West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

An Unexpected Birthday
A birthday to celebrate, between legend and life.
Author: Notabluemaia
Rating: R

 

Eregion, September 12

On a green hillside above a small, flickering campfire, two small forms embraced beneath the stars. Their mantle rippled like the tall grass concealing them from their companions, until came a soft whirring cry, as if a dove took flight, and then only silence, as the grass flowed around their tranquil isle.

The full yellow moon rose over the eastern mountains, sailed overhead, and sank slowly into night's dark remnant in the west.

It was warm, especially for an autumn night so close to the mountains that loomed across the plains. Especially with his nose tucked between Sam's open collar and his throat, the soft skin made moist by his breath. Frodo roused and shifted restlessly from beneath the warm weight of Sam's arm. He disentangled his leg from around Sam's hip, rearranged clothing rumpled beneath him, and rolled over onto his other side. He sighed contentedly as Sam sleepily pulled him closer, spooning their bared hips more tightly together. As the moon faded before the dawn, he drifted again into dreams, and flung one arm from beneath the covers, as though reaching...

Blues and cream, white and blue.

Swans, serenely mated pairs whose long necks twined soft as down, floating graceful as Lorien's grey boats, startled into soaring flight...

Sky and clouds, lake and reflection, separated by a thin line of far green hills, framed by tall reeds and cattails, and ringed by low-rimmed lily pads, smