West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

The Elf Prince and the Gardener
Sam makes the journey to Tol Eressëa, but Frodo is not the hobbit he used to be.
Author: Melanie Athene
Rating: R

 

Author's notes: This story is based on Trilliah's beautiful The Elf Prince artwork. The poem quoted is Galadriel's Song of Eldamar, by J. R. R. Tolkien.



I've seen you in my dreams all through the years. Your beauty never fades: silken hair is darker than the night; no lines define the contours of your face. More brilliant than the summer sky, your eyes; and cloudless, free of pain. I see you wandering through lush meadows strewn with wildflowers, your motions free and easy, filled with a careless grace. I hear your laugh, I see you smile.

And I've smiled too to think of you that way.

It's been sixty years, Mr. Frodo. Sixty long years. Good ones, for the most part. I lived the life you wished for me: filled your smial with my children, did my part to help the Shire recover and bloom again. I did more than a fair job at that, I reckon.

So many things have changed. So many things remain the same. I think you'd be right proud of your old Sam. I always tried to make you so. I always did what was expected of me.

But I never did the one thing that you most wished for me to do. I never became whole. And it took me a good long time to realize why.

I love you, Mr. Frodo. I always have. I just didn't know until it was too late that I was in love with you.

Imagine how much of a shock that realization was! I hid it well as I could, but it near flattened me the day the notion first struck me. I reckon you'd been gone then for several years...

I was standing there in the garden, tying up the roses that still blossom outside your study. I was thinking on all the times I'd seen you sitting there at your desk, busily writing away, but how you'd always take the time to talk to me. Maybe even stroll over to the window and lean out to watch me work.

I remembered how your eyes would sparkle, how you'd laugh and tease. I remembered how one time you reached out a hand and brushed the petals from my hair.

And I remembered something more. I remembered the colour of your lips that day: redder than the roses from how you'd chewed them while lost deep in thought. I remembered the faint moisture lingering on them, from where your tongue had darted out to soothe the hurt away.

And I wondered... what would have happened had I leaned forward and brushed those lips with mine? What if my hand had reached out in answer to your touch and twined in your hair, drawing you further out that window and into my arms?

Rosie heard me moaning and came running. She found me kneeling on the ground, my hands clenched to my stomach. I near scared her to death, I was that pale.

My Rosie was a good wife. She deserved a better husband. 'Cause after that there never was a day that I didn't think those thoughts again. Never was there a night that I didn't lay with her... and think of you.

Oh, Mr. Frodo, your old Sam is such a fool! You never gave me no reason to think this way. You were my master, my dearest friend. And your promise that I could see you again someday, if I wished, was surely only made to give me comfort. To ease our parting. You ever were that kind to me.

By now, across the seas, you have led a life that I cannot imagine. A life without your Sam. Have you thought of me at all? Did you think that I would follow?

I always knew I would. For good or bad, my heart has ever been bent on following you. I know it is my time now, Mr. Frodo. I just don't know what answers I will find to all my questions. I wish I knew. I wish I could imagine the look on your face when I tell you all the thoughts I've had. If I can find the courage to speak...

I stand here at the rail of this ship, not knowing which I feel most sick from: the tossing of the waves or the churning in my mind. My thoughts go up and down, and up and down just like the swells that lift and drop us. My hopes are cased in a shell more fragile than the wooden planks which keep us from the depths below.

I am afraid.

Will you know me when you see me? My face has changed, as if all the lines and wrinkles I could not see on you have been etched on me. My hair is grey. My hands are gnarled. Sixty years is a long, long time.

I know. I have counted the days. All the days that kept me from your side.

"Frodo." I murmur. The sea chortles and the wind throws back your name. My face is wet now, with more than a salt sea-spray.

I close my eyes. And once again, I am back home in your garden. Standing by your window. Petals in my hair. How soft your hand is... how it lingers... how time stands still...

~*~


My first view of Tol Eressëa put me properly in my place. Like and unlike Rivendell and Lothlórien, it was: less buildings than living presences, these cities where elves dwell. Towers sweeping up to touch the sky, bases firmly rooted in the soil. Rock and tree and water all mixed up somehow together, wound around each other in a pattern just dancing beyond my ken. Grand, in a manner I could never rightly describe. Strange. As cold and distant and gracious as the beings that call it home.

Was this was the place where I'd live out my days?

A shiver ran up my spine, and I trembled at the thought. But I hadn't come all this way to turn back now. Not even if that option was open to me. I straightened up as best as my old bones could, and brushed at the stains of travel on my cloak. And if my fingers trembled more than a bit as they touched the talisman of my Leaf of Lórien brooch, no one paid that any mind. They were all too busy with trimming sails and searching for familiar faces on the shore.

I crawled up on a neatly coiled pile of rope and peered over the rail, looking for the face I'd come to see.

It wasn't there.

What did you think, you ninnyhammer? I chided myself. Did you think that he'd just stand here waiting for you, hoping you'd appear some day?

My foolish heart had hoped he might.

Did you think the ocean breezes whispered in his ear, telling him that you were coming?

Well, it certainly was common knowledge that a ship had arrived. I was guessing it was something of an event. Maybe even some kind of holiday? Crowds swelled the dock, spilled down the streets and overflowed the beaches' silver sands.

How do you expect to find one hobbit is such a throng?

I never had no problem finding him before. It was second nature to me. I always knew when he was about, when he was watching from a window, when he needed my help. And even when he didn't want me on that long ago day, when he tried to slip away to Mordor without me, well, I found and followed him then too. If he was here, I'd find him now.

Biting back on my panic, I started scanning the crowd more closely, rejecting each face as my gaze settled upon it, and moving on to the next. Too tall, too tall, too fair of hair, too tall, too...

So many, so very many faces. Despair returned to flood my breast. Faster, now, my eyes began to sweep the crowd, frantic to find Mr. Frodo.

He's not there, Sam. He's not. He's not! The voice of doubt was in full cry, speaking loud and clear in Ted Sandyman's taunting drawl. What an ass you are. Runnin' off to join the elves at your age! Comin' all this way for nothin'. Leavin' a family that loves you for a dream that never was. You're lucky he's not here, he'd up and laugh in your face. What has a little mud grubber like you to offer that the likes of Himself would ever need?

"I was his friend," I whispered.

Big for your britches, ain't you? You were a servant. He was your master. If you can't tell the difference between that and friendship, well, you're stupider than I thought. Your fool hopes are as dead and buried as he likely is by now.

Tears blurred my vision; angrily I brushed them away. My mind might well chide me for harbouring foolish notions, but I was here because I'd listened to my heart. My heart said Mr. Frodo was nearby.

He is here. He is! I told myself desperately. Use some of that plain common sense you're so fond of, Samwise Gamgee. Where would you be if you were a Baggins born and bred?

Defiantly, I tilted up my chin, and stared straight at the dock where we were heading. Mr. Frodo wouldn't leave me to flounder through no crowd alone. He'd be right up front to greet me, as was proper when a visitor arrived. I squinted a bit against the glare of the sun sparkling off the water, the better to make out the press of figures gathered there.

And there he was.

No wonder I had missed him. I had searched too low! A chuckle of relief rose in my throat. Not at hobbit height at all, because he was standing on an upturned crate, shoulder to shoulder with another face I knew. Mr. Elrond, sure as I lived and breathed. And there was Mr. Gandalf a pace or two off to the side, and a dozen other faces I remembered too.

The ship docked with a bump, tumbling me down from my perch and taking him from my view. But that was alright now. He was here. He was alive. He had come to meet me.

