West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
The Warming Lesson
A little weather ain't never kept a Gamgee from his job, nor from his true love either.
Author: Briefly Del
Sam Gamgee stepped out the front door of 3 Bagshot Row, stopped, and set his arms akimbo. "Well now, if this ain't a pleasant surprise."
His father Hamfast was at his side a moment later, slipping the straps of his suspenders over round, work-hardened shoulders. "Awfully warm for November, isn't it, Dad?" he remarked in the same pleased voice. Gaffer Gamgee said nothing, only nodding and craning his neck with a small grunt. "Bet we could get a lot done today. There's hardly even a frost on the ground--"
"There'll be more'n a frost tonight, lad, you can be sure of that," Ham commented. He pointed upward. "Lookit that sky. You mark my words, we'll have an ice storm tonight."
Sam followed his father's gesture: the Shire seemed roofed by a low, ponderous sheet of iron. He frowned. "I've never seen it like that before."
Hamfast shrugged. "It's been a good while since we've had one o'these. Used to call it dwarf weather when I was a boy, though I couldn't rightly tell you why." He paused thoughtfully, chewing his lip. "In fact, think the last time might have been December the year before our Daisy came along."
Sam looked at his father. "What happened?"
The Gaffer made a noncommittal tilt of his head, although a sly smile touched his lips. "Well, your Ma and me was locked in that house just as surely as a chest of jools, and for three days at that, and well -- with your brothers off with Uncle Andy, stripe me if we didn't just have all kinds of spare time on our hands."
Sam shook his head and suppressed desires to both laugh and sigh. He patted his father on the shoulder as he turned back into the house, saying, "Think I'll make a run 'round the Row, see if anyone needs anything at Hobbiton Market."
Hamfast furrowed his brow, trying to remember something. "Weren't your sister and mother goin' in this morning anyhow?"
"I think May mentioned it, but, well..." Sam raised an eyebrow. "If this storm is to be half of anything like you've hinted, there may be some folks as lack in their larder what's needed to keep 'em comfortable-like in this weather." He began heading inside for the second time.
The Gaffer smiled, proud of his son's philanthropy. "That's my boy. You send Mr. Bilbo my regards when you get his way."
Sam stopped at the threshold once again. It somehow hadn't occurred to him that this might mean some days apart from Mr. Frodo. He threw a glance over his shoulder, past his father and down the road to Bag End. Well, he thought, the slightest of wry expressions on his face, by golly if I'm going to have to do without him for three days, guess it only makes plain sense to stock up on comfort now.
* * *
He saved Bag End for last, because he had a very distinct feeling that if he was distracted, Widow Rumble and all those other Row inhabitants would be the worse off for it. He had mustered a good deal of discipline, forcing himself to listen to smial after smial of grocery lists, advice, and anecdotes of other storms blown over long before he was a twinkle in his mother's eye. When the conversations stretched beyond candied chestnuts and loaves of bread, Sam let his mind wander, over Frodo's body, his pale slender arms, his slim, taut waist, that spot on his neck just above his collarbone...
And now his hand rested atop the wicker gate dividing Bag End from the road. He let his gaze drift upward, above the bare hedges and over its windows. There, second to last on the far right -- that was Mr. Frodo's room. His grip on the gate tightened just slightly, his fingers anticipating touch of quite another kind...
Aye, soon enough, soon enough, Sam Gamgee. Meanwhile clock's not gettin' any earlier, so you'd best hurry up and do your job as promised.
So, just as he ever did during the growing season, he unhitched the small and purely ornamental latch inside the gate and swung it inward, striding up the walkway to the main entrance of the smial. Instead of veering off to the left and toward the tool shed, he planted himself on the front step and lifted his fist to knock. He faltered midswing, however -- he heard raised voices inside. Sam frowned: it wasn't like Mr. Bilbo and Mr. Frodo to fight, but all the same, he wouldn't like to walk in on anything. Then again, Mr. Bilbo did have an awful loud voice, and he tended to raise it when he got excited. He leaned up against the round door for a moment and pressed his ear to the wood: the words were indistinct, but the tone was not angry. Sam stepped back, weighed his options, and then tapped quickly on the door.
For a moment, the clamor lulled: with a clatter and a shout from Mr. Bilbo, the commotion resumed. "Don't just stand there, go get it!"
