West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive



Time and a Little Nurturing
Summary(by Pippin): 'Beloved cousin, blah blah, dangerously ill, blah blah.'
Author: Elenya
Rating: R


This story was written for Cleo's "Sick Hobbits Challenge" on the Whether or No list.


Sam knelt down and very gently cleared the old growth of perennials away from the new green shoots of snowdrops just breaking through the cold soil. He had split the largest clumps last Rethe, and these were some of the new plantings he had made, close to the kitchen door of Bag End. There would not be much of a show this year, to be sure, with only a few of the delicate white drooping bells expected, but give them a few years, and they would take over in their new home. In time, the large drifts of early flowers would need splitting in their turn. Time was all that was needed, time and a little nurturing now.

He smiled to himself; Mr. Frodo would enjoy seeing them this close to the smial. It was his master's admiration of the snowdrop's flower the previous Solmath that had prompted Sam to transplant some to within view of the doorway. Watching Mr. Frodo squatting down in the sunshine, lifting the snowdrop flowers to look at the green radiating in delicate lines within the middle of the flower, Samwise had thought how apt the term gentlehobbit was in describing Mr. Bilbo's heir. He had tilted up the flower-heads with care, as though he were tilting the chin of some beautiful maid to look into her eyes, and Samwise had to pinch himself and tell himself not to have such daft thoughts.

That day had been full of the promise of spring, with no hint that Mr. Frodo would be Master before the year end, and there had been a warmth in the air that was missing now. Sam could picture the blue sky over Mr. Frodo's head, and hear the songs of small birds glad that winter was loosening its hold. Today was quite other, late in Afteryule, and cold and grey. To be sure, the grey was light, the cloud cover not thick, but the wind was from the north-east, and there was a sharpness to it that spoke of worse to come. His gaffer had sniffed the air as they left the smial and pronounced snow before the day was out.

A loud sneeze made Sam jump, and he looked up to see Mr. Frodo returning a fine handkerchief to his pocket. He stood up respectfully, hearing his gaffer's comments on the fine fripperies that were quality handkerchiefs. He had to agree with his da on this one: a large square of cotton was more serviceable - and if not needed for blowing the nose could be put to a variety of uses.

'I'm so sorry to make you jump, Sam,' said Mr. Frodo. 'I had no idea that sneeze was coming. I've been down in the cellar, and the dust must have got up my nose.'

'Don't you worrit yourself about it, sir,' said Sam. 'I just didn't hear you come out the smial, is all.' He looked with concern at the Master, as he had done almost every day that winter; there were dark shadows under his eyes that said things were still not well, and he looked pale and thin. Being Master of Bag End was not sitting comfortably on his shoulders, and Sam had no doubt that Mr. Bilbo was sorely missed through the long winter evenings. Master Meriadoc and Master Pippin had come to drag their cousin to Brandy Hall for the Yuletide, but since his return Mr. Frodo seemed worse, not better. Now he was glancing around the garden with eyes that looked overly bright. He shivered, and Sam was just about to advise him to wrap up against the chill wind when Mr. Frodo looked at him.

'When are we going to see some signs of spring, Sam?' he asked. 'It's all so drear.' His voice was drear, too, Sam thought.

'Well, look here, sir,' said Sam. 'It's not much, but it shows the season's moving on, as you might say.'

Mr. Frodo bent to look where Sam pointed. 'There's some bulbs coming up,' he said with more warmth in his voice.

'Snowdrops, sir,' said Sam. Bless him, he really had no idea, though to be fair at least he'd recognised they were bulbs.

'Really? Here? I don't remember any snowdrops this close to the smial, Sam.'

'I planted them last year, sir. Seeing as how you liked them so much down in the orchard.' The smile his master gave him produced a warm glow of happiness, and he decided he could risk offence. 'Begging your pardon, sir,' he said, 'but you need a coat on. You'll catch your death of cold out here without. It's a lazy wind today, and no mistake.'

He winced at Mr. Frodo's frown of annoyance, but his master's face cleared until all that was left was puzzlement. 'A lazy wind?' he asked.

'Aye, sir. That it is. It'll go right through you without a by-your-leave, rather than take the bother to go round.'

Mr. Frodo laughed at that, and Sam breathed a sigh of relief. He still wasn't sure how far he could push his luck, now Mr. Bilbo was no longer there to point out to Mr. Frodo what was needful for his comfort and well-being. The only way to find out was to keep pushing until he got an earful of ire. He worried all the time about Mr. Frodo - worried that he wasn't eating properly, worried that he was sinking into melancholy - until the Gaffer and his sisters had told him firmly that enough was enough, that Mr. Bilbo had always managed on his own, and that they didn't want to hear another word over breakfast, tea or supper. That didn't stop him worrying, though; it just meant he had to keep it tight within.

Now Mr. Frodo nodded to him. 'I'm going in,' he said. 'I just wanted to say good morning to you. I'll make sure I wrap up warm when I go for a walk later, how's that?'

'That's good, sir. The Gaffer reckons it'll snow.'

'Really?' He looked up at the sky. 'No, I don't think so.' He shivered again, and disappeared into the smial.

It was in the early afternoon, and Sam was hanging old sacking over the least cold-hardy plants, when he saw the Master leave the smial with his walking staff in his hand. He was glad to see that Mr. Frodo had a warm coat on, buttoned up close, and a thick muffler round his neck. He wasn't so happy to see that his head was bare, though, and hoped he wasn't going to be out for too long. He adjusted his own knitted cap and stamped his feet to keep the circulation going. Mr. Frodo would at least be walking briskly.

It was an hour later that the wind strengthened further, icy cold and sharp in his nostrils, making his eyes water. He looked to the south-west, and there the sun was already low in the sky, shining below the edge of the light grey cloud. Out towards the Water, her weak golden light was turned to silver as she touched the feather-like seed heads of the reeds and the tall bare trunks of silver birch. That wasn't where the weather was coming from, though, and pretty as the view was in the low sunlight, Sam tore his eyes away to turn and look north-east. His gaffer had been right. There the sky was dark, shading down to a deep and ominous blue near the horizon that boded nothing but bad at this time of year. He hastily finished the work in hand and found his gaffer cleaning tools in the potting shed - a sensible place to be, out of the wind.

'I reckon that's it for today,' the Gaffer said, 'maybe for several days to come. Let's get home and get warm, lad. Some of May's soup is what I'm needing now.'

'Is Mr. Frodo back?' asked Sam anxiously, and the Gaffer rolled his eyes.

'Will you stop worriting about Himself! He ain't a bairn. Now come along with you, Samwise. There's enough firewood for Bag End for tonight, but you'd best chop more in the morning. It's likely most other chores'll have to keep if we gets a heavy fall, but chopping wood, why that's best done in the cold, and then you gets twice the benefit from it. Warm when you chops it, an' warm when you burns it.'

They were almost blown home by the cold wind, but the small smial was snug and warm, and there was not only soup waiting for them, but new bread and some baked potatoes in their jackets. Mari split the potatoes and placed a dollop of butter on each half, criss-crossing the hot flesh with a knife so that the butter melted into the cuts. As they washed their hands and feet, the smell of stew promised the working hobbits that this welcome food was just to be going on with. They dried themselves on towels that had been warmed ready for them, and Sam winced as his toes started thawing out. The soup and potatoes completed the transition to warmth and comfort, but the Gaffer and Sam were by no means loathe to sit in front of the fire. Stretching out their toes to the heat, they supped beer and listened to the chatter of the girls.

A rattle at the only window in the smial made them all look up. 'Hail, then,' said the Gaffer morosely. 'That'll do more damage than snow.' But the hail didn't last long. The day was dark already, the early sunset pre-empted by the gloomy clouds, and Sam opened the door a crack to see snow swirling in an eddy of wind. He hastily shut the door as the Gaffer swore at him, and pulled the thick curtain across it, using the doormat to hold the curtain close along the bottom. Even with these precautions he could feel the draft around his feet. He hastened back to the fire and wished he knew that Mr. Frodo was warm and dry.