Caught up in that rush of elation, it didn't hit me till I set foot on the gangplank that his hair was still every bit as dark as I had pictured it to be. But it was much longer now, cascading down his shoulders in a graceful mass of curls. Worn in the elvish way, with little braids woven at the temples and dangling behind each ear.

I touched a hand to my close-cropped grey curls.

His face was youthful.

I felt my time-worn cheek with the back of a rough hand.

And the finery he wore: embroidered with gold; velvets and brocade; silk and other fabrics I couldn't name.

A princely sight. An elvish prince.

My footsteps slowed and halted.

What would he think of me?

Suddenly, I didn't want to know. So much time -- too much time -- had passed. What, exactly, had served as the basis for our friendship anyway? Cups of tea on a summer afternoon? Hardships shared on a road we never should have had to take? Him so fair, the model of all a gentlehobbit should be; me, a weather-beaten commoner. His head always in the clouds, mine bent to the soil. His world filled with poetry and starlight, mine with pulling weeds in the hot sun. We'd been leagues apart, all those years ago. How much wider was that gap between us now? Ted's ghost was right. I should never have come here.

I wasn't ready for this. I needed more time. Blindly, I turned to flee back into the comforting confines of the ship...

The elf behind me murmured his apologies for stumbling over me and kindly placed a guiding hand upon my elbow. Forcing me to keep on walking, relentlessly pushed forward by the eager press of bodies behind us.

Frodo glided across the dock and stood before me. Time narrowed to this long-awaited moment. Heartbeats slowing, the noise around us fading now. The tide of elves parted around us, leaving us untouched, alone, suspended and apart from their ceaseless flow.

Oh, it was more than my poor heart could bear. I lifted my hand towards him, more than half convinced he was not real. The illusion was too perfect. Fine porcelain skin, untouched by blemish or scar. Those incredible blue eyes that had haunted my every dream, my every waking hour.

My hand dropped to my side. This was not my fantasy. It could not be.

Last time I saw this face, it was smiling back at me, though pain and weariness etched deep creases around the mouth and eyes. Those creases were gone now. Erased. But so too were all the other markings that a face should show. The little crinkles of amusement at the corners of his eyes, the dimple at the corner of his mouth. The little wrinkle on his brow, carved there from long hours in his study, puzzling over some stubborn translation. I could almost believe that this face had never glowed with excitement or blazed in anger, never wept in sorrow, or lit up with a fierce joy. There could be no look of love, or hate, or passion of any kind on such a face. It was an elvish face: patient, serene; politely tilted to one side as he suffered my rude stare.

"Hello, Sam. It's good to see you."

It was his voice, yet not his voice. More musical, and tinged with an otherworldly chime. As if the common tongue was foreign to him now, his adopted language the one of choice.

I mutely shook my head and continued to gaze into his eyes.

No laughing twinkle answered me. No clasp of hand to hand. No tumbling fall into a tearful embrace. The strange, peaceful aura he wore about him ran deep. But what did it hide? Was he already sorry that I was here? How could a wretched old hobbit like me be anything but a disappointment to such a radiant being? How could this radiant being be the Frodo Baggins I had known?

"Sam."

And as he had those many years ago, on a far distant shore, my master reached his hands out to my face. Cool, slender fingers touched my cheeks as he drew me forward and gently placed a kiss upon my brow.

If that long ago benediction had burned like fire, this one froze like ice.

As he released me, and stepped back, I felt my heart break clean in two. I had found my master. But he was not the hobbit I had hoped he'd be. Who was this stranger?

~*~


Time began to flow again, the chatter and greetings of elves for their loved ones surprisingly little more than a contented murmur, nowhere near the deafening blast a hobbit community would have made on such an occasion. I thought of Pippin and Merry: how they whooped with joy each time they saw me, and how they always made, as Pippin put it, a Samwise Sandwich; squeezing me so tight between them that I could scarcely breathe.

Dazed and disoriented, knees trembling, I almost jumped out of my skin when warm arms wrapped around me from behind.

"Samwise Gamgee," a beloved, deep voice rumbled. "How very wonderful it is that you have come to join us, my dear friend."

I turned within the circle of the arms and looked up and up into Mr. Gandalf's smiling face. White whiskers tickled my nose and made me want to sneeze. Or cry. Or both. I felt as much as heard his laughter as he tightened his hug. I answered the embrace with all my heart, clinging to his solid warmth in this cold land.

"There, there, Sam," he soothed, large hands patting my back in clumsy consolation. "It is strange here at first, but you will soon adjust. Come, let's get you away from this crowd."

He turned, and I blindly followed, sensing out of the corner of my eye Mr. Frodo keeping step a pace or so behind and carrying my old knapsack in his hands. Oh, but that wasn't proper! But I was too weary to think on it right now. I kept all my concentration centred on placing one foot after the next.

We soon came to a good-sized cart, and Mr. Gandalf helped me climb up to the seat before climbing up himself to sit beside me. Mr. Frodo lightly sprang up and claimed the seat opposite mine. Mr. Gandalf clucked to his team of horses, and we were on our way.

I don't remember much about our journey home. To Mr. Frodo's home, I should say. He and Mr. Gandalf struck up a quiet conversation, but I didn't feel much like joining in. They kept to the common tongue at first, just to be polite-like, I reckon. But when it became clear the cat had my tongue and meant to keep it, Mr. Frodo lapsed into a flow of elvish words so sweetly sung that tears sprang to my eyes. Mr. Gandalf's rich baritone rang in quiet counter-point, the two voices together creating a perfect harmony.

Once, I thought I heard "Harthad Uluithiad" flow off my master's lips, and my ears perked up a bit. Mr. Gandalf shot a quick look in my direction, and Mr. Frodo smoothly switched back to Westron, remarking on the fairness of the countryside and pointing out sights he thought might interest me.

I was back to almost dozing, and light was quickly leaching from the day, when the cart finally drew to a stop. Mr. Gandalf placed a gentle hand upon my arm to wake me.

"We're here, lad," he said kindly, and gave me and my protesting bones a much appreciated hand down.

Mr. Frodo caught up my pack and leapt down too. "Navaer, Olórin," he murmured.

"Navaer, my dear hobbit." Mr. Gandalf replied. "Farewell, Samwise." He clucked to the horses, urging them to continue their journey, but drew back on the reins at my soft gasp of dismay. He looked from me to my silent master, flicking his bright-eyed glance back and forth between us from under shaggy eyebrows.

From the corner of my eye I thought I saw Mr. Frodo's head shift slightly left, then right, the motion so subtle, I was not sure I had actually seen him move at all.

"I'm afraid I must leave you for now, Samwise," Mr. Gandalf shook his head regretfully. "There is a matter of some concern that must be resolved. Go with Frodo, now." His flap of the reins set the cart firmly into motion. "Take care of him!" he called back over his shoulder.

I had no idea which of us that order was directed to this time. I stood there, pondering the thought, watching the cart till it was out of sight, delaying the moment when I would have to turn around. The whisper of Mr. Frodo's footsteps approached to within a pace or two of me.

"Come in, Sam," he invited, opening the little gate and motioning for me to precede him up the walk. Darned if he didn't still have that dratted backpack in his slender hand, carrying it as if it were some precious jewel fit for a prince to bear. I blushed to think of the master doing for me and resolved to put that much at least to rights soon as I might.

I had to admit Mr. Frodo's home wasn't the grand palace I had envisioned it would be. It was a hobbit hole. Very similar to the one I'd left behind, with a modest garden lining the walk, and a round green door inviting us inside. But the maze of rooms Bag End had bragged proved to be absent here. It was a small, comfortable smial. Just the right size for two. Clearly not built for accomodating guests, not even hobbit-sized guests. I reckoned this was just to be a stop-over for me, then, not a lengthy stay. Even so it was going to be a mite crowded with three of us packed in here. Where was I to sleep? Mayhap a cot, by the hearth in the kitchen? I brightened at the thought. I could be up early, have a proper breakfast served for Mr. Frodo and Mr. Bilbo. I wondered if Mr. Bilbo still was partial to those scones I used to make him? I wondered what new tales he would have to tell, what songs he might have to sing.

Expectantly, I glanced about as we entered. "I reckon the trip to meet my ship was too hard for Mr. Bilbo," I murmured finally. The first words I'd spoken since my arrival here. "Do you think he's still awake?"

Those unnerving eyes turned my way, no emotion flickering on the placid face. "I'm sorry, Sam, but Bilbo isn't here. He left us twenty-odd years ago."

Had he struck me, I could not have been more crushed than I was by this distressing news. "Oh, sir!" I cried, wringing my hands. "I-I just assumed..." Tears overflowed my eyes and choked my throat as I mourned the passing of my first dear master. I remembered the many kindnesses he had shown a curious child, all the stories of adventure that he'd spun, setting my imagination afire. I remembered too-sweet cups of tea and cookies larger than my palm. I remembered his impassioned speech finally convincing my father that reading was not a worthless skill for a gardener's son.

Something dropped to the floor with a little thump, and I lifted my eyes up in time to see Mr. Frodo take a half-step towards me, my tatty backpack now lying abandoned on the floor beside him, his slim fingers reaching towards my trembling hand. But as abruptly as the motion started, it was aborted, and his fingers smoothly retreated back to rest by his side.

"It was his time," Mr. Frodo murmured.

And mayhap that was true. Mayhap in twenty years I could be as calm about the loss. But right now, my heart was sore, the wound raw and bleeding. I couldn't find any words to speak, so I just nodded. And that seemed to be the right response, for my master smoothly resumed his role of the gracious host.

"Are you hungry, Sam?" he inquired. Casually he shrugged free of the fancy vest that must have cost a king's ransom, and carelessly draped the garment across the back of a chair. Without waiting for my answer, he headed for the kitchen.

I trailed after him, automatically picking up his vest: smoothing wrinkles from the fine fabric, and glancing about for a proper place for it to hang.

"You don't have to do that, Sam," Frodo chided softly.

"Old habits die hard, Mr. Frodo," I mumbled.

A faint smile tweaked the corner of his mouth, but was gone before my answering smile could fully form. Reluctantly, I returned the vest back to its chair. It was still warm from his body. It smelled of strange laundry soaps, and the still familiar scent of Mr. Frodo's own soft skin. A lump rose to my throat, and any appetite I might have had fled before a rush of longing, tinged with regret and tears.

"Beggin' your pardon, sir, but truly, I'm not hungry. I-I wonder if you might just point out to me where it is I am to sleep."

"I thought--" Mr. Frodo hesitated, and blinked as reconsidering what he'd been about to say. "I thought you could have Bilbo's room," he finally continued, gesturing towards the door. "You must be weary. It's been a long day for you, for us both."

"Aye, that it has."

"Then I'll wish you a good night." Mr. Frodo paused, resting a hand palm down upon his bedroom door as if bracing himself, before continuing, "It is good to see you again, Sam. I am pleased that you are here."

"I'm glad to see you too, sir." I whispered.

Mr. Frodo nodded. And quickly entered his own room, the door closing softly behind him.

~*~


Bone-weary though I might be, I couldn't sleep. There was no use laying here pretending that I might: if I just kept my eyes closed tight, if I just closed my ears to the strange sounds of the night, my nose to the strange scents that wafted past on a sea breeze.

I am used sleepless nights. They are old friends. Oh, I had thought I would be done with them after that awful quest was over. When Mr. Frodo and I headed on back to Bag End, I looked forward to slipping into the sweet routine of being home: tending his garden, preparing his meals, nursing him back to health. But home was not as we had left it. People were in right bad shape and so was my lovely Shire. It nigh broke my heart in two. I was torn in a dozen different directions at once, trying to make all the wrongs right. Trying to make it as it used to be, so maybe Mr. Frodo would be as he once was too. I spread myself out so thin, I thought I'd burst like a soap bubble. When I closed my eyes at night, the worries kept right on tumbling in my brain.

Mr. Frodo wasn't sleeping much then either. He stole around like a ghost in his own home, trying hard not to disturb my few hours of rest. But my ears were too tuned to his motions. I heard him pacing the floor at night. Heard the whisper of his rustling papers, the scratching of his quill. I flinched at the wracking coughs that took him sudden-like, shivered when he sighed. Sometimes, most times, I'd take myself on out to the kitchen and make us some chamomile tea. I'd carry two mugs to his study and we'd sit there in silence, sipping the warm brew and watching dawn's pink fingers brush away the stars.

How I missed those days, that easy company we'd shared.

After Mr. Frodo left, I still couldn't sleep much. I kept myself awake nights wondering where he was, how he was, what he was doing... fretting... fretting...

Then came a smial full of children crying in the night: hungry, or with a wet nappy; frightened by some bad dream, or burning up with fever. Those years gave me the most pleasant reasons I ever had for not sleeping. How I treasured those sleepless hours. Such simple wants and needs. So easy to understand. Such easy problems to solve. Rocking my young ones back to sleep, I found a sense of peace I'd never known.

Until along came my lightning bolt realization that I was not with the hobbit I truly loved, truly desired.

I blush now to think of all the fantasies that filled my nights and kept me from peaceful slumber after that. 'Twas like being a 'tween again. My head all aflame with naughty notions, my eager flesh betraying my every thought. Memories merged with desire, tainting the innocence of my past with Mr. Frodo. Taunting me with all that could have been mine.

I saw his face: flushed with passion... eyes burning hotter than the sun... mouth parting invitingly...

I felt his hands: stroking... teasing... caressing... gentle, then not so gentle... taking what they would of me...

I saw his body: pale skin softer than the petals from any flower... writhing beneath me... opening to me...

I heard his voice: caught on a breathless sigh... calling out my name.... moaning in pleasure... lips shaping words I never thought a gentlehobbit knew...

Lost. All lost. Never meant to be. Mere puffs of pipeweed on the breeze.

I was a fool to think such thoughts, dream such dreams.

Yet I had come here anyway. Only to find at the end of my long journey not peace, not fulfillment, not even closure, but simply another life filled with sleepless nights.

I sighed impatiently, and fluffed my pillow with a heavy hand, before flopping back into my modest little bed.

A week of this. A week of nights spent staring at the ceiling, or watching unfamiliar stars wheel past my open window 'til I fell into an exhausted doze. A week of days spent tip-toeing around the smial, trying hard not to get in Mr. Frodo's way, trying even harder to find some chore that he would not promptly whisk from my hand and efficiently do himself.

A week of my aimless, ceaseless chatter trying to bury the silence that lingered in the shadows, waiting to pounce should I fall silent. The words I wanted to say I did not dare to speak. The words I wanted to hear, he never said.

Of course he didn't. He couldn't say what had never crossed his mind. Why should he have ever thought of me that way? It was all in my sick mind. Why should he have ever thought of me at all?

It's not like he needed me anymore.

He was more than capable of looking out for his own self. While he was not the obsessively neat housekeeper I'd been, the smial was adequately cared for. No doors creaked or sagged on loosened hinges. Well-cleaned windows sparkled and let in a wealth of sun. Mr. Frodo cooked his own simple meals from vegetables he raised himself. Swept his own floors. Laundered his own clothes. Pruned his own hedges, dragged his own water from the well. Did it all in silence and with the same casual grace that had moved his hand across a vellum page as he crafted some fine verse.

It's not like he seemed to need anyone.

Not a single visitor darkened our door. It was as if we were totally alone on the island. No elf trod the road that wound its way past the smial, a well-traversed path though it looked to be. It was more than passing odd that Mr. Gandalf had not dropped by to see how I was doing. He knew full well just how upset I'd been my first night here. Odd too, that all those elves Mr. Frodo had stood with on the quay had not so much as poked their noses in to see what news I might have brought across the sea. Granted, I wouldn't have no fancy words for them to hear, but Mr. Elrond hadn't seemed to mind that back in Rivendell. We'd had many a polite chat over a cup of tea. Where was he now? Was he off on Mr. Gandalf's urgent business? And what could be of such confounded importance in this peaceful place, anyway? Was there some 'do not disturb' sign that I had missed seeing hung up on the smial door? There sure weren't no welcome mat out there on the doorstep. No welcome for the visitor who had stepped inside neither.

I wondered if maybe Mr. Bilbo had felt as unnecessary and lonely as I was feeling these days. If he had felt like an unwelcome guest in his own home. There certainly wasn't a lot in this room to reminded me of his warm, boisterous spirit. None of the cheerful clutter which had always accumulated in his pockets whenever he went out for a stroll was deposited in this room. Tabletops, mantleplace and windowsills were bare. No old clothes, scented with his pipeweed, hung in the wardrobe. No books or journals graced the shelves, no mathoms were tucked in odd corners. It was as if he'd never been here at all.

Or maybe he had become elf-like too? Too preoccupied with thinking lofty thoughts to give a hobbit's care to comfort. Growing thinner and thinner day by day, less and less substantial 'til one day he simply wasn't there any more.

Would that happen to Mr. Frodo too? He always had been slim for a hobbit, but now he was wafer-thin. The light fair shone through him -- or maybe he emitted the light? He had become that fey.

Would this also happen to me? I shifted uncomfortably at the thought. Would I still be Samwise Gamgee after a few years had rolled by? Would my feet remain firmly rooted in the soil? The stars seemed such a lonely place to dwell.

But I felt about as necessary and useful here as weeds in a 'tater patch.

This was certainly not the pleasant paradise I'd envisioned it would be: a little piece of Hobbiton, of home, nestled amidst the grandeur of the elves. I had hoped the three of us might live here on Tol Eressëa as we had at Bag End, together as a family. Happy to be reunited. Talking, laughing, singing, even arguing. Doing all those things a family does. Celebrating good times, seeing each other through the bad. Sharing our lives, our thoughts, our dreams.

I could have lived with that. Just that much and no more. Surely, in time, the constant yearning for my master's love would have faded away. I would have become content, considered myself blessed to be back in my rightful place at his side.

But even that little was to be denied me. Nothing was happening the way I thought it should. Nothing! And I wasn't sure how to answer the strange turnabout my life had taken.

I never thought to see my master wait upon me. My face burned hot each time he prepared a meal, or tended to the fire. Like I was some fancy guest, and he a proper host, honour-bound to see the visit through. I almost died of shame when my poor old clumsy hands knocked over a cup of tea. He pinned me to the chair with a single glance, while he knelt at my feet and cleared my mess away.

I never thought to have him become a stranger to me. Making polite conversation, with his mind clearly contemplating more important things. His gaze never quite met my eyes, it always drifted past me to focus on somewhat else. Yet, other times, when I stood alone, looking out the window and thinking on all I'd left behind, I'd see his reflection in the glass, and feel the full weight of his stare resting upon me.

I wished that, just once, I could break though his shield of silence and have some honest answers to the questions that tormented me.

How did them elves heal you, Mr. Frodo? What did it take to strip away your pain?

What have they left of you? Are you still Frodo Baggins?

Can you smile? Can you laugh? Do you feel anything?

Are you healed? Are you whole?

Do you wish me gone? Do you wish I'd stay?

There was no hint of what he thought on his smooth face. No clue in his voice or his demeanor. He was a blank slate. Unreadable? Or was there nothing there to read? What did he want? From life? From me? I didn't have the foggiest notion.

What did I want?

I didn't know the answer to that question either. Or, rather, I did, I just couldn't bear to think on it no more. Because I wanted what I had wanted for all those lonely years: I wanted him.

Oh, he is so beautiful, so cold. Like a fairytale prince, caught in some enchantment. And me without a way to break the magic spell. Who ever said that fairytales all have a happily-ever-after ending? They were a fool. I am a fool too.

Giving up on even the pretense of seeking slumber, I rose and donned a robe. One of those loose-flowing elvish things that seemed to be in favour here. I felt ridiculous, like a child dressed up in his mother's best dress. A scowl carved deeper wrinkles on my brow.

Acht, you're in a mood, Samwise, Rosie's soft voice taunted in my mind. I smiled, and blinked back tears. Perhaps a glass of warm milk would soothe me? Perhaps I might just take a walk. I quietly stole out my bedroom door.

The smial was dark and quiet. No light shone from beneath Mr. Frodo's closed door. I guess in this habit, too, he had changed. Early to bed now, and equally early to rise. I smothered a sigh and eased open the front door. I wasn't really all that thirsty. No need to clatter about in the kitchen and risk waking my master. Quietly, I slipped out into the night.

The moon was larger here then it was in the Shire. Fuller, brighter... or so it seemed. As if drawn closer to the earth by the presence of the elves that loved it so. The silvery light was almost as bright as day, though it bleached colours from the landscape, giving it a ghostly glow. I wandered aimlessly out in the garden, sniffing a flower here and there, brushing a curious finger across an unfamiliar plant. Dew drenched my feet and soaked the trailing hem of my too-long robe. I shivered, yet could not bring myself to go back inside. Not yet. There was peace here in the night, in the chorus of insect song, in the familiar feel of good soil beneath my feet.

Determined to put my wakefulness to some useful purpose, especially since Mr. Frodo was not about to say me nay, I ambled around to the back of the smial where there was a sizable vegetable patch. And there I spent several of the happiest hours I'd known since my arrival, kneeling in the rich loam, fingers sunk deep, contentedly rooting out the stubborn weeds.

As dawn touched the eastern sky with streaks of light, I rose from my nesting in the soil, and wiped a dirt-stained hand across my sweating brow. I felt unwearied by my long hours of toil, rejuvenated. My robe, unfortunately, looked every bit as ill-used as my poor back should have felt. I'd best slip inside before its abuse was noted. I'd launder it with my old Shire clothes later on today, and not listen none to Mr. Frodo's 'let me do that, Sam', neither! But first I'd wash myself up proper, and maybe have a good hearty breakfast prepared for Mr. Frodo when he woke. It would be just like old times. Maybe Mr. Frodo would see it that way too. Maybe he'd see what he'd been missing, not having Sam Gamgee about to set things to rights.

Humming happily beneath my breath, I gathered up a massive armful of wilting weeds and turned my steps towards the compost pile.

It was then I heard the sound. Low pitched, intermittent, but unmistakable. Composting duties forgotten, I turned and cocked a careful ear. No doubt about it, the sound was coming from Mr. Frodo's open window. I clenched my green burden closer to my breast, all joy in the day forgotten.

My master was weeping...

I was back in the smial with my hand reaching for the knob on Mr. Frodo's bedroom door before my brain caught up with my body.

What do you think you're doing, Samwise Gamgee?

The question stopped me dead in my tracks.

What right did I have to go bursting in there? Maybe, once upon a time, my welcome would have been assured, my presence deemed a comfort. A hug or a bite to eat could go a long, long way towards cheering a hobbit up. Had my welcome here been warmer, naught could have kept me from rushing in, cradling him in my arms, kissing his tears away. But what did the likes of me have to offer a sad elvish prince? What depths of grief could so shatter the mantle of unflinching calm he wore? What answer could I make to such despair?