Sam didn't have time to plan a reaction: the door swung inward and there was Mr. Frodo, blue eyes shining and every hair in place. He gave a sharp intake of breath as his master smiled. Before either could greet the other, Bilbo's unseen yell interrupted. "Who is it?"
Without breaking eye contact, Frodo turned his head slightly to the right and called, "It's... it's Sam." His face seemed to simply glow: Sam was sure he was turning a rather unflattering shade of pink himself.
"Well don't just stand there letting the heat out, invite him in!" Almost instantaneously, Bilbo was peering up from Frodo's shoulder: for some reason Sam's attention was drawn to his ridiculously bushy eyebrows. A still-supple hand reached out and took him by the arm, ushering him across the threshold. "Come in, come in, young Samwise! Please pardon the mess, you seem to have caught me at a rather hectic moment."
The Bagginses' gardener found himself just within the front hall of Bag End, no more than a few inches from Mr. Frodo himself. He took in the scene quickly: papers, chests, coats, and bags were scattered over every available inch of space. "Have -- have you lost something, Mr. Bilbo?" he inquired, because the only other reason his employer ever got hasty was when he was departing for a trip; and only a fool would try and travel in what was coming, if his Gaffer knew anything (and Sam believed he did), and Mr. Bilbo was certainly no fool.
Frodo's breath was suddenly against his cheek. "He's going to Tuckborough, though I'll be surprised if he makes it to Waymoot before this storm comes in."
Sam glanced at his master: his arms were crossed over his chest and a wry smile hovered about his lips. "Tuckborough?" he repeated, surprised. He dropped his voice to a hush. "But that's at least a two-day walk, and he doesn't seem to have a pony..."
A flash of Frodo's teeth as he laughed (oh, Sam could have kissed him right then and there). "Well, apparently nothing can come between him and Eglantine Took's redcurrant scones, although I suspect he's after something entirely different."
The weight of that statement distracted Sam's stare from Frodo's lips to his eyes. "Surely you're not implyin' the Thain's wife--!"
"Shh." That wry smile still lingered. "No no, I was talking of someone entirely different." He paused to look over his shoulder. "I don't know who, he hasn't mentioned any names. Tansymay Fife is my guess, though I wouldn't put it past him--"
He was cut short by a loud clang! and another sound suspiciously akin to cursing. "Not everything you can't find is lost, Samwise: sometimes it just wanders," came Mr. Bilbo's belated and decidedly aggravated reply. He appeared a moment later, a roll of parchment in his hand. "No, it's this confounded business of packing that you see disrupting life around you." He bustled into his study briefly, which did not stop his explanations. "I have to make it to the Tookland before sundown! I'm expected to look over some documents they've just unearthed in that monstrously-kept library down at Great Smials." He returned to the front hall, and began rooting around on one of the desks, turning around every moment or so to gesticulate with the scroll. "Young Paladin believes it may be in the hand of Bandobras Bullroarer himself, you know!" The scholar's gleam blazed in his eye, an enthusiasm born of the thirst for adventure -- some residue of which Mr. Bilbo perhaps sought in these letters.
Sam watched his peregrinations through Bag End with continued bewilderment. "Be... before sundown?" he stammered, more concerned with Mr. Bilbo's safety than his intellectual curiosity -- or his hunger for scones. At his ear, he felt Mr. Frodo exhale with amused resignation.
"Yes, these types of storms always hit once darkness falls," Mr. Bilbo called from inside a wardrobe down the hall. "If it catches you unawares at night --" and he slammed the door for emphasis -- "you're pretty well stuck where it's found you."
Sam found himself seizing the moment and changing the subject before he quite knew what he was saying. "Actually, sir, it's on account of this dwarf weather that I'm here. I've been 'round the--"
Something crashed in another room, as though it had slipped due to clumsiness sprung from shock. "Dwarf weather?" Mr. Bilbo's indignant squawk echoed throughout the smial. He reappeared right under Sam's chin, his face a perfect picture of astonishment. "Dwarf weather?" he repeated incredulously.
The young hobbit shifted his stiffened limbs nervously: he could just as easily have torn his eyes from Mr. Bilbo's as carry Fatty Bolger up a mountain on no meals and no breaks in between. "It's -- my Gaffer, he -- 'swhat Dad called it," he trailed off miserably.
Bilbo stared a moment longer, then shook his head and ducked back into the next room, muttering. Sam nearly followed him: he took a step forward, then remembered his place and satisfied himself with craning his neck and rising up on his toes to try and see where he might have gone. "Mr. Bilbo sir, what-all is wrong with sayin' that, a lad bein' curious as he is?" He frowned anxiously at Frodo. "None of the other folks reacted badly to my sayin' it. Have I done something amiss?"
Frodo shrugged. "It may or may not be as serious as he's making it out to be -- Bilbo feels that he has to defend any slight against dwarves, no matter how grave or trivial."
"It's a very... old-fashioned term for this weather," they heard him sigh from the other side of the wall. "I didn't think anybody knew of it anymore, to be honest." He wandered back into the front hall, polishing the face of a small wooden compass with his weskit. "Never you mind exactly what it means," he said darkly. "Suffice to say, it's very vulgar." He shifted his attention suddenly. "Frodo, what time is it?"
"Just second breakfast, by Brandy Hall clocks," Frodo answered without hesitation.
Bilbo smiled fondly and shook his head. "Amazing, my lad, that you can still think on their terms like that. Well goodness, I'd better get moving in that case!" He moved away, as if to chose a walking stick, when he seemed to notice Sam again. "What exactly did you say you were here for, young Master Gamgee?"
"Well sir, if there's anything you'll be needing in Hobbiton afore... afore this storm sets it, well, I'll be going there several times today, fetching food and such for all the folk on Bagshot Row, and if there's anything as I can get for you--"
Mr. Bilbo shook his head and waved him off. "No no, I'll be well into the Westfarthing by noon. But Frodo -- any requests? Though I believe our larders are rather full enough, actually..."
Sam forgot his eagerness to redeem himself in Bilbo's eyes, being ensnared immediately in Frodo's. "We're quite low on sassafras tea," he said in a low, calm voice. "If you happen to find any, I would love to have some, but don't go out of your way."
"Frodo-lad, I'll bring you back some real Marish stock when I return," Bilbo interjected with the air of a shopper unwilling to pay for a treat. "Tuckborough has far more dealings with Buckland than up here at Hobbiton. Whatever Sam could get you surely wouldn't be what you'd want."
"If you even get as far as Waymoot before being iced in, uncle," he scoffed in reply.
Bilbo brandished the compass beneath Frodo's nose and shook it mock-seriously. "Listen, lad, I've made longer trips on less notice than this, let me tell you! On my great adventure years ago I wasn't even given the notice to grab a handkerchief!" He turned to Sam and winked. "Though Lady knows what I was doing without one on me in the first place... No, don't you worry, Frodo: I'm just as sprightly now as I was at fifty. I'll make it just fine." He patted his young cousin on the shoulder, still smiling fondly for a moment. He seemed to remember Sam again though, and asked, "Erm, anything else you need?"
Frodo's eyes darted at Sam's face: the other hobbit felt his breath catch in his throat. "No, we're well-provisioned enough, uncle. But thank you, Sam."
"Good, good..." One final, hearty pat and Mr. Bilbo bustled back into the other room. Sam felt he ought to say his fare-thee-wells.
"Good luck on your trip, sir!"
"Thank you, Samwise!" his voice replied. "It's a very kind thing you're doing."
He turned at the warm touch of Frodo's hand on his neck. Their eyes locked: Frodo's face was unmasked of some of its wit now. "It seems it may be a few days, Sam," he murmured sadly. Taking care to keep quiet, they exchanged soft kisses, standing there in the front hall of the smial. Something fell off a shelf in another part of Bag End and crashed. They broke apart and leapt back from each other at the sound of Bilbo's exclamations. Awkwardly, Sam dropped his gaze to his feet.
"Think I'd best be on my way."
"Alright." Reluctantly, Frodo grasped the handle and let the door swing toward them. With a few last brushing touches of hands, Sam found himself alone on the other side of the wall. He was well past the gate and down the Hill when he realized he'd left his Gaffer's compliments well behind him at 3 Bagshot Row.
* * *
Bell Gamgee stood sentinel-like on the front step of her home, her gaze sweeping the roads up the Hill. She shivered and huddled against the shawl wrapped tight around her shoulders. That boy of hers... she loved her Samwise as sure as happiness itself, but sometimes he just didn't have the sense to put himself on his list of folks to look after. She cast a worried glance at the sky: a thin wash of sallow orange languished behind the thick flat stormclouds stretching endlessly all around. The setting sun painted a right glorious picture, but once the night wiped them clean, those clouds wouldn't be quite so friendly.
She spotted him finally, trudging through the dusk. "Sam!" she called, rising up on her toes. "Sam! Get in here, the wind is changing!"
"I'll be right in, Mother!" He struggled up the walk against a fresh blast of chill air from the north. Bell hovered at the door, not content until he was safe under her roof.
"I was gettin' worried about thee, Samwise," she fretted softly, slipping into the lilting Goodchild dialect of her girlhood. Instinctually she spread her arms and took his back beneath her shawl. He shivered beneath her warm touch, but shrugged her off nonetheless.
"Honest, Mother, I'm well off, I really am." They paused awkwardly: a moment later he shot Bell a small, apologetic smile. She sighed, and returned his smile. My little boy's all a-growed up now, can't go treatin' him like a mite, can I.
"Got your deliveries all made, then?" she inquired as they stepped inside.
Sam slipped off his jacket and hung it on a peg. "All the ones as were desp'rately needed."
Bell furrowed her brow slightly. "Who'd you miss?"
Her son sighed and hugged his elbows. "Couldn't get Mr. Frodo his tea. Mr. Bilbo was right, there wasn't any up at Hobbiton market square."
She glanced out a window. "What kind of tea were it he wanted?"
"Sassafras," he answered, a bit petulantly.
She pursed her lips. "Well, you just settle down and have some comfort to yourself while I take a look in the cupboards. Never know what you'll come across in pantries, and we just might have some luck. Hamfast!" she called over her son's shoulder.
"Aye?" came his father's lazy reply from the kitchen.
"How long would you give it 'fore this weather sets in?"
Bell's own look of puzzlement was mirrored on Sam's face as the Gaffer leaned sideways in his seat and peered out their western window. "I'd give it an hour, say. But temper'ture's gonna drop like a Bolger in a brewery: 'twon't be pleasant."
"Ah," his wife replied. She looked at Sam and smiled. "Well, you go on in. Your Gaffer's by the hearth, though Daisy and May have gone off to stay with friends in Hobbiton proper. Looks like it may just be us to sit this one through." She left him in the hallway and bustled off toward the larder.
Humming to herself, she picked up a small candle from a collection of half-used stubs in a box nailed to the wall and lit it from a lamp at the door. Bag End weren't more'n a ten-minute walk away, she reasoned, and the Bagginses were their principle employers... Surely Sam could make it there and back again before the ice came. She bent low and began investigating the shelves in the storeroom. She came upon a row of small ceramic vessels, far too rich and ornate for the Gamgees to ever have bought (for both cost and personal taste). Working quickly, she plucked the lids off the jars and examined their contents: tea leaves. After bringing a few up to her nose, she finally hit upon sassafras. Goodness knows why Mr. Frodo likes the stuff, but if it keeps him happy... She returned the lid onto the little blue pot with a satisfied click and blew out the candle.
"Do believe I've got some of what you're lookin' for, Samwise," she said cheerfully upon entering the kitchen. Her two men turned in their seats to regard her. She held up the tea container. Sam's face positively lit up.
"Where did that come from?" he exclaimed, standing.
"One of Mr. Bilbo's mathoms that we never found a use for, I suspect," she replied, examining the jar thoughtfully. "We've never been much of a fam'ly for teas and the like."
Before she realized what was happening, Sam had kissed her on the cheek and relieved her of the pot. "Thanks much, Mum! I'll just run this over -- won't take me long."
"Here now, Samwise--!" her Ham tried, rising from his seat a hair too late.
"Don't worry about me, I'll be fine!" he called from the front hall, slipping his arms into his jacket sleeves. A moment later, the Gamgees felt a push of cold, wet air into their house as Sam opened the door, which dissipated as soon as he'd shut it behind him. His parents exchanged glances.
