Frodo.   He had to be careful, after that last time.  You never knew what might fright a hobbit like his Mr. Frodo. 

He was surely taken aback then when a small body suddenly threw itself on top of him, laughed merrily and kissed him soundly on the lips.

"Oh, Sam.  I feel so much better now."

Sam smiled inwardly, trying so hard to keep that warmth in his heart from being too much to bear.

"You'll feel a deal better when you've had summat to eat."

Frodo poked him in the chest.

"Bath first.  We're both sticky and oily and...."

Sam wrapped his arms about the slender waist and squeezed, very gently.  Frodo shut his mouth with a gasp and stared solemnly into Sam's eyes.

"You understand how it is now, I'm thinking, Mr. Frodo."

"Not 'Mr'."

"That's as may be.  It's hard to make an old dog learn new tricks, and that's a fact."

He squeezed once more to emphasize the point.

"What I meant to say is--and I'm sorry if I'm not very good with words, but what's in my heart doesn't always come out my mouth sounding like it ought--you know that I'll guard you, keep you safe.  I'll be at your back.  Every time you turn around you'll see me there.  No watchful eyes will ever harm you.  I'll never leave you."

Frodo stifled a giggle.

"You'll beat my bounds, will you, Sam?"

"And then some, sir."

Frodo's face softened.

"We'll be inside each other then.  No bounds at all.  I didn't understand that before, Sam.  I was a complete fool."

"I won't deny it, Mr. Frodo.  But you were no more a fool than me.  No more than me."

 

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