I pressed my forehead to the door and rested my clenched fists one on either side. Inside that room, the muffled sobs continued, unabated. I imagined tears like priceless jewels sliding down the porcelain beauty of his face.

I was not worthy enough to touch a single tear.

"Please don't cry, Mr. Frodo," I begged, my plea scarce a whispered breath of sound. "Please.... oh, please..." But the weeping went on and on.

And I wept too. No jewels, my tears, just big, fat, messy drops that fell in rhythm with his sobs.

~*~


There was no trace of tears on Mr. Frodo's face when he joined me at the table a few hours later, drawn from his room by the tantalizing odour of frying mushrooms and fresh baked scones. There was no trace of emotion on his face. Calm and cool and distant as the stars, he politely thanked me for the meal, and set to with a fair appetite.

I sipped my tea and sneaked glances at him through curling wisps of steam. No doubt but that his hurts had healed. The physical ones, anyway. He was lithe, and sleek and strong. His skin fair glowed with an inner light; his face was pure perfection. The scars around his neck where that awful burden had hung were gone. His hands, when they had framed my face, were firm and steady; save for a brush of air where once a finger lingered, there was no difference in his touch.

My master was healed. He had health and peace and prosperity. He was at home in the pleasant company of the elves he so admired. He was healed. The evidence was plain before me. I had to believe he was healed, had to.

Why then did he weep so in the night?

Like a child, alone and frightened. Like he'd lost all he held dear, and believed it forever beyond his reach.

I couldn't recall a harder task than turning my footsteps away from such a pitiful sound. Not even when he had left me to set sail here had I felt such depths of misery. Such absence of all hope. Such raw need.

And yet I had taken the coward's route. I had left him to his tears. Mayhap it was but some bad dream, a passing fancy. Perhaps he missed Mr. Bilbo? Surely, surely, it would not happen again?

But what if it did?

How could I stay beneath his roof and listen to other nights of tears? I was not carved of stone. Inevitably, I would go to him. Inevitably, I would offer what scant comfort I could. And when he turned away, in revulsion, or worse yet, in pity -- oh, that I could not bear. 'Twould be the end of me! Worse than all the cruel years of being apart. Worse than never having come here at all.

There was but one thing for me to do.

"I've been thinkin', Mr. Frodo," I said carefully, swallowing past the lump that was firmly lodged in my throat and growing larger with every breath I took. Steady on there, Sam, I thought. You can do this. Even though it's not every day a person rips out his heart, lays it on the table and then just walks away.

"Yes, Sam?" Clear, level eyes focused somewhat off to the left of my face, with that disconcerting lack of emotion in their blue depths.

"I've been thinkin' it's past time that I found a place of my own. Started in on a smial of my own, if you follow me." There. That wasn't so hard to say, was it? Now Mr. Frodo could act all polite and regretful-like. And I could act all this has been a lovely visit, we really must get together and have tea again sometime. Then he could have his quiet life back and I could go find a nice deep hole somewhere where I could just curl up and die.

Mr. Frodo slowly lowered his cup back down to its saucer, his eyes following this motion as if hypnotized by the unnatural stillness of the amber liquid. A slender finger followed a single drop of tea down the cup's curved side.

"I am sorry that you are not happy here," he said quietly. "Has my hospitality been--"

"Ahhh, no, sir!" I interrupted. "It isn't like that at all."

"How is it then, Sam?" A little spot of colour touched either cheek.

"It -- it's just --" I trailed off into helpless silence, throat constricting on the rush of words that wanted to rush out in answer. How is it? I hid trembling hands under the table's edge, fingers gripping my thighs so hard I knew I'd be finding good-sized bruises there tonight. How is it? Oh, it's like a picnic in Mordor, Mr. Frodo. All ash and acid on my tongue. It's holding you in my arms, all wrapped up in sticky webbing, thinking you were dead and gone forever. It's like watching you hang off that cliff, reaching for your poor bloodied hand and this time missing, watching you fall. It's like standing there as your ship sailed away, only knowing that this time there won't ever be no ship waiting for me.

"I-I would like a little garden of my own," I managed lamely. "There's a fine spot for a smial just a hill over. We'd be neighbours, Mr. Frodo. Just like in the old days. I wouldn't be potterin' around underfoot all day."

"Neighbours?" Mr. Frodo said, disbelief plain in his voice. "You think I want you for a neighbour?"

I felt a red-hot blush flood me from head to toe. A wave of sickness followed, and I swallowed convulsively, trying desperately not to further shame myself by being sick at his table. Clearly I was not only a bother in his home, my very presence on the island was an insult to his precious elvish haven. I was right up there with the Sackville-Bagginses on the undesirable list. Maybe he should hide his silverware?

"Well I reckon I don't know what to think," I started off, calmly enough, pride battling with the tears and hurt and anger bubbling up in my breast. "It's not like you've said one way or the other, is it? It's not like you tumbled into my arms with gladness when I stepped off that ship." Oh, and how did that slip out, Samwise Gamgee? I clapped a hand across my mouth, but it were too late for that. Too late to stop the tears too. There they went, spilling down my cheeks.

"Sam..."

There weren't no stopping me now, was there? Might as well let it all out.

"I hate it here," I whispered, and felt a fierce little stab of bitter triumph when I saw him wince at my words. "Elves are grand, but they're cold, Mr. Frodo. Damnably cold. And you're cold too. Cold and unfeeling. I thought you'd be happy to see me. I thought... I hoped..." Angrily, I dashed a hand across my streaming eyes. "I'm a fool, Mr. Frodo. A tired old fool, far from the home he knew. This place ain't for the likes of me. All them elves... beautiful... untouchable... towerin' as far above me as the stars. And you..." my voice caught on a sob. "You're not like I remember you. You're hardly a hobbit no more. I'm happy for you, Mr. Frodo. I am. I really am. Them elves have healed you just as you said they might. But, look at you! And look at me!"

My master's chair scraped back as he abruptly rose to his feet. "Why did you come here, Samwise?" he said, leaning against the table as if requiring its support. "What did you hope to find when you found me? Don't you think I want--" His mouth clamped shut on whatever he'd planned to say. And then my master lifted up his chin and stared full into my eyes.

"S-sir, I-I--" I faltered into silence, staring up at him in utter fascination. Oh, those were not calm, elvish eyes looking back at me. They glistened, wet with unshed tears. They burned. They flashed. They seethed. Oh, this was something new. Or, rather, something old and familiar. I had seen this face before. I had heard this voice. This was a side of Frodo Baggins I well remembered. This was a face I could well imagine weeping in the night. Or slamming a book across the room in a splendid temper tantrum. That I could be the cause of him making such a face... That I could so destroy his hard won peace...

This was not why I was here. This was not what either of us needed.

"What do you want me to do?" I whispered, all fight leaving me in a dizzing rush. "Do you want me to leave?"

"That's up to you, isn't it?" Mr. Frodo said cooly, though I could still see an angry glint in his blue eyes, a stubborn tilt to his jaw. "You choose, Sam. I'm not your master any more. I never wanted to be in the first place."

The smial door slammed smartly to behind him.

I sat there numb, mouth agape, staring at the door as my gaffer's amused voice played over and over in my head: Mr. Frodo here, he's cracking.

I felt more than a little cracked myself. And not proud of the fact at all.

~*~


It didn't take me long to pack up my few worldly possessions. I paused there in the doorway of Mr. Bilbo's room, and cast a final glance around to see if there was aught out of place. It was as stripped bare of my presence as it had been of his. Naught would remain to remind my master -- no, not my master. My breath hitched in my throat on a sobbing gasp of pain. I clenched the strap of my old backpack tighter in my white-knuckled hand and quietly closed the door.

Quiet as a mouse I drifted through the empty smial, trying hard not to look too close at all the homey touches that lay sprinked all about, reminders of the fact that this was Mr. Frodo's home: a book left open on a small end table; walking sticks tucked in a corner by the door; an assortment of herbs in little clay pots... and damned if that fancy vest still wasn't draped across a chair.

I laughed, hot tears rolling down my face, heart knotted in a tight ball of pain. Gently I set my backpack down and picked up the vest instead. It was such a pretty thing. Fragile looking, but strongly made. Holding it in my trembling hands, I recalled how very fine Mr. Frodo had looked wearing it.

"I never told you that, did I, me dear?" I murmured to the vest. "I never told you that I reckon you're just the loveliest sight these ol' eyes ever did see. 'Tweren't none of them elves that looked fairer or more grand."

Carefully I returned the vest to the chair, a finger tracing the intricate loops and swirls of its embroidery.

"But you would have looked as fair to me had you been wearin' naught but plain homespun. If you'd been as bald as ol' Brambleburr, as fat as Will Whitfoot, or even as old and bent as me."

Shaking my head in bemusement at the thought of Mr. Frodo old or fat, I crossed over to the end table. Wouldn't do to leave a book open like that. Could crack the spine. Idly, I glanced at the pages as I carefully picked it up in my calloused hands. Not elvish script. That was a surprise. I had thought Mr. Frodo above reading such vulgar verse. The penmanship was Mr. Bilbo's, I well-remembereed that sprawling, loose-looped hand. I'd spent many an hour trying to copy his letters, they were as familiar to me as my own. The page was smudged, as if a fingertip had faithfully, repeatedly followed each line down the page. My eyes were immediately drawn to an especially hard to decipher passage:

"But if of ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?"


Obviously, someone had perused this particular line countless times. Lingered with a finger on it, lost in thought. But who? Mr. Bilbo? Mr. Frodo?

I sighed and reached for the rectangle of paper that had lain hidden beneath the book. A little bookmark made of yellowing parchment, with the word 'Frodo' scrawled in one corner in a childish hand. Two stick figures stood smiling crookedly at one another. The larger one's uneven, skeletal fingers rested atop the small one's head. I did not need to move my thumb to see the name in the other corner.

Weak-kneed, I sank into Mr. Frodo's favoured reading chair. He had kept this scrap of paper all these years. He had brought it here with him, across the sea. He had remembered me. He had wanted to go home, but that desire had been denied him, as it was now denied me. He had come to terms with that. I would have to do the same. Carefully, I placed the bookmark in its accustomed spot and laid the closed book back down on the table top.

In a daze, I wandered over to look at the herbs sitting in forlorn little clumps on a shady windowledge. A finger poked in the pots told me they needed watering. And the soil needed loosening too. This time of year they'd be happier outside. They needed fresh air and sunshine, rain and room to grow. They didn't belong here. They were growing spindly and somewhat strange. Surviving as best they might, adapting to the poor conditions, but clearly waiting for someone with the know-how to come and care for them proper-like.

Someone like me.

Someone who understood their ways, their needs, even if they had no voice to speak.

I picked my backpack up from where it rested on the floor, and returned it to my room.

And then I took myself on out to the kitchen and tidied our breakfast mess away. I laundered my old Shire clothes and that fancy elvish dress I'd dirtied so, and hung them out to dry on the clothesline. After that, I spent a productive day out in the garden, transplanting all the ailing, pot-bound herbs and setting each one out in its proper place. I hoed and weeded all around the other plants, and carted buckets full of water over to them from the well.

By the time evening shadows fell and supper time rolled around, Mr. Frodo had still not returned. I gathered in my clean laundry and folded it away, all but a comfortable old shirt and well-patched britches which I slipped into with a contented sigh after I had myself a bath. I prepared the evening meal and set it to baking while I tided bits of hapless clutter away, giving shelves of books a good dusting as I went. When I had gone from one end of the smial to the other, I paused outside of Mr. Frodo's closed bedroom door, his vest held in my hand, then shrugged and entered the room for the very first time.

It was much the same as his room at Bag End, the same style of bed and wardrobe and other furnishings, but crafted of some wood I couldn't name. The drapes were velvet, their hue the same rich blue as his eyes. The same type of drapes that I insisted we keep in our bedroom for all those years after he left us -- over Rosie's protests, I might add. As I had suspected, fine clothes lay tossed about; the bed was unmade; books and papers lay scattered on every available surface. I tidied it all away and put fresh water in the bedstand's ewer. On the dresser, I placed a vase filled to overflowing with the fresh-cut flowers I had harvested from Mr. Frodo's garden.

And then, when there was nothing else left that I could think of to do, I quietly sat on one edge of his big, soft, feather bed.

"Why did you come here, Samwise?"

I came because I love you. I came to tell you that.

"What did you hope to find when you found me?"

I hoped to find things the way they used to be: with me doing for you, with you needing me. I hoped to find things had changed: that you could love me back, that at the very least you would let me love you from afar.

"Don't you think I want--"

Want what? Want me? As a lover? No, I don't. I don't think that at all. I wish you did, but I'm not fool enough to think you ever might. But that's alright. I can live without your love. I can't live without you in my life. I think maybe you need me too.

So, if it's a friend you're looking for...

Ahhhh, you bloody, stubborn Baggins! If you want me to stay here, why not just come right out and say so? I'll stay forever if you let me. I'll gladly be your friend. Though why you'd want such a friend as me is a question for wiser minds to ponder. Them pretty elves must be falling all over themselves to be your friends, to teach you wondrous things. I'm nothing special. I'm Samwise Gamgee: a hobbit from the Shire. That's all I'll ever be. But that's always been enough for me. Could be a good strong dose of hobbitsense, is just what this place needs.

"You choose, Sam."

Ah, well, I made that choice a long, long time ago.

"I choose you, Mr. Frodo," I said, and felt right deep down in my heart that this was the proper decision to make. Still, I couldn't help but wonder if he'd happen to agree, especially after our argument this morning.

I sighed and headed back out to the kitchen.

~*~


I was elbow deep in flour, vigorously kneading dough for our morning bread, when I heard the outside kichen door swing open behind me. I didn't pause or turn, though I could feel his eyes resting upon me, and the quickly suppressed, surprised gasp he made at finding me still present in his smial made my lips curve in a little smile.

"I thought I made it clear that I did not require a servant, Samwise."

Ah, I was to play defense, was I. My smile deepened, and I made no reply.

"I am perfectly capable of making my own bread."

"Aye," I murmured, casually flipping the dough to knead it from the other side. "That you are. I've eaten my share of it this past week."

"And?"

"And I prefer my own. It has a finer texture. Those big holes in yours let the jam drip through."

"The jam... drips... through?"

"I think it's because you don't knead it enough." Placing the ball of dough back in it's bowl, I covered it with a cloth and set it aside to rise.

Then and only then did I turn around to look him in the face. He'd been walking on the beach. The wind had thoroughly touseled his long hair. Even those braids were frazzled from being whipped about. His nose was sunburnt; granules of sand trickled from his foot hair. He was more beautiful every time I saw him.

"I've been thinking again, Mr. Frodo," I said. "I've decided, I should say."

"And?" he repeated warily.

"I would like to stay with you," I replied. "That is, if you don't mind me being here. If you can stand my puttering about. I'm not the type to sit idly by and watch the world go on around me. I mean to do my share of chores, as many of 'em as these old bones might stand. I mean to wear the clothes I like to wear -- none of those fancy elvish silks for me."

Mr. Frodo just stood there, staring at me with those eyes. It didn't look like he had anything to say yet on the subject. 'Course it was hard to tell, he was so quiet most times now.

"I have a few thoughts on reorganizing the garden, too," I stated firmly. "Some of those tall plants are shading the shorter ones. A couple of the reds clash something fierce. And-- Well, never mind, I'll just draw up some plans. There's too much to cover now."

"I see," Mr. Frodo said wryly. "Is that all, Sam? Are there any more conditions you would care to name?"

"It just remains for you to say that you want me to stay." I said, and clasped my hands behind my back so their trembling didn't give me away.

Silence. A stillness that chilled my heart and put an unhappy end to all my sorry hopes. My shoulders slumped a little, as I turned away from him and pretended a great interest in watching the bread rise.

"I would like for you to stay," Mr Frodo murmured finally.

I blinked back a rush of tears. "Well, then," I said briskly. "That's that, then. Are you hungry, Mr. Frodo? I left supper warming for you just in case."

"Thank you," he said, slipping into his chair and looking at me all expectant-like.

I arched an eyebrow in reply and settled myself down at the table, arms folded across my breast. Mr. Frodo's eartips turned a lovely shade of pink, reminding me of those wild, willful roses that blossom throughout the countryside every spring. "Were you wanting me to fetch that for you, then?" I asked.

Pink buds darkened to a deep rose hue. A corner of his mouth twitched and was quickly subdued.

"I'll get it, Sam," he said. "Would you care to keep me company with a cup of tea? Perhaps we could discuss those changes you have in mind for my garden..."

"I'd like that, sir," I smiled.

~*~


He was watching me again. I knew he was. It was like a prickle at the back of my neck, like insect feet skittering across my skin. If I glanced over at his bedroom window, I knew I'd see him standing there. Or catch the ripple of his shadow just slipping from my view.

I kept my head bent down, kneeling in the fragrant soil, seemingly intent on transplanting the delicate seedlings that had grown too big for their tray. But all my senses screamed at me to turn around and check out that window. It seemed important suddenly for me to know that I was right. I'd caught him at his staring often enough these past few weeks to more than think it might be so. It was nothing new...

But why was he watching me? It weren't like I was doing anything he hadn't seen me do a thousand times before.

I pushed back on my heels, a hand held to my back, and stretched a little to ease my aching muscles. Mayhap he was making sure I hadn't keeled over in the cabbage patch? It was a hot day for an old gaffer like me to be out here in the sun. My Da would have had more sense. It might be time to take a break. A nice cool glass of lemonade was just what I needed. My mouth watered at the very thought. But first I'd just finish up this tray, get these wee ones settled in proper...

The shadow that fell across me maybe half an hour later brought my eyes up to slowly focus on Mr. Frodo standing there, two glasses brim-full of fresh-made lemonade held in his hands.

"Now that's a sight for sore eyes," I said gratefully, hoisting myself up to accept the offered glass. It tasted every bit as heavenly as I had thought it might. "Thank you, sir. That's just what I was needing."

"I remember your fondness for lemonade," he murmured, sipping from his own glass as his gaze wandered around the garden, lingering on this and that splash of colour. My improvements were well underway. The plants were liking their new arrangements; and from Mr. Frodo's faint little smile, it seemed he was liking the changes too.

"An' here I thought you read my mind," I chuckled.

Startled blue eyes abruptly turned my way. "Why would you say that, Samwise?"

Puzzled at this sudden show of discomposure, I lowered my glass and cocked my head to one side. "Because I was thinking about it," I answered slowly. "Because I was thinking real hard on how good a glass of lemonade would taste."

The faintest of light blushes travelled up his neck.

Suddenly, my idle comment was not the joke I'd intended it to be. "You read my mind," I said, my certainty growing that this was indeed the case as Mr. Frodo's cheeks now took on a pinker hue. "You read my mind..." My stomach gave a slow, sick roll at the very notion, and I could feel my eyes widening as I gave full thought to what this little trick of his might mean. "Just how long have you been doing that, Mr. Frodo?"

"I didn't read your mind, Sam. Not exactly. I--I just... I just knew that you were thirsty."

The blush that travelled up my neck was not faint at all. Crimson flooded across my face in a rushing tide; I could feel the heated burning like the full glare of a summer sun. Oh, sweet Lady. What other thoughts had I been thinking that he might have picked up on? Impossibly, my face burned hotter still.

"No, Sam. Don't..." Mr. Frodo held out a beseeching hand. "Let me explain."

"How long?" I whispered, mortified, trying to swallow against the sudden dryness that tightened up my throat. "How long have you been in my head?"

"Since you set foot ashore," he admitted quietly. "But, Sam--"

"And you never told me? You never said--" Oh, Eru! The dream I had last night... No! Don't go thinking on that now! 'Taters. Think of 'taters. Don't think about him. Don't think of him all naked and sweetly sweaty and--

I buried my face in my hands with a little mewl of despair.

"Sam, I don't know your every thought. I haven't Gandalf's skill. I wouldn't do that to you even if I could. It's just--"

My head shot up at that. "Mr. Gandalf can read my mind too?" I groaned. Oh this was just bent on going from bad to worse. Was that what the two of them had been talking about? Had they been laughing at me behind my back?

"Yes. So can the elves. But they wouldn't. Not without permission, anyway. That would be beyond rude. That was the first thing they taught me."

I'll give him credit, Mr. Frodo was trying hard to dig himself out of this hole he'd put us both in. His forehead was creased with worry, and his hands fluttered with gestures as swift and graceful as a butterfly's wings. I stood there, awkward as a cave troll, my poor mind a-whirl with trying to follow his quick words.

"But unguarded, raw emotions are like screaming in someone's ear. It's almost impossible to ignore. I'm afraid that's very much what I did when I first arrived here," Mr. Frodo said soothingly, "before I learned to control--"

"Is that what I've been doing to you?" I demanded, restlessly shifting my weight from foot to foot. "Screaming in your ear like a fauntling in a tantrum? Is that why nobody's been visitin' here all this time? They're all avoidin' my hue and cry?"

"No." Mr. Frodo confessed somewhat sheepishly. "I asked them to stay away. I thought it was for the best."

"Better for them?"

"Better for you. You've been very... distressed, Sam. Overwhelmed by it all. I thought..." He swallowed and gave a little shrug. "I thought I could help you."

My hands clenched at my sides so they wouldn't reach up and pull handfuls of hair from my own scalp. "Maybe I'm beyond your help, Mr. Frodo," I said bitterly. "Maybe you're the one that's needin' help. Someone to protect you from me."

"I beg your pardon?" He shook his head in disbelief. "You would never harm me, Sam. Never."

"I made you cry," I stated angrily. "I heard you. You were sobbin' fit to break your heart. Fit to break mine. Don't tell me I had nothin' to do with that."

"No, Sam..." Mr. Frodo took a step forward, but quickly froze in place as I retreated two steps to his one.

"Don't lie to me, Mr. Frodo."

"Your emotions run deep," he conceded reluctantly. "I haven't learned how to block out other people's emotions very well. There's been no need. My companions here are all adept at censoring their thoughts. The techniques they taught me to heal myself, to come to terms with... the Ring... well, that's a different skill. It's taken me years to learn how to master my emotions. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to feel. It was... disconcerting to say the least."

"I made you cry. There ain't no gettin' 'round that fact, is there? You cried 'cause you knew what I was thinkin'. You knew... You know..." Oh, I was beyond bearing the knowledge of what he knew. Beyond bearing the shame. The glass dropped from my hand and shattered into fragments. I turned on my heels and ran.

"Wait, Sam!"