"What'd you have to give him that for?" Ham asked, irritated. "It's no joke out there, with dwarf weather and such. I'm not worried 'bout him makin' it to Mr. Bilbo's, but how'll he get home?"
"Forsooth, Hamfast Gamgee, he's a strong boy," she clucked in reply. "And if aught should happen, I can't see Mr. Frodo keepin' his distance."
Ham squinted at her for a moment through the firelight, and then shook his head, smiling. "Only reasons you fall back on that speech o'yours is chiding, fretting, and sweet nothin's. Can't rightly say which one I'm receivin' right now."
Bell's eyes sparkled. "Canna thee tell, Ham Gamgee?" she teased, swinging her hips a little. "Strewth, mayhap I'll have to learn my ways into you afore too long."
"Well now," he said slowly. "I'd stake me life there's gonna be plenty o'time for that, my merry Goodchild lass..." He slipped his hands about her waist and grinned. "But there's more time for learning th'sooner the lesson start, if you follow me."
"Oh, I do," she purred, and allowed herself to be led away.
* * *
Somehow the Shire has acquired a sepia pallor in the twenty or so minutes between Sam's arrival and his setting out again. He was a few paces away from his front step when a low crack of thunder tumbled over the countryside and reverberated at the base of his rib cage. Any semblance of warmth still clinging to him from the hearth scattered like a flock of pheasants. For a moment he stood shivering on the walkway up to his smial: then, resolutely, he pulled his coat tighter and set off down the path. A little chill ain't never kept a Gamgee from his job, he reasoned stubbornly as a fine misting drizzle seeped across his path. He tucked the tea a little deeper into his coat to keep it dry.
Bag End was now, as he reckoned, no more than seven minutes away by this point. A good thing, because the rain was cold, and his feet were starting to feel it. All pretense of sunset had vanished: the only light in sight came from candles in other people's windows. Sam stopped to squint through the murk, trying to determine which sharp glow might be Mr. Frodo's. As he paused, he became aware of something unusual: hanging in the air -- not a silence, but a quiet; the stifling of any other sound by a soft, lulling drone of rain. Not like any rainfall I've ever seen. He tried to be wary, but even as he distrusted the sound, he was intrigued by it. 'Twas like... 'twas like... He furrowed his brow. 'Twas like snowfall, made very very loud; 'twas like a hundred thousand small pebbles fallin' gently to the loam. 'Twas almost like bells, at some places. With a small spark of pride he wondered if he'd just made poetry, like Mr. Frodo was always goin' on about. The noise's elusive definability attracted him, in the same sort of way he couldn't pin down Mr. Frodo: halfing, elf..
If you keep carrying on like that, Sam Gamgee, you'll never see the job through. You've a task at hand, and sure's sure you're not gettin' anything done if you stand here list'nin' to nowt.
He grunted, and ran his palm over his face. Awful chilly it's gettin', he thought, and pressed forward.
Shouldn'ta stopped, he realized as he gamely struggled to walk. That pause had cost him no small touch of mobility. Noticing he was out of breath, he took a huge gulp of air: it nearly froze his very lungs up from the inside out. He stopped again, without meaning to, bug-eyed and doubled over. An iron tightness was clamped about his chest and throat; the fringe of hair hanging before his eyes bristled with flaky icicles. Violently he straightened again, almost enough to make his back snap. You've done a stupid thing, Samwise, he cursed; your Gaffer was right, as he always has been. Dwarf weather's nothing to be trifled with, and boy, do you know it now.
He wanted so desperately to go back: at 3 Bagshot Row a hearth and a cup of warm spirits awaited him. It was foolishness of the worst sort to have thought he could reach Bag End. This was an act worthy of a Brandybuck, as featured in one of his father's many rants. Even worse: this was full-blown Tookishness. And rich as they were, the Gamgees were always much prouder of their ounce of sense than all the jools in Great Smials. Sam staggered forward, futilely clutching his soaked jacket to his shoulders. The jar of sassafras tea dug into his side: even that stuff would have tasted good to him, so long as it was hot and sliding down his throat.