In the morning, Sam pulled his bedcovers close about him. He had slept in his clothes, and was glad he had when he fumbled to light the candle by his bed and saw his breath make a hazy cloud in the air. It was tempting to stay there, but he needed to make sure the girls had enough wood to be going on with. Without the fire woken up, there would be no breakfast for any of them. His reluctance to rise disappeared as he remembered that he also wanted to check on Mr. Frodo as soon as was possible. 'There you go again, lad!' he thought in his gaffer's voice. 'Why you spend so much time worriting over the Master beats me.' But he did worry, and he wasn't sure why, either. All he was sure about was that if it had been Mr. Frodo that had upped and left, the joy would have gone from the garden for him. Everything he did there was for Mr. Frodo.

He drew up his braces over a shirt that was rumpled from sleep, and hastily shrugged on his thick jacket. He blew on his hands and went to wake the fire from where it had been banked with ash the previous evening.

Later, with thick creamy porridge warming his belly, Sam hastened up to Bag End to chop wood. The snow covered the ground to ankle depth, creaking and crunching as his feet broke through the frozen crust, but the dark clouds were gone, the wind had dropped, and the sun was out, giving Hobbiton and the Hill a magical look. There was no sign of smoke rising from any of the Bag End chimneys, but Sam told himself sternly that was no cause for worriting; it was early yet.

He went to work in the lean-to shed where the sawhorse was kept along with seasoned wood. He worked until he could saw no more, and then took down the small axe from where it hung between two sturdy nails banged into the wall, and chopped some kindling. When he had finished, he wiped his brow and went to fetch his barrow to transfer the logs to the store shed. He sniffed the air, and hurried away from the smial until he could see the chimneys. Still no smoke. He bit his lip, and his worry blossomed into downright anxiety. Maybe Mr. Frodo had never made it home, but surely then he would have been offered shelter somewhere, so nothing to be worriting over. Sam pondered the problem. For all that the Gaffer accused him of being in and out of Bag End all day, he had never entered uninvited, but maybe he could just look into the kitchen and light the fire. If Mr. Frodo was still abed, then he would have a warm kitchen to get up to, and if he was abroad, why he'd have a warm kitchen to welcome him home. Sam collected up small chippings and dried leaves from the floor of the lean-to, and picked up a bundle of kindling. He headed for the back door and rapped loudly. There was no answer.

With rapidly beating heart, not at all sure what he was doing was right, Sam pressed down on the lever that lifted the latch and pushed the door open. He was ready with an apology on his lips in case Mr. Frodo was just taking time to rouse himself, and appeared in the kitchen to find Sam uninvited in his smial. Any apology Sam might have given was lost in a cry as he dropped the tinder and kindling in the doorway, and ran across the room to where a blanket lay hunched and huddled in front of the lifeless ash-filled hearth.

'Frodo, Mr. Frodo,' he cried, as he lifted and turned the still form. For a heart-stopping moment there was no response, and then Mr. Frodo moaned, and his eyes rolled beneath closed lids. Sam touched the back of his hand to his master's cheek, expecting to feel it chill against his skin, but it was heat that met him; Mr. Frodo's skin was flushed with fever. What to do? What to do? There were so many things that were needed that Sam took a moment to decide which was the most important. He slipped a cushion from the settle under Frodo's head and lit the fire; hurriedly he fetched more tinder and kindling and ran to Frodo's bedroom. Thankfully there were enough logs in the log basket and that helped him: he didn't need to waste time getting more.

Leaving the fire with the first flames lapping at the wood, he returned at a run to crouch down next to his master and lightly stroke his face. 'I have to leave you for a little, sir, if you can hear me. I'm sorry, and I don't like doing it, but I'll be just as quick as I can.' His fingertips sought and found the pulse in Frodo's temple; it was weak and rapid, fluttering like a rescued butterfly held between Sam's cupped hands. Frodo himself was limp, the small response of earlier lost in insensibility. Sam felt like weeping.

I can't leave him, I can't!

You can and you must, you ninny. Sitting here crying over him won't help none.

With a huge effort of will, Sam forced himself up and ran from the smial. He was in luck, although the luck could have been better in his opinion: the miller's son was just entering the Bag End garden, carrying a small sack of flour on his shoulder. Sam rushed to meet him.

'Ted, Ted, quick. Run and fetch the healer, Mr. Frodo's took ill. I'll take the flour. Hurry.'

'And good-morning to you, Samwise Gamgee,' said Ted, scowling at him. 'And why can't you be doing the running and fetching, I'd like to know.'

'Because there ain't no-one else up there.' Sam indicated the smial with a twitch of his head. 'And I need to get him into bed.'

Ted smirked and waggled his eyebrows. 'Into bed?' he said. 'That's the lie o'the land, is it?' Sam resisted the urge to punch him in the face. He needed Ted on his feet.

'Just do it, Ted, and I'll buy you a beer.' And may it choke you. 'Please. Just hurry, and tell my gaffer on the way.'

'Oh, I likes it when you plead, young Sammy. And I bet your master does an' all.' Ted rolled his shoulder to tip the flour sack into his hands and dumped it into Sam's arms. He turned and sauntered off at a leisurely pace.

'So you're going? To fetch the healer?' Sam called after him.

Ted looked back over his shoulder. 'Oh, yes, but remember you owe me that beer,' he said.

'I owe you more'n that,' muttered Sam, and hurried back to the kitchen, tipping the flour sack onto the table in passing. He took a look at his master, who was exactly as he'd left him, and went to check on the bedroom. In the hearth, the kindling had burnt away; there was a steady spire of smoke rising up the chimney, flames had taken a hold of the logs, but the room was a long way from warm. The bed was unmade, and Sam pulled the rumpled covers and top sheet to the foot of the bed in passing, to air it.

He didn't think he could get Mr. Frodo to the bedroom without help, and he hoped his gaffer would appear soon. Not the best help, with his rheumatics, but they'd manage. Mr. Frodo moaned again, and Sam knelt down beside him and stroked the damp, sweat-drenched hair out of his eyes. His master was shivering now, so that his teeth rattled together. Oh, this was bad. Sam drew the blankets close around the fevered body, and noticed for the first time that there was a pile of clothes thrown aside in a heap. He reached out and felt them. They were cold and wet.

He remembered suddenly that Bag End had the luxury of coal, although it was not used to his best knowledge on any but Highdays and holidays. He picked up a bucket from under the sink, and was just returning with it full as his gaffer came panting in, slamming the door behind him.

'Careful, Da,' warned Sam as the smoke from the fire billowed out into the room in the sudden gust of air. They both flapped their hands in front of their faces and coughed.

'What's to do, lad?' asked the Gaffer. 'Where's Mr. Frodo? That Ted said he were took ill, and you needed me up here. Not rightly in those words, as you no doubt understand, but I picked through his suggesting this and hinting that, and the fact he were off to the healer.'

Sam set down the coal bucket, and knelt down by Frodo again. The Gaffer sucked in his breath. 'Mercy, whatever is he doing on the floor?' he cried.

'Help me get him to his bed, Da,' said Sam. 'He must have come home soaked, and wrapped himself up here to keep warm. The fire was out, and there's precious little food. No sign that he had any supper, neither, not unless he washed up and put everything away, and that don't seem likely. He'd not even hung up his wet clothes.'

'Oh, lad, lad,' said the Gaffer, and Sam thought at first his gaffer was talking to him. The Gaffer shook his head, and his next words were for his son. 'Seems you was right to be worriting about Himself. Now then, you take his head, and I'll take his feet. One, two, three.' They heaved together, but Frodo sagged in the middle, and Sam could see his da was struggling with the pain from his bad back.

'Help me get him up in my arms, Da, and I'll see if I can carry him like that.'

They laid him down and tried again. Once Sam was up and steady, he nodded to his gaffer to stand back and staggered down the hallway. He would never have managed had Frodo not been so thin. Between them they lowered him onto the bed, and leaving him wrapped in his blanket, pulled the rest of the bedding around him.

Sam fetched the coal to add to the fire, and sat down next to the bed. He stroked Mr. Frodo's face again and hoped Ted had delivered the message. Now his da was here, maybe he should go himself to fetch the healer, or to hurry her along, but he felt fiercely protective towards his master, and was very reluctant to leave him again. As he dithered between his common-sense and his deep need to stay close, Mr. Frodo's eyes fluttered open.

'Sam,' he whispered.

'I'm here, sir,' said Sam, and laid his hand against Frodo's cheek to reassure him of his presence, though why his presence should reassure his master, he couldn't say.

Frodo sighed and closed his eyes. His lips moved, and Sam had to bend close to hear the mumbled words. 'Don't go, Sam. Don't leave me.' With difficulty Frodo managed to free his hand from the cocoon of blankets, and his fingers closed around Sam's.

'Don't you be afeared, sir. I ain't going nowhere. The healer's on her way, and we'll have you right in two shakes of a lamb's tail.' He wished he felt so optimistic, and it was only as his master slipped into unconsciousness again that Sam realised that he had thought of him as "Frodo." Well, that wouldn't do, but he was glad that his presence seemed to bring some comfort.

Ma Goodbody arrived shortly after, and for a while Sam and his gaffer were kept busy sorting the sick room as she wanted it, with a table and a truckle bed, hot water, and a good supply of wood and coal. She kept Sam by, as being the fitter for heavy work, and sent the Gaffer home to ask his girls to make plenty of broth. She pursed her lips when Sam showed her the food store. When May came through the snow to tell Ma Goodbody that she'd got a chicken carcass boiling for stock, the healer set her to make a list of what was needed in the Bag End kitchen. 'Get it chalked up to Mr. Baggins,' she told May. 'He ain't lacking in money, by all accounts. Maybe he be one o' they misers that can't bear to part with his money.'

Sam bristled. 'He is not! Fro - Mr. Frodo is very generous.'

'Well, my prickly Gamgee,' said Ma Goodbody, 'that's as may be, but in that case what business has your Fro-mr-frodo half starving himself?'

'Please, ma'am,' said May, coming to her brother's rescue. 'I think he's not been well since Mr. Bilbo left. Our Sam's been telling us so all winter, but we didn't listen well enough, I'm thinking.'

'I'm thinking you didn't, an' all,' said the healer. 'Now, Sam, bring that hot water down to the bedroom for me.' She picked up some towels that Sam had hung in front of the fire to warm, and led the way back to the bedroom.

Frodo's eyes were closed, and the dark circles beneath them were even more noticeable than the day before; sweat beaded his forehead and upper lip. His head rolled from side to side, and he muttered something unintelligible. Sam would have happily sat and taken his master's hand again - the slender fingers curling around his had given him a warm feeling in the pit of his stomach - but Ma Goodbody bustled about. 'If it were just a chill, Sam, you'd be doing well to wrap him so tight,' she said. 'But his fever's too high, we need to cool him down some. Keep the room warm, if you please, but we'll have this bedding off him, and I'll get him sponged down. Where does he keep his night-shirts, do you know?'

Sam shook his head. He knew which was Frodo's bedroom, right enough, had even been in it to put flowers on his bedside table as Mr. Bilbo told him, but he had never abused his position to pry.

'Well, look for me, there's a dearie,' said Ma Goodbody as she poured hot water over herbs in a basin, and covered them with a muslin cloth. Sam hunted through drawers until he found what he was looking for, and pulled out a soft cotton gown. A cry from the bed brought him whirling round. Frodo was struggling under the covers, fighting against them, but when Ma Goodbody eased the blankets and sheet off him, he kept fighting at nothing at all. 'You'll need to hold him down, my dearie. Can you do that for me?'

Sam nodded, but instead of pinning Frodo's arms down, he took one of his hands in his and laid his other hand on the heated brow. 'Hush now, Mr. Frodo, hush. You're in your own bed at Bag End.'

Frodo stilled and gave a small sob. 'Sam?' he whispered, and his body went limp again. Sam felt as though his stomach had just done a flip-flop, like a pancake being tossed in the air and landing other side up.

Ma Goodbody looked at him thoughtfully. 'Well done,' she said.

Sam kept hold of his master's hand, and watched as the blankets were stripped away from his legs. He felt guilty about looking at his naked body when Mr. Frodo knew naught about it, and the startling thought came, 'What? And it'd be better if he did know?' He swallowed at the sight of the dark hair curling between his master's legs - stark against the whiteness of his skin - and the soft cock that flopped down over his sac as the healer washed his belly and between his legs. The fierce feeling of protectiveness was back. What he wanted to do was take Fro - Mr. Frodo in his arms, and cradle him close. 'Don't be such an eejit,' he thought. 'You'll be going all girly over babies next! This is the Master!'

Ma Goodbody finished drying her patient, and Sam helped lift him while she tugged the night-shirt over his head and got one arm, then the other into the sleeves. Sam expected to lay him down again, but Ma Goodbody gestured for him to wait.

'Medicine first,' she said. 'Sit yourself on the bed and hold him in your arms, so I can try and get a little infusion down without the poor lad choking. Don't stare at me like that; you're wasting time, Sam. Up on the bed and hold him.'

Sam jumped to obey. He got his shoulder behind Frodo's head - Mr. Frodo's! That's Mr. Frodo's head to you, Samwise Gamgee - and his arm round Frodo's waist to hold his master rolled against him. The heat from Frodo's body was incredible, even through both his night-shirt and Sam's own clothes. Ma Goodbody skilfully spooned some liquid into his mouth, but she couldn't coax him to swallow, and a little dribbled out onto Sam's shirt. Without thinking, Sam raised his free hand to tilt Frodo's head up and stroked under his chin. 'Mr. Frodo, you must sup it down; it'll help you get better,' he said gently, and felt a quiet pride when Frodo swallowed.

'I was thinking of getting one o' your sisters, my lad, once we'd done the lifting and bathing, but I think I'll keep you as my nurse.' Ma Goodbody didn't offer him any chance to say yay or nay, but that just meant he didn't have to agree too eagerly. He reckoned she'd have given him a right funny look if she realised how much he wanted to stay. However, the first task she gave him took him away from his master's side.

'Honest sweat is one thing, Samwise Gamgee, but you smell as though a wash is well overdue. Heat up some water, get some clean clothes, and take a bath, there's a dear. Ask one o' your sisters to come and keep house for us, and we'd best get word out to his relations. Who should we send to, lad? Not them Sackville-Bagginses, I'm thinking.'

Sam paused at the door. 'Oh, no! Not them!' he said. 'The Master can't abide them, and they can't abide him, not nohow. They'd be camped out in the best parlour if they knowed he was ill, to be on hand if... if he was to...' He couldn't bring himself to let the words past his lips.

'Then we'll have to make sure he don't, won't we, Sam?' Ma Goodbody said. 'Hurry along there, lad. I want to get some food into him, once that chicken broth is done.'

Sam did as he was bid, as quickly as he could. He wrote a hasty message, his letters not as neatly formed as he could have wished, and gave it to Mari when he collected a change of clothes from home. He returned to the luxury of a bath at Bag End, to be on hand if he was needed, but he didn't bother to take the time to heat much water, so it was both very shallow and only lukewarm. Still, it did the job, and the soap was lovely, scented with verbena and lathering up a treat. He wasn't so bothered about saving Ma Goodbody's nose, but he didn't like to think of his smelling that bad close to Fro - Mr. Frodo.

As quick as he was, he found he'd been too long; Frodo was thrashing in a delirium, eyes rolling, and crying out against who knew what nightmare visions. Ma Goodbody was trying to soothe him, without success. 'See what you can do, Sam,' she said softly, and Sam took his place by Frodo's head. He took the wet cloth the healer handed him, and bathed the sweat from Frodo's face, talking quietly. Frodo calmed and relaxed, and Ma Goodbody nodded. 'It's a good sign that he knows a friend,' she said, 'but it'll be hard on you, lad, if the only way we can keep him calm is for you to be by. Who did you send to?'

'His cousins,' said Sam, and felt mean that he hoped they wouldn't arrive too soon. A friend? Did Mr. Frodo consider him a friend? He'd always acted kindly to Sam, but... a friend? 'Master Merry is staying at Great Smials, that I do know, and Mari's gone to ask the Post to get a message there as soon as may be in this weather.'

May brought them the chicken soup, with the news she had stew and dumplings cooking for them, and a treacle sponge all ready to steam. Once again, Sam held Frodo in his arms and coaxed him to swallow. They were just finishing when the Gaffer came in to see how they were doing. His face clouded when he saw Sam up on the bed with the master in his arms; he looked angry, to Sam's way of thinking.

'A word, Mistress Goodbody,' he said, and turned on his heel. Ma Goodbody helped Sam lay the patient down first, and refused to go further than outside the door, which she kept open a crack, maybe not wanting to be out of earshot of her patient. Sam sat himself down by the bed and took one of Frodo's hands in his while he bathed sweat away from the beauti- from his face. No, beautiful was right! He was beautiful, even flushed like this, and there wasn't no harm in thinking that, was there? But listening to his gaffer trying to keep his voice down, talking about Sandyman's insinuations and Sam's reputation, he had the distinct feeling that the Gaffer would tan his hide if he knew his son regarded Frodo as beautiful. Doubly tan it if he knew Sam was finding it harder and harder to think "Mr." Didn't his father know that Ted Sandyman would spread lies about anyone, and the best way to deal with them was to ignore them as beneath notice? It was those who tried to vigorously deny them, that tended to find the rumours grew in the telling and spread like dandelion seeds on a breeze.

Ma Goodbody sounded as though she were losing patience. 'You're a fool, Gaffer Gamgee,' she said. 'I'd say there is affection between them. What else do you fear? I hear naught but good about that Baggins lad, and it's a shame you ain't got the eyes your son has, or he might not have been brought so low. And what if we lose him - who d'y'think will be the next Master of Bag End? Hey? Otho Sackville-Baggins, that's who. Is that what you want?'

'Course not, woman!' said the Gaffer, his voice rising. 'But I don't see how having my lad sitting on his bed and hugging him makes any difference.'

'Oh, and that Sandyman's in the wardrobe watching? Is that it?' said Ma Goodbody. 'Well, I'll show you difference.' She came flouncing back in, two red spots on her cheeks and her lips pursed tight. 'Just go and see how lunch is coming along, will you, Sam?' she said. 'Your father will be along shortly to send you back.' The Gaffer snorted, and Sam was glad to scoot out, cherishing the thought that Frodo regarded him with affection.

May was busy cooking in the kitchen, and the air was warm and spicy. Snow had piled up along the windowsill and crept up the windowpanes, muting the light, but that just added to the cosy feel. Sam took a biscuit from the cooling rack on the table, and wondered how often the Bag End kitchen had seemed cosy to Mr. Frodo since Mr. Bilbo had left.

'I'm thinking there needs to be some changes here, once the Master is feeling better,' said May, and Sam agreed. He didn't like to dwell on the changes if the Master didn't get better.

It wasn't long before the Gaffer returned, his sour look telling Sam that Ma Goodbody had won the argument. 'You'd best get back,' he said shortly. 'The Master needs you, but just tell me this, Samwise Gamgee, why does he need you, eh?'

'I... I don't know, Da,' said Sam truthfully, but as he ran back down the corridor his heart was almost singing at the thought of his gaffer's words. He needs me, he needs me. He entered the room in a rush.

'Whoa!' said Ma Goodbody. 'Slowly, Sam. You'll frighten our patient.' Sam hardly heeded her; his eyes were on Frodo. His master was restless again, fighting the light sheet that covered him, and mumbling as he did so. As Sam took his place by Frodo's head, he realised that the mumbling was intelligible.

'Sam... Sam... where's Sam?...Sam.'

He swallowed, captured one of the wandering hands, and had to stop himself kissing Frodo on the brow. That was hardly a good idea after his da's conversation with Ma Goodbody. 'Your Sam's here,' he said quietly. After all, if Frodo was his master, that meant Sam was his servant, his Sam. As before, Frodo relaxed with a sigh, and his face lolled sideways on the pillow. Why does he need me? Sam wondered, but was filled with gladness that he did. If he could only have been sure that Frodo would recover from the fever, he would have been singing with happiness. You're daft, you are, he told himself.

Through the day, Frodo mostly slept, but Ma Goodbody had Sam raise him frequently to spoon in both medicine and May's chicken soup, thick with potatoes and carrots mashed to pulp. Between them they got as much water down him as possible, to which Ma Goodbody had added a little sugar and salt and a few drops of lemon juice. He responded to Sam, even opening his eyes once as Sam coaxed him to swallow, and Sam treasured that moment. For all their efforts, Frodo was still losing huge amounts of water in sweat, and Ma Goodbody did not seem pleased at how dry his gums remained.

It was Sam who stayed in the truckle bed, that night, pulled up close to the main bed. He fell asleep with Frodo's hand in his, and was wakened in the cold chill of dawn. Frodo had thrown off his light covers and was shivering again. He felt cool to the touch, not feverish at all, so Sam pulled all the blankets over him and lit the fire with wood left ready. When that failed to warm him, Sam climbed into his master's bed and held him close in his arms, crooning to him as he'd heard mothers soothe their small infants. 'Hush, sweeting, hush,' he murmured.

He woke later to find Ma Goodbody bustling around getting infusions ready. Frodo was curled in his arms, his head against Sam's shoulder and one palm splayed across Sam's chest. Sam covered it with his own; it was warm, but not fever-hot. Blushing, he shifted and looked at Ma Goodbody as she set down a cup of hot tea by the bedside for him, but she just nodded.

'You do whatever's needful, lad,' she said. Then she laughed. 'Just don't go letting him exert himself too much.'

Sam nodded, and she laughed again. He wasn't sure what she meant, but at least she seemed to think Frodo would get better to be able to exert himself. What was he supposed to do? Tie his master up in the smial to prevent him taking long walks in bad weather?

The mood of optimism lasted until after lunch, when the fever rose again, and with it, delirium. It was at the height of this crisis that Master Merry and Master Pippin arrived, looking cold and anxious. They appeared in the sickroom still wearing their coats and travelling cloaks. Sam gave up his seat to Master Pippin, who barely spared him a glance. 'Frodo!' he cried, taking his hand and kissing it. Sam envied him.

'How is he?' asked Master Merry of Ma Goodbody, a worried frown on his face.

'Up and down, up and down. Better this morning, but worse again now.'

Master Pippin looked up at that. 'Oh, Merry!' he cried. Merry went and knelt beside him. 'Steady, Pip,' he said gently. 'Our Frodo'll be all right.'

May came in soon after, and took cloaks and coats from the visitors. 'I've lit the fire in the best parlour, sirs,' she said, 'and I've got some spiced wine heating for you. You must be cold after your journey.'

'Thank you...' said Merry, obviously at a loss for her name.

'May, sir.'

'Thank you, May. We'll take it here.'

Sam followed his sister out, feeling as though he were one hobbit too many in the crowded room. He sat on the table in the kitchen, swinging his heels and eating a hot pasty, and wondered if Frodo - he sighed, Mr. Frodo - was aware of his absence. May set him to packing away such deliveries as the butcher and grocer had been able to make, and she slapped his hand when he went to pull off some crust from the new bread she had left to cool.

'Mind your manners, Sam,' she said. 'You ain't at home. This is Mr. Frodo's bread, even if he ain't in a state to enjoy it right now. I'm not serving his cousins a loaf as looks like the mice have been at it. If you've finished putting away, you can get more logs.'

Sam did as she bid, disappointed that he hadn't been called back to the sickroom. Ninny, he thought, if that means he's settled, that's what counts.

As he carried the second log basket in, May held the door open for him. 'Ma Goodbody wants some soup, and she wants your help. She's sent Master Merry and Master Pippin into the parlour, and I'd be grateful if you'd take the logs there first, afore you run back to Himself.'

Sam nodded, too out of breath to speak, and just kept walking with the heavy basket. There was no difficulty entering the parlour, the door was never shut when there was a fire alight, seeing as how the chimney smoked without a good flow of air. There was a screen just inside the door, because although the chimney liked a good draught, hobbits didn't, as Mr. Bilbo used to say. Sam was just pushing the door open with his shoulder when he heard Master Pip's voice sounding strained, as though he were on the edge of tears.

'You really think he'll be all right, Merry?'

Sam froze, wanting to hear the answer, but the reply made his head jerk up.

'Hush, my love. You'll see. He'll be fine.' There was a sound of... Sam blinked, and very quietly set down the basket and peered between the panels of the screen. His mouth dropped open. He had not been mistaken - they were kissing, and no cousinly peck as he had to give under the watchful eyes of aunts. This was real kissing, sweetheart kissing. He'd always had to try not to giggle when he'd caught his older brothers kissing their lasses while courting, but he had no urge to giggle now. He had been hot anyway from carrying the basket, but he felt a greater heat rush up from somewhere deep in his belly, and he clamped down on a moan. Oh bollocks, now his body was really getting all treacherous on him. He wriggled within his breeches. What straightened him up quick was hearing his name.

'What's between Frodo and that Gamgee lad, do you think?'

'You think he might be bedding him, you mean? That doesn't sound like Frodo; you know how he despises those who abuse their position for their own gratification.'

'But it's odd, don't you think, his calling out for him, and the healer saying he was better when the gardener was close?'

'Yes, agreed. Frodo talks about him a lot as well, have you noticed? I put it down to not much happening in Hobbiton to talk about.'

'I'll happily listen to endless stories about what a fine gardener he is, if only Frodo gets better. He'd have told us, wouldn't he? If he were in love?'

'With his gardener? Pip, you're joking, aren't you?'

Master Pippin's voice flared up loud and angry. 'Don't be such a prig, Merry. If he was loved back, and he was happy, I'd say good for Frodo.'

Trembling, Sam left the basket where it was and slipped out of the door. The last words he heard were Master Merry's. 'But you only have to look at Frodo to see no one's been taking care of him, not like you or I would take care of each other. I wish we'd come back with him after Yule.'

Had it not been for the fact that he was needed in the sickroom, Sam would have bolted home there and then, but one snippet of overheard conversation drowned out all the others. But it's odd, don't you think, his calling out for him. They had heard Frodo call out for him, and that meant he was needed. May had said as much, hadn't she? He took a deep breath and hurried back to the kitchen to fetch the soup.

In the bedroom, Frodo was flushed and restless, but not as bad as when Sam had left him. As flustered as he was by what he had seen and what he had heard, it was still soothing to hold Mr. Frodo - Mr. Frodo Baggins - the Mr. Baggins, of Bag End... my Frodo. Sitting on his big bed, Sam coaxed him to swallow, and wondered if what he felt was love. He smoothed the damp curls away from the thin face.

'Are you all right, Sam?' asked Ma Goodbody. 'You're rather flushed yourself. You're not coming down with the fever, are you?' Sam hastily shook his head. 'That's good. I need you to help strip him and turn him while I sponge him down and get him into a clean night-shirt. What's that, lad? Don't squeak. Speak up properly!'

'N-nothing,' said Sam hurriedly.

'Then don't go making silly noises to fright a body.'

By the time Sam had taken away dirty bowls and brought back hot water, Ma Goodbody had got towels laid out on the bed. He helped lift Frodo so that his night-shirt could be removed, and then manoeuvred him - shoulders then hips then feet - onto the towels. He was trying not to wonder what two lads did when they were in love. He wasn't quite sure of the meaning of Ted's insinuations, although he had recognised they were both nasty and dirty by Ted's tone of voice and leering expression, and they involved... bed. 'That's the lie o'the land, is it?'

Was that what his gaffer was worriting about? Was it the lie of the land? Could he imagine anything remotely like that? Well, if he were truthful about his own lack of knowledge and experience - which he usually managed to cover up with knowing looks when his friends were making their jokes, not liking to admit he didn't have a clue what they were on about - he'd have to say no. But seeing Master Merry and Master Pippin pressed together hinted at possibilities. He looked at Frodo's body, and wondered if his master ever took himself in hand. Samwise Gamgee, may you be ashamed of yourself. The only cock he'd ever seen standing to attention was his own; what would... what would his master's my master's look like? My master. Mine.

'Samwise Gamgee! Will you stop woolgathering and turn him over!'

Sam jumped and blushed. 'Yes, ma'am.' He waited until Ma Goodbody was sponging down Frodo's back, and asked what he should have done first off. If you'd got the sense you were born with, instead of gawping at his tackle. 'Is he going to get better? Why don't he wake up?'

'Give him time, Sam. Great Smials weren't delved in a day, you know. Now turn him again, and we'll get a clean night-shirt on him, then those cousins can come back, and we can go get some supper. Will you stay with him tonight?'

Sam nodded. Try stopping me.

'Good. And I expect you to take better care of him in the future, mind.' She picked up the bowl of dirty water and the soiled towels, and left Sam alone in the room.

He seated himself beside his master, and took his hand. Gazing down on his face, which had stilled for now, he felt again the warm rush that he had felt watching Master Merry and Master Pippin kiss. "But you only have to look at Frodo to see no one's been taking care of him, not like you or I would take care of each other." He bent down and kissed Frodo on the brow, and traced his fingers over his lips, full and flushed from the fever. 'Will you?' he whispered. 'Will you let me take care of you?' Frodo gave a small sigh, his head rolled towards Sam, and his fingers tightened on Sam's own. Sam swallowed, and then sat up hurriedly as he heard the doorknob rattle.

Master Merry looked down at the clasped hands, and then up at Sam. 'Thank you, Sam,' he said, a little coldly. 'We've come to sit with Frodo now. You can go and get your supper.'

Sam gently prized the fingers from his and stood up, wishing he didn't blush so easily. As he moved away, Frodo tossed restlessly and gave a soft cry of his name, and Sam hesitated. Why should he go at the insistence of some Brandybuck cousin that's the future Master of Buckland, you fool! when his master needed him? He'd often heard it said that the Gamgees were a stubborn lot; well, let him be stubborn - and let them think what they would. He sat down again and took Frodo's hand. 'I'm here, sir,' he said as gently as he knew how, and even without looking he knew the cousins were exchanging glances. They didn't make any comment; Merry came and sat on the edge of the bed, and Pippin pulled up another chair.

'You found him, I hear,' said Merry after a while.

'Yes, sir,' said Sam. 'I were worrited by the fact there weren't no smoke.'

'Thank you, Sam. Ma Goodbody said he might have died, lying there on the cold floor, if you hadn't found him.'

Sam looked down at Frodo and blinked back tears. I thought he had. I thought he was dead. And I felt like a bit of me had died. Is that love? Do I love him? He wiped his cheek with the back of his free hand, and was helped out of his embarrassment by May knocking at the door to see where he'd got to.

'It seems he can't be spared, May,' said Master Merry, but he didn't sound snarky. 'Bring your brother his supper here, please.' Sam was glad to stay, but he felt as though he were on show, and was even gladder when the Shire's finest decided they would pay a visit to the Ivy Bush. By the time they returned, Frodo was in a deep sleep, and Sam didn't mind leaving him for a freshen up with some hot water and the verbena-scented soap. As he lathered under his arms, he realised the smell reminded him of Frodo. Sometimes it would be that faint hint on the early morning air that would make him look up from his work, and Frodo would be standing a few paces away, smiling. How long does he stand there watching me? Sam held the bar of soap to his nose and inhaled deeply. "Good morning, Sam." "Good morning, sir. Did you sleep well?" "Well enough, thank you." Hardly lovers' talk, now was it? But Sam wondered why his master stood so long without speaking - long enough for the fresh scent of verbena to waft over. Because he likes looking at me, as much as I like looking at him?

He finished washing, and returned to the only place he wanted to be. Ma Goodbody was burning scented sticks that smelt of oranges and cinnamon to freshen the air in the sickroom, and the cousins had already said their goodnights to Frodo and gone to bed. Sam wondered if they realised it was him sleeping by; he wondered if they had gone to a shared bed. What do they do? Do they touch each other?

Alone with his master, he inhaled the deep warm scent that hung on the air. Frodo was sleeping so peacefully that Sam did not feel he had the excuse to hold his hand. He kissed him on the forehead before he settled into his cramped bed and pulled the covers tight around himself. He tried not to think of Frodo kissing him in the way he'd seen the cousins kiss. Is that what I want? He moaned softly as his cock gave him answer. Oh, yes. He reached down. Is this what they do? Do they stroke each other like this? Do they kiss as they come? Oh, Frodo! I love you...

He finally fell asleep, feeling as though he were a bigger fool than his gaffer gave him credit for. The Master! How could he have such thoughts about his master!

Once again he was woken in the early hours to find Frodo was shivering. He didn't bother with the fire, but slid in behind Frodo, holding him close, trying to ignore how much his whole being yearned for the touch. Ma Goodbody had told him to do whatever was needful, hadn't she? And Frodo had stopped shivering, hadn't he? His own disturbed night had left him tired, and lulled by Frodo's quiet breathing, he closed his eyes and drifted back into a contented sleep. He woke later to find Frodo had turned within his arms. His head was resting on Sam's chest, and his hair tickled Sam's nose. Sam was so overwhelmed with the strength of his feelings that he felt close to crying. He pressed a kiss into the thick curls. 'I love you,' he whispered, knowing he wouldn't dare say it to his master when he awoke, knowing he was reaching for all the beauty of the heavens, and that they were beyond the likes of Samwise Gamgee.

Frodo stirred within his arms and nestled even closer. 'Oh, Sam. I love you.' The words were breathed out on a sigh, and everything Sam knew shattered into a thousand fragments. He gave a small sob and tightened his hold. 'Glory be,' he whispered, as much because Frodo was awake in his arms as that his love was returned. He kissed the top of Frodo's head again, and it seemed to him as though Frodo moulded deeper into his embrace. He was so aware of Frodo's body pressed against his that he felt the eyelashes flutter as his master opened his eyes. Suddenly Frodo stiffened, and made a queer strangled noise.

'Sam!' He pushed away. 'S-Sam! What have I - what have I done!' He looked horrified, but the sleepy warmth of the earlier words was singing in Sam's veins.

Sam smiled at him, and gently reached up to Frodo's face to brush the hair away. 'Nothing, sir. Don't fret. You ain't done nothing, though I'm hoping to find out what can be done, so to speak. You've been ill, very ill. How d'you feel?'

'My head aches, and my joints ache, and I - I don't understand. What are you doing here?'

'You didn't want me to leave you, sir. And I took the liberty of holding you to warm you, when you were shivering and shaking in the night. If - If you want me to go, I will, and only ask you not to turn me away as gardener, or tell my gaffer what a ninnyhead his son is for loving you so. But I'm hoping you'll let me stay, and now you're awake, I'll say it again knowing you can hear me. I love you. I thought I'd lost you.'

Frodo blinked at him. 'Turn you away as gardener? Never! That would - that would kill me.' He blinked again, as though his ears had just caught up with the rest of Sam's words. 'You love me?' To Sam's delight, he relaxed into his arms again. 'Oh, Sam.'

The moment was all too brief, though, before Frodo pushed away again. 'I can't think straight,' he gasped. 'This isn't right! I can't - we can't...'

Sam was reminded of a rather skittish colt that just needed a calm hand and a soothing voice. 'You're not "abusing your position for your own grater- graterfercation", sir, if that's what's worriting you. What's graterfercation mean?'

Frodo looked at him, his face troubled. 'Where did you hear that, Sam?' He put his hand over his face with a low groan, and pressed his fingertips against his forehead. 'It means - it means, in this situation, not using your body to give me - oh, Sam, my head hurts.'

Sam kissed him on the temple. 'Tell me, my master. Give you what?'

Frodo closed his eyes. 'Give me what I want... when you might feel you have to because... because I am your master.'

'What you want?' The small movement Frodo had made, tilting his head to meet the kiss, had not gone unnoticed.

Frodo's eyes jerked open. 'Sam, I didn't mean that, I was just - '

Sam laid a finger on his lips. 'I'd like to be able to give you what you want, though I don't know how. Will you teach me, when you're feeling better?'

Frodo closed his eyes again; he was starting to tremble in Sam's arms. 'This is all wrong, Sam. You're too young. You don't... you don't know what you're doing.'

'Do Master Merry and Master Pippin know what they're doing? They're younger than me, begging your pardon.'

Frodo's eyes opened once more, but as though it were a struggle. 'How do you know -?' He groaned. 'Sam, my head really does hurt. This isn't a good time. I can't... I can't take advantage of you like this.'

'Seems to me, I'm the one taking advantage. You've stopped shivering now, and I've got a little bed close by if you need me.' Sam disentangled his arms and slipped from the warmth. His regret was tempered by the sure knowledge that Frodo did love him and did want him. He tucked the covers around his master his! and set to lighting the fire, so he could boil the little kettle Ma Goodbody used, and make an infusion for the headache. Once it had steeped, and cooled enough to drink, Sam helped Frodo sit a little with an arm around his shoulder, and held it to his lips while he drank.

'Try and sleep, sir,' he said. 'A proper sleep, not that fever-bred tossing and turning. I'll be right here.'

'Thank you, Sam.'

'Bless you, sir, there's naught but pleasure in taking care of you.' He tucked Frodo up, and - deciding he might as well throw caution to the wind - kissed him again on the forehead. Frodo sighed and closed his eyes, and did indeed fall into sleep. Sam looked down at his pale face, smudged by the shadows of illness, and was struck for the first time by how young his master was. All the time Sam had been growing up from a small hobbitling to an awkward teen, Mr. Frodo had seemed to his eyes to be a grown hobbit. But now Sam was a tween, expected to do a full days work and drink his ale with the best of them. He touched Frodo's cheek. 'You're not much more than a tween yourself, are you?' he murmured. He pushed his small bed back against the wall as quietly as he could, got dressed, and dragged the chair into position by Frodo's head. When Ma Goodbody came in, he stood and stretched, yawning widely.

'How's he been?' she asked, and smiled and nodded when Sam said his master had been properly awake. She sniffed the cup on the bedside table. 'You gave him some willow-bark,' she said.

'He said his head hurt and his joints ached.'

'Well done, lad. If he's on the mend then I'm thinking we need some changes around here. Someone living in, for a start, to make sure the fires are lit and the pantry stocked, and to keep an eye that he's eating right. Daddy Twofoot's old ma was only telling me the other day that Mr. Bilbo had loaded too much on young shoulders, upping and offing like that soon as the lad came of age.'

Sam silently agreed with her, but only if he should be the one to do the living-in. His gaffer wouldn't be happy. Sam grinned to himself as he headed to the kitchen to light fires and pump water. Be even less happy if he knowed I was after making his worries come true. However, Ma Goodbody had shown Sam the way to work round his da's objections. Keeping Frodo in health was the way to keep the Sackville-Bagginses out of Bag End; keep pulling at that thread, and his gaffer's arguments would unravel in no time.

Outside, the sky was streaked with pink in the predawn, and the thaw had begun. A blackbird was perched on the crab apple tree, bending over to peck at the small red apples that hung there, and another flew up from the holly bush scolding Sam loudly in the still air. Soon there would be a heap of chores in the garden, but he'd work them around looking after Frodo. He knelt down and brushed snow away from where he had transplanted the snowdrops. Time was all Frodo needed, time and a little nurturing now. He straightened up, and looked to the first glow of golden light just appearing over the horizon. He smiled quietly to himself, and went about the business of the day.

He made sure that Bag End was well supplied with wood and water, and then ate the bacon, eggs and fried bread that May had cooked, washing it down with plenty of tea.

'Are you going back to nurse Mr. Frodo?' asked May, and Sam shook his head regretfully.

'I've no call to, if he's better, not unless he asks for me.'

'You could take some second breakfast down for Ma Goodbody, and maybe Mr. Frodo would eat something if he's awake,' said May, and she laughed at the speed with which Sam jumped up and started setting out a tray. He hesitated, and then went to pick a few twigs of winter-flowering jasmine. May found him a tiny vase, and he added them to the tray.

Standing outside the door, balancing the tray on one hand while he knocked, he felt nervous about facing his master again. Ma Goodbody called out for him to come in, instead of quietly opening the door for him, which he correctly guessed meant Frodo was awake. He twisted the knob, got a better grip on the tray, and pushed the door open with his shoulder. Frodo was sitting against pillows plumped up behind him. Their eyes met, and Sam smiled, feeling shy all of a sudden. Judging by Frodo's answering smile, Sam wasn't the only one feeling that way.