I flung open the smial door and burst inside, slamming it closed behind me and staggering drunkenly down the hallway to my room. I had to go. I had to get out of here. How could I ever face Mr. Frodo again? I buried my face in my hands and let the hot tears flow.

"What a fool I've made of myself," I sobbed, snatching up my knapsack from underneath the bed. Tears blurred my eyes as I stumbled over to the wardrobe and blindly grabbed an armful of my clothes. A shirt fell to the floor; I left it there. Reeling back towards the bed, barking my shin on a chair in passing, I started stuffing my backpack with whatever items came first to hand. Stupid, stupid, stupid, Samwise Gamgee, I berated myself all the while. Mooning around like a lovesick lass. And all this time he knew. All this time he's been watching, never saying a word. Why, oh why, oh why? I flung my elvish cloak about my shoulders, my trembling fingers fumbling with the leaf brooch's suddenly stubborn clasp.

"What must you see when you look at me?" I said brokenly, and almost fell to the floor in shock when a soft voice replied:

"I see my Sam. I see you as you've always looked to me: a spirit glowing bright with hope and courage. Brighter than the Evenstar. More pure. More rare."

"Pure?" I sputtered, furiously blinking back a fresh wave of tears. Slowly, I turned myself around to face the doorway. I could not read his expression for shadows and my tears, but I could well imagine the look that must be on his face. Compassion. Pity. None of which I deserved. "Scarcely that, as you full-well know, Mr. Frodo," I choked, determinedly ignoring the stubborn lump stuck in my throat. "I've been pantin' 'round you like a dog in heat. You could have tupped me had you crooked your little finger my way. How you must have laughed inside to see the randy old goat 'your Sam' has become."

Knees buckling, I sat heavily on the bed. I didn't dare to cast so much as a glance his way. My humiliation was now complete. My dirty little secret was simply the ugly truth. He could pretend it wasn't, but things would never be the same between us. There was nothing left to say. The gulf that stretched between us was wider than the Sundering Sea.

The whisper of soft footsteps crossed the floor.

"Sam..." Mr. Frodo's hand rested lightly on my quivering shoulder, and gentle fingers tilted my face up to meet somber blue eyes. "Why do you think your love is a shameful thing? It's a beautiful gift. You are beautiful to me."

I whimpered and pulled away from his soft hand. "Look at me!" I cried. "Look at me, Mr. Frodo. Really look at me."

"I am," he said quietly. "I see you as you should see yourself. Oh, Sam, don't you understand? You are what you wish to be here in the Blessed Realm. You see what you believe to be true. You feel old in heart and mind, and so you see yourself that way. You see me as an elf -- and maybe I see myself that way too. Maybe that is what I've become, to fit in, to exist alone in this place. But all that can be changed. Time, Sam. All we need is time... and there's no shortage of that here."

"Time ran out for Mr. Bilbo," I mumbled, hot tears leaking down my face. "This place didn't save him in the end."

"No," Mr. Frodo said. "That's not the way it happened. He was happy here for many years. We grew closer than we'd ever been. But Bilbo has always had a restless soul. I don't think he could ever be happy too long in one place. And so he chose a different path. Not death. A new plane of existence. A new road to adventure. A road that I chose not to follow even though it was open to me."

"Why?" I whispered hoarsely, disbelief and misery tearing at my heart. "You loved him -- he loved you. All those years you spent back home missin' his company! He asked you to go this time... and... and you refused?" A sob hitched in my chest, as I imagined Mr. Bilbo setting off down the road one final time; Mr. Frodo left alone there at the gate, watching him vanish from his life again. "How could you bear to let him go? You must miss him somethin' fierce."

"There was something I missed more."

I looked at him blankly.

"You," Mr. Frodo said softly. "I missed you."

I stared in wonder at the hand he offered: palm up, slender fingers curled welcomingly, inviting me to lay my hand in his.

I shook my head, as much in sorrow as in refusal. "Why didn't you say something? Why didn't you tell me? I thought I was nothin' but a burden, an unwanted guest."

"You wouldn't have believed me. You don't believe me now. I would have spoken eventually, Sam. We've been making such good progress these past few weeks. You're settling in... settling down. Your unforgiving image of me is softening. We're almost back to Bag End -- with me watching my gardener and thinking how much more than that he is to me. How much more I would like him to be."

I felt my mouth drop open and I sat there staring at Mr. Frodo as if he'd just sprouted a second head.

He shrugged. "I've waited for so long. A few more days -- a few more years -- that seemed such a little price to pay. But now that you know..."

Again his hand stretched out to ask for mine.

"Didn't you notice that my bed is large enough for two?" he asked quietly. "I've been waiting for you, Sam. Waiting for you to be ready. Waiting for you to come to me. Waiting for you to see what I have always known."

My head wagged from side to side in quick denial. "No," I murmured. "No. That isn't true. It can't be true."

"Come here, Sam," he whispered.

As if in a dream, I took his hand and silently followed him over to the floor-length mirror on the wardrobe door. He positioned me in front of him, but slightly to one side.

"What do you see?" his voice purred in my ear.

"An old hobbit. An elvish prince."

"Look again. Look closer."

"I see what's there!" I cried, and blindly turned to flee.

Mr. Frodo's hands flew up to catch my shoulders, trapping me with a gentle but unrelenting clasp. In slow motion, he leaned forward until his soft breath caressed my face. The sure blue flame of his eyes locked with my disbelieving stare, and once again the world contracted to a single moment caught in time. And then, with infinite care, he brought his mouth to mine and brushed a tender kiss across my lips.

I trembled helplessly at this featherlight touch and felt a smile curve his mouth in reply. Firm and moist and warm, his lips began to rove at will, learning the contours of mine: nibbling on the fullness of my lower lip, teasing along the curved bow of the upper as my shivers shook us both.

At the little moan that slipped free from me of its own accord, he brushed my lips with his one final time and slowly withdrew.

"What do you see?" he repeated, voice husky in a way that I had never heard before. Sliding his hands down from my shoulders in a lingering caress, he held me in the strong curve of his arms as my dazed eyes slowly focused on the mirror.

"I-I don't know..."

Silently, he turned me back towards him. Again he caught my face between his hands, but all gentleness was gone now as his mouth fiercely claimed mine. I opened to his hunger, offering myself up to be his feast. The moan was his this time, as his tongue plunged deep inside and met its welcome there. My heart pounded madly in my breast; pressed up close against his body, I felt the quick thrum of his heartbeat echoing mine. We both breathed in ragged gasps of sweetly shared air, little whimpers escaping our fiercely locked mouths. Our jaws worked in lazy tandem, tongues wetly dueling. His touch, his taste, his scent flooded my senses. Lost. I was lost. Lost to a surge of wild longing and a wealth of utter joy.

"Look in my eyes," he ordered eons later. "Look in my eyes, Sam. What do you see?"

My reflection stared back at me, well-ravished lips parted in a secret smile. Wonder softened the jagged angles of my face, a look of adoration filled my eyes.

And in his eyes... in his eyes I saw...

"Yes," he breathed, and turned us yet again to face the glass. "What do you see?"

"I see two very foolish hobbits," I laughed, tears streaming down my face. "I see you, Frodo. I see us together as we should be. I see an end to all our tears."

"I see that too," he sighed, his face wet with answering tears.

This time we reached out to each other, and simply held on tight. There was no need to hurry. What if there was still much left to say? We had an eternity to say it. If we wished, a single kiss could last all night.

I cast a final glance over Frodo's shoulder, seeking to see in the mirror what my heart already knew: my face was smooth and glowed with an inner light; blond highlights reflected off of my dark-gold coloured curls.

I closed my eyes and kissed my elvish prince.

 

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