Where was his Shire? His lovely, warm, welcoming Shire? Encased in a black layer of ice, like he would be if he didn't keep moving. He had to concentrate: he needed something pulling him to Bag End, sure as any oxen. The thought of a fire, of a scalding mug between his palms, of getting the tea to Mr. Frodo --
Frodo. The feeling of resting in Mr. Frodo's arms, cozy before a roaring fire. Mulled wine or some other finery perhaps, shared on that lovely soft couch. Burying his face in his master's tousled black hair, growing drunk and light-headed with the smell of him...
One foot, after the other.
He kept his gaze on the light at the top of the hill, ignoring the indifferent, looming shapes of the trees, the outline of their limbs slick and heavy with ice. Even the staggered sound of his breathing was muffled by the rain. Every step felt like breaking through chains of glass, wrapped about his ankles each time he set his foot down. Momentarily, Sam tried to comfort himself by saying this was the sort of thing Mr. Bilbo's heroes put up every day. But his hobbit sense kicked in right on the thought's heels. If this is what adventure's like, he whimpered to himself, then I'm wantin' none of it.
The trick, he soon realized, was not to think, was to just go. He hunched his shoulders, hunkered down, and pushed himself up along the road, keeping his mind firmly on his destination, and not the discomforts. To his pale delight, this worked -- so well in fact that he nearly passed by Bag End's gate when he came to it. His arm flailed out and grabbed at the fence post, as though Sam was being carried away by the current of the Brandywine. He fell against the gate and draped himself over it, shocked by the sudden change in movement. He shivered, and felt the rim of the gate bite into his stomach. He blinked blearily up at the smial's cheery light, pouring out from the windows. Just a little bit more, Sam Gamgee. Just some steps up a little hill, and you're there. Fighting for every breath, battling for control of his quaking body, he pulled away from the gate and bumped against it. It swung forward, and seemed to wait for him to cross into the garden. Thanks, old friend, he groaned, and hurried as best he could toward the stairs.
An instant later, he was lying on his back, puzzled. The dull, throbbing pain of his fall was a welcome warmth to the nerveless cold that numbed all the rest of him. Falteringly, he sat up, and squinted at the steps. They shone by the light of the window, slick and slippery. It's been iced over, he thought redundantly. How'm I to get up? He had to roll onto his knees to get the leverage to stand. He knew he should have been scared, feeling himself slow down like this, but knowing he was this far gave him the illogical confidence that he couldn't fail now. Gingerly he ran his hand over the edge of the step. Silly, really, he thought distantly. It's not like these fingers can feel a thing atall...
Very quickly Sam determined that the stairs were not willing to bring him to his master. He lifted his gaze and examined the rise. On a good day in the summer, he could make the distance in five bounding steps. He shut his eyes and tethered together whatever steel was in him. Every moment you sit here, debatin', you get closer and closer to bein' like them flowers Mr. Bilbo had in those heavy glass balls. Now no Gamgee was ever meant to be a paperweight, so I'd say you'd best get rise and get movin'--!
He hurled himself at the side of the hill, and scrabbled upward. His feet and hands slipped wildly, but he dug his fingers into the slushy earth, and yanked himself to the top. He could not halt his own momentum, and he crashed into the front door of Bag End with a muddy, icy thunk.
His memory swam with black patches after that. In accordance with his heartbeats, the scene shifted.
His shoulder sliding down the door.
His head lolling forward. Staring at his water-logged pant legs.
Watching the sheen of ice grow thicker and glassier on his knee.
Thinking: It's an armor, against the weather. I can't feel the cold anymore...
The click of a lock. The creak of a frozen hinge swinging backwards.
Hearing though not feeling himself pitch forward and land huddled on the tile. Eyes rolling up, nearly into the back of his head.
Focusing hazily on the blues, then working outwards, to understand the aghast face they rested in...
"Sam, why are you... what have you... Sam? Sam?"
A robed arm reaching past his face, returning with a broken jar in its hand. The knuckles white: the spilled leaves black.
"Ay Eru... Sam."
And darkness falls.
* * *
He fluttered into consciousness neck-deep in water. He was surprised, but the warmth of the bath felt too good to give motion to the shock.
"Good to see you awake."
Sam was too stiff to turn toward Frodo's voice. His master sounded quiet and unreadable. "It's a lucky thing I got to you when I did. I hate to think--" Frodo stopped, and looked away. Sam shifted his shoulders, too exhausted to be relieved when they rolled. He lay in silence for a while, letting the heat in the water seep into his limbs. The chill diffused out of his body and into the bath like the slow coloring of tea leaves. Steam drifted over his face: every inhalation loosened his lungs and opened his throat a little.
Experimentally, he tried a rumble in his chest. Frodo jerked his gaze back onto his gardener. Sam glanced sideways at him and exhaled. "This... feels good." His voice was little more than a laborious, gravelly whisper. Frodo dipped a hand into the bath and felt Sam's fingers.
"The dwarves taught it to hobbits, long ago," he said softly.
"Did, Mr. Bilbo--?"
A small laugh. "He's not that old." A silence. "No, we had to do this at Brandy Hall once." A pause. "Merry and I snuck out one February and went sledding on the banks of the river. The ice broke during one of Merry's turns, and he fell through. Uncle Saradoc heard my shouts soon enough: he had to carry Merry back in his arms. We weren't very far off, and he was taking his morning walk. Otherwise... Well. I don't like to ascribe events to Fate or Chance, but I'm glad..." He couldn't continue: to mask it, he ran his fingers along the side of Sam's face. "How are you feeling?"
His reply was raspy, but assuredly alive. "Sleepy. Been -- better."
Frodo's eyes shone through the half-light. "Oh Sam," he murmured, still stroking the other hobbit's face. "How I love you..." Concern replaced his previous expression. "Let's get you out of this water and wrapped up in something. Here, up you go..."
His hands slipped under Sam's arms. As he stood, shivering anew in the cooler air, Sam felt himself flicker again. But it was on behalf of sleep the blackness claimed him this time, the sound of his heartbeat dictating his step.
* * *
He awoke briefly, near midnight. The depression in the couch cushion and the lingering warmness beside him was proof enough he'd been sharing spare while he'd slept. Sam yawned, feeling his lower jaw pop with a slight, pleasant crack. He leaned his head against the back of the couch, and wondered where Frodo might have gone. He rolled slightly to the right, to get a glimpse of the other rooms.
A pillar of vapor was snaking its way across the ceiling, billowing in small currents outward from the kitchen. Sam squinted, and tried focusing through the arched doorway. Through the strange, whirling medium of the steam, he could make out the lines of Frodo's shoulders, luminescent and ivory against the splash of black hair curling at his neck. He wore a blanket wrapped around his waist: it clung loosely to the lines of his torso. He was hunched over a countertop, his stance pensive. As Sam watched, he wrapped his right hand about his nape and sighed. After holding that position for a few moment more, he straightened and disappeared into another corner, where the kettle hung boiling. Sam heard the echo of pouring water: Frodo emerged from the kitchen soon after, bearing a teapot and a large mug. "Hullo," Sam said thickly, shifting beneath the heavy blanket keeping him warm.
Frodo seemed almost surprised to see him there. "Hello, Sam." His voice softened. "Would you like anything?"
Not wanting to put his master to any more trouble, Sam refused. Frodo exhaled a little and sat back down. The musky scent of tea wafted from the mug. "What kind is that, Mr. Frodo?" Sam inquired, not entirely at ease with the silence.
Sharp pain flared in Frodo's eyes. "Not sassafrass," he answered. "I couldn't, bear--"
Sam watched him: he was bent forward, his elbows on his knees, staring straight ahead and unseeing. "Anything I can do for you, Mr. Frodo?"
He appeared to notice Sam's presence again, and turned to him. "No, you're not serving me right now." He lay a hand on the heavy knit where Sam's shoulder was and gave him one of his sad smiles. "Get some sleep, Sam."
No longer one to disobey good advice, Sam drifted off once more. Frodo seemed intent on his tea: almost lazily, he swiped a finger through the mist hovering at the lip of his mug. Sam did not see him drink it.
* * *
"How long've I slept?" he slurred suddenly, some three hours laters. Something had jolted Sam back into wakefulness, though if it was a dream, he remembered naught. The rain had stopped: Frodo had not yet moved. Sam felt like laughing, even if he did not know why. "Seems like you'ven't taken any."
"What?" Frodo asked, looking down at his hands instead of at Sam.
Frodo's gaze slipped further down the ground, onto his feet. Sam furrowed his brow. He tilted towards him, his sense of balance still slightly precarious. "Is there somethin' wrong, Mr. Frodo?"