'There now,' said Ma Goodbody, 'all that was needed were you, Samwise, and your master has more colour to his cheeks.' She laughed as Frodo's colour deepened. 'I'll take my breakfast in the kitchen; I can't be doing with all this balancing food on my lap. You stay here and make sure he eats, and then you can help him up while I change the bedding.' She disappeared before either of them could speak.

Sam set the tray down on Frodo's lap, and placed the yellow flowers on the bedside table. 'How are you feeling, sir?' he asked. 'Is your head any better?'

'Yes, it is. Thank you, Sam. Thank you for everything. Mistress Goodbody has told me what you've done for me - finding me, and looking after me.' He stretched out his hand. Sam took it, and their eyes met again; they held the gaze while Sam felt his heart thumping in his chest. He crouched down by the bed, and kissed the hand held in his.

'Will you eat something, Mr. Frodo?' he asked.

'I can't very well when you're holding my hand, can I?'

'Sorry, sir.'

Frodo sighed. 'I don't think I can eat much of this. Will you eat some? Sit down, and talk to me.'

'Thank you, sir. I'll eat some if you do as well, not otherwise.' He accepted a slice of fried bread topped with crispy bacon, and watched Frodo slowly eat some mushrooms.

'I wasn't dreaming in the night, was I, Sam?'

'No, sir.'

'Did you mean what you said?'

'That I love you? Yes. That I'd like you to show me how to love you? Yes again. You meant it, didn't you? When you said you love me?'

Frodo sighed again. 'Yes, Sam, I did mean it. I do love you. I didn't imagine it would ever be a problem. I didn't imagine that you would ever find out, nor that you would love me in turn. Mistress Goodbody thinks I should ask you to live in, to look after me.'

'Foregone conclusion, I'd say, sir.'

Frodo laughed at that, though he winced after, so maybe making him laugh wasn't the best idea quite yet. 'Do I have a say at all?' he asked.

'If the saying is that I'm not needed to make sure you take better care of your own self, then no, sir. Sorry. Now eat some more before it gets all cold and greasy, and I'll help you into the chair so's Ma Goodbody can sort out the bed for you.'


'Yes, me dear?'

Frodo closed his eyes. 'Say that again,' he whispered.

'Me dear.'

'Oh, Sam. Dear Sam. Can we just see how things develop?' He looked at Sam. 'As though - as though we were courting? I'm sorry, that sounds silly, but would you come and live here with your own room, and - and look after me? Not in bed, I don't mean,' he added hastily, though Sam knew well enough what he meant.

'Aye. I'd be the happiest hobbit in the Shire, just to do that: make sure the smial's warm for you, and that you've got hot water when you need it; bring you a cup of tea in the morning, and sit with you while you eat. I'll stop you getting lonely - and maybe you'll tell me tales of olden days, like Mr. Bilbo used to. If I'm courting you, does that mean I can kiss you, proper like?' He lifted the tray away and came back to curl one hand around the back of Frodo's neck, his fingers sliding into tangled hair. Frodo's hands cupped his face, and they moved together, noses bumping. Sam laughed breathlessly, tilted his head, and Frodo's mouth closed over his. The gentleness of the movement, and the sweet warmth gave Sam butterflies in the depths of his stomach, a feeling of nervousness and excitement. Frodo's tongue lapped at his upper lip, until Sam opened his mouth on a whimper of desire. Frodo gave a low hum as his tongue slipped within, and Sam found it was the most natural thing in the world for his own tongue to meet and answer the probing movement. He moaned softly as they settled into a slow rhythm, and he was only vaguely aware of Frodo's hands moving to hold him close - as though they moved in another world, far away from the one to which he had been carried.

Gradually, they parted, coming back to nip and tug at each other's lips with soft sighs of contentment. Sam's eyes slowly opened to meet Frodo's gaze. Silently they stared at each other.

'No doubt about it. You win, Pip.'

They jumped, confused at being thrown from the intensity of their small world. Sam's first thought was to run, but Frodo's hand, laid on his arm, steadied him. 'And what, cousins-mine, is the bet?' Frodo asked quietly.

'That you're bedding the gardening lad.'

'He has a name, Merry. And you will be pleased to hear that you have won the bet, even if you have lost my good opinion. I have not "bedded" Sam.'

'Oh, don't be so stuffy, Frodo,' said Master Merry cheerfully. 'It doesn't become you. He has won in intent, I think.' He winked at Sam. 'Just a matter of time, if you ask me.' Sam felt the heat rise to his face.

'But I don't ask you. What are you doing here, anyway?'

'Oh, you know how it is,' said Master Pippin, helping himself to a cold rasher of bacon. 'Beloved cousin, blah blah, dangerously ill, blah blah. We thought we'd come and see if we could finish you off, but when we found how Sam doted on you, we took pity on him.'

'You're here because I've been ill?'

Master Merry rolled his eyes. 'Frodo, have you any idea how ill you've been? Sam sent for us, and quite right, too, though he's probably wishing he hadn't about now. It's been worth coming, though, just to see you so arse over tit in love. We'll tan Sam's hide for him if he doesn't make you happy; it's about time - '

'You will do no such thing,' spluttered Frodo.

'Stop teasing him, Merry,' said Master Pippin, leaning over and kissing Frodo. 'It's clear his sense of humour's not recovered. But not to worry, Frodo-dear, we'll still love you. And just be grateful it was us that came upon such a shockingly depraved scene, and not poor Mistress Goodbody.'

'Go away! I need to sleep,' sighed Frodo, sounding weary. His head fell back against the pillows, and he closed his eyes. Sam looked at him in concern; he did look worse again: his face was very pale and there was a light beading of sweat on his forehead. Sam laid his hand against his master's face; the skin was cold and clammy where it had been warm.

Master Merry took Frodo's hand. 'Frodo-dear, I'm glad to see you looking better, and I'm sorry if we've made you worse again with our teasing. Mistress Goodbody has asked us to speak to the Gaffer about Sam living in at Bag End, and that seems an excellent idea. We won't take no for an answer.' He and Pippin both kissed their cousin on the cheek; Frodo smiled weakly, and Sam began to feel more kindly towards them. If they were putting their weight behind his moving into Bag End, then he could put up with their provoking ways.

'I'm sorry, Sam,' said Frodo after his cousins had gone, as Sam helped him to lie down. 'They're very kind, really. They're just... just rather full of themselves.'

'Hush, me dear. Don't you be worriting about it. You sound like you've talked too much already. If you want to sleep again, you do that; changing the bed can wait a while.' He kissed Frodo on the lips, and Frodo My love! Mine! was asleep almost as Sam tucked the sheets around him.

Ma Goodbody wasn't unduly worried by Frodo's sleeping again so soon. 'It's what he needs, Sam-lad,' she said, as if he didn't know that. 'He'll be up and down, and when he does too much, he'll come over weak and shaky. It's to be expected. I'm not needed here, now, but I'll look in again on Trewsday, and I've made it clear to the Gaffer that I expect you to be close at hand; Mr. Baggins won't be in a state to do much for himself. May is heating water, and I suggest you help him bath when he wakes, while May changes his sheets, but you mustn't leave him, and you mustn't let him get cold. Understood? Good lad! And send for me if you're worried. It'll be a slow process, so don't try and rush it.'

Ma Goodbody was right; it was a slow process, but each time she visited her patient, she expressed her satisfaction. There were setbacks, of course, mostly when Frodo became frustrated with his role of invalid, and tried to do too much - against Sam's advice, and sometimes without his knowledge.

'I'm sorry, Sam,' he said, after one such relapse, as Sam tucked him, weak and trembling, into his bed. 'I only walked down the Hill.'

'Aye, well, it wasn't so much the walking down, was it, me dear?' said Sam.

'You look happy. I think you like having me in bed.'

'Well, at least I know where you are,' said Sam. And I'd like you to have me, in bed or anywhere else. 'And I am happy. Happy I can do this.' He ran his fingers into the hair flopping over Frodo's face, lifting it out of his eyes and stroking it back. 'And this.' He bent over and kissed Frodo lightly on the lips.