The other hobbit's head snapped up: Sam could see his eyes shining, and his cheek. "Why'd you do it, Sam?" His whisper was choked. "I've been trying to figure that out ever since you came here. The cynic in me says it's because you think I value a pot of tea more than your own life -- you had no business going out there in that storm, but you did anyway. Was it because you thought I'd fire you if you couldn't attend to my whim?" He wove his fingers together, still not meeting Sam's face. "If it was that, then what would the last few months mean, or have meant? It would have just been a ruse to be in my good graces, and believe me, Sam, that would be humiliating for both of us."
Sam was aghast at his master's speech; but since Frodo refused to face the look in his eyes, he continued. "Yet... I cannot believe that you'd use me that way. I cannot believe you'd ever do a malicious thing in your life. You are the kindest person I've ever met: many days I still don't quite understand how you happened to me. But you're usually so full of sense: I'm the one who's supposed to be off in the clouds, not watching where I'm going. So why'd you do it, Sam? Why did you set out in weather that could have killed you, just so I could have a cup of tea?"
Sam had no answer to that. Frodo lifted his head and locked eyes with him. "I've been alone for a very long time, Sam. My parents died when I was very young, and for fifteen years the only constant in my life was Merry. I chose to leave all that behind, though I sometimes question the decision. I live with Bilbo now, and it's lonely work, being a scholar. The brightest hours began when you appeared on the horizon." He stopped, salt water coursing its way down his face. "I almost lost you tonight, Sam. Why is that?"
Because... because, oh, you show me things I didn't know I could be. Because you make poetry out of me. Because I'd go anywhere you would. Because...
He swallowed. "Because I love you."
Frodo's jaw dropped a little. Slowly, he reached forward and took Sam's rough hand from beneath the blanket. Small tremors quaked their way across the bridge, neither hobbit quite sure whose shaking they were feeling. Inching closer, Frodo drew their two hands to his chest. "Sam," he whispered, his eyes more open than he'd even seen before, "I was cold until you touched me here."
They sat, perfectly frozen, in that attitude: for how many hours or seconds they could not tell. Tentatively, Frodo removed Sam's hand and lifted it to his lips. Their softness raced up his arm and shattered the stiffness in Sam's limbs. Frodo closed his eyes and pressed his mouth to Sam's palm. Warmth spilled out of his belly and spread throughout his body, so he knew no ache anymore. Sam turned his wrist and ran his hand over Frodo's cheek; Frodo twisted his face until Sam cupped his chin in his fingers. Their eyes met again. The brown granted the blue every permission, and Frodo crawled forward to claim Sam's mouth with his own.
Sam remembered everything about that night, ever and always. As the fushion grew deeper and deeper, he felt himself falling away, lying there watching Frodo above him. He spoke the only word that mattered anymore, over and over again. "Frodo. Frodo!"
Frodo. Frodo! Frodo!
* * *
The light of the rising sun poured thin and clear through the curtains of the smial. They lay on the couch, woven together, content to breathe in the scent of the other and exchange heartbeats. This is where happiness starts, thought Sam, as he inhaled in anticipation of a very pleasant sigh. Something occured to him. "Frodo?" he asked.
The other hobbit's profile shone with a pale copper light. He smiled and nuzzled closer against Sam's chest. "Mmm, yes, meleth?"
Unsure as to whether it was a stupid question or not, Sam paused, and then decided to have a go. "Did you ever find out what Mr. Bilbo was talkin' 'bout, with the dwarf weather?"
Frodo stopped an instant, and then began to laugh, softly. "I did go to the books after he left, I must confess."
"Was... was it really all as dirty as he made it out to be, that phrase?"
"It..." Frodo chuckled, and readjusted his hold around Sam's waist. "Let's just say the kindest explanation involved the dwarf-wives weeping, because their husbands were neither working in the forge nor succeeding in their beds. There are other, fouler interpretations, but I shouldn't wish to sully your ears with such things." Frodo's gaze wandered over Sam's skin: he pressed himself closer, as if to check something.
"Are you warm now, Sam?" he whispered.
A smile spread across his face. He looked down at Frodo Baggins, lying there wrapped around him. "I'm fine, Mr. Frodo," he replied quietly. "Just fine."
~ * ~
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