Yes, he was happy, and spring that year seemed to burst out in a riot of sunshine, and colour and bird song. Sam couldn't not join in, and he sang as he worked. From the moment he got up to light fires and boil the kettle for Frodo's good-morning cup of tea, to the moment he wished him goodnight and tidied the smial to rights, Sam was working to make Frodo happy, and that made him happy. The pantry was full, Frodo was gaining a pleasing roundness, and the dark shadows had disappeared from under his eyes. Master Merry and Master Pippin had tied the Gaffer up in verbal knots, until he thought it was his idea that Sam took all his meals up at Bag End to make sure Mr. Frodo ate properly. Only on Highdays did Sam eat with his family and go to the Ivy Bush or the Green Dragon with his gaffer.

There were some jokes about playing nursemaid, and Ted Sandyman made suggestive comments, but Sam simply played the Sackville-Baggins card for all it was worth, which shut everyone up, saving the miller's son. The young Baggins was well thought of, and no one wanted to see Lobelia in residence at Bag End.

'And Sam is mostly a sensible lad,' said Daddy Twofoot to the Ivy Bush in general, as Sam sat with his friends over a pint of beer. 'And it's to be hoped as how he'll help the new Master grow some hobbit-sense and settle down.'

'Get his head filled with moonshine, more like,' grunted Ted, and Sam hoped that was the rights of it.

Back at Bag End, other gossip Sam had picked up at the inn was passed on to Frodo, and making Frodo laugh became another of his joys in life.

'Oh, Sam,' said Frodo, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes as Sam told the tale of the pig in Widow Chubb's smial. 'I never knew you were such a clever mimic.'

Sam was also learning about Frodo - amongst other things, just how much work went into being the Master of the Hill, landlord to the Baggins' estates, and helping the poor. Frodo wasn't an early riser, but he still managed to put in a full day's work, even if his hands were only ink-stained at the end of it, not grimed with manual labour. It was an eye-opener for Sam, who had always rather assumed that Frodo swanned about, living an idle life. It was very noticeable, with Frodo confined in convalescence, that the number of visitors increased dramatically. Not idle visitors, coming for tea and a chat, but tenants wanting this or that decision. It seemed that Frodo had a lot more purpose to his walks than he had realised, combining them with business around the farms.

Sam had also never realised what a delight it was to be courting, to anticipate sometime in the future when they might become lovers, but for now just kissing and teasing a little, and learning each other's ways. He wasn't sure about undressing in front of Frodo when the time came, for all that he had seen his master's nakedness. Would Frodo watch him? He felt self-conscious just thinking about it. You're a numbskull, Samwise Gamgee. You want him to bed you, you've made no secret of that. Look how gentle he's been, for all he seems to know what's what; he ain't about to go making you feel a fool, now is he?

Living in at Bag End meant shared evenings sitting in front of the fire, and Sam treasured this time above all others. He sat on the floor one evening in late Rethe, leaning against Frodo's leg as his master sat on the settee. The firelight flickered before him, and Frodo's fingers carded slowly through his hair. Sam sighed with the pleasure of it, and rested his head on Frodo's knee. 'Will you tell me a story?' he asked, and Frodo told him of the Two Trees of Valinor, made at the Beginning of Days by Yavanna of the Valar, and how their light was lost.

'Is that the end?' asked Sam, when Frodo fell silent.

'The end? Oh, no. The tale goes on. It is a long tale, as Bilbo told it to me, but there seems to be much sadness in the old tales of the Elves.'

'Have you met any Elves?'

'Yes. Yes, I have. They did seem sad, but Bilbo said I've only met those who are leaving, sailing away from the Grey Havens, out beyond the Tower Hills, so I suppose they are sad to be leaving Middle-earth. I would be, wouldn't you?'

Sam nodded and tilted his head back for a kiss, but Frodo leaned back on the settee slightly with a come-hither light in his eyes. Sam scrabbled to his feet and into the welcome of Frodo's arms. They kissed and cuddled, and Sam pushed against Frodo with a moan as he felt Frodo's hand brush up the inside of his thigh, feeling the want bloom inside.

'May I touch you?' whispered Frodo, his breath catching on the words.

'Please touch me,' gasped Sam. Oh, please, now!

Frodo's fingers brushed over the bulge in his breeches, and Sam whimpered as he felt Frodo flip buttons undone and reach inside. Released from the constraint of cloth, Sam's shaft lurched into the soft caress of Frodo's hand, as though it knew where its place lay, and Frodo laughed softly.

'So soft to touch, and yet so full of rigid heat,' he whispered, and his hand stroked down, rolling the skin away from the swollen tip. Sam sank deep into his arms, deep into the encircling hand, deep into the wonder of Frodo's touch. How could he have imagined it would feel like his own hand on him? He felt a little fluid leak from his opening, and Frodo spread it, his fingers gliding whisper-soft across the sensitive head before dragging down again, making Sam thrust instinctively into the hand that curled around him. Frodo's mouth closed over his, and Sam was lost in a world where all he could do was whimper and thrust and wish it could go on forever and that release would take him now. Each time he thought he was there, on the very edge, Frodo would somehow draw him back, until the need for release was almost agony. His mouth was too busy for coherent pleas, but his whimpers were becoming more desperate, and his whole body was begging with Frodo to finish. Somehow he was vaguely aware that he was on his back, that Frodo was almost covering him, and he pushed up against him, his hands clutching at Frodo's back, bunching up his shirt. He felt he would burst if Frodo didn't let him come, and suddenly he was there, and his mouth was free to cry out at the blazing wonder of it. He thrust against his love, his hands clenching and releasing as he spasmed and fell back spent. Trembling and panting, he raised his eyes to Frodo's, hardly able to move, but wanting to give him something in return.

'Let me...' he gasped, and Frodo leaned in to kiss him on the lips.

'Like this.' His voice was a whisper of warmth against Sam's mouth, and then he was kneeling upright over him and freeing his own shaft. He reached out his hand to Sam's and guided him in the rhythm, letting him take over. Sam didn't know where he most wanted to look: at Frodo's eyes, becoming more unfocused by the moment, at his lips, as full and red as at the height of his fever, or at his own hand working over glorious hard cock, bringing his love to climax.

'Ain't you the lovely one,' he whispered hoarsely, and Frodo jerked, coming with breathless cries. He folded over Sam, almost sobbing, and Sam reached up to bring him into his arms, to bring him home. They kissed, too breathless to do more than quick touches of lips against lips, repeated over and over until they were laughing.

Frodo eased his weight off Sam a little to gaze down on him. 'There's so much more, Sam, if you still want me to teach you,' he said, and his voice was deep and husky.

'More?' Sam squeaked, sounding for all the world like he was a teener again, going through the change. He didn't think he would survive more.

Frodo laughed. 'Yes, more, but I don't mean this minute, or even tonight. There's no hurry, and there's a lot of fun just doing this sort of thing, yes?' Sam nodded enthusiastic agreement; he rummaged in his pocket and pulled out his large handkerchief to mop up a little. Frodo rolled out of his arms and stood, reaching out a hand to pull him to his feet. He started stripping Sam of his shirt and breeches, soiled by their mixed seed. 'Of course, there's something to be said for undressing first - less messy, for one thing - but, well, I find it exciting this way round.' He pushed Sam's drawers down. 'Mmm. There's a fine sight, my Sam.' He ran an appreciative hand down Sam's belly and between his legs to cup and stroke, and sighed deeply, a contented sound. 'Stoke the fire up so you don't get cold, my love. I'm going to find us some blankets.'

When he returned, he stripped himself naked, and joined Sam on the hearth rug. They sat wrapped together and enfolded in the soft, fluffy warmth of wool.



'If I do anything you don't like, or touch you in a way that doesn't give you pleasure, you will tell me, won't you?'

'I can't imagine that happening, me dear.'

'But you will tell me?'

'Yes, I'll tell you.' They kissed, slowly - a sated rhythm, lacking any urgency.



'Will you come and share my bed?'

'I'd like that.' They rested their heads together and watched the flames licking around the logs, their fingers intertwined. Sam felt warm and drowsy. Much more! He couldn't even begin to guess what Frodo had in store for him. But there was one thing he was sure about. 'I love you, Frodo,' he murmured.

'As I love you, my Sam.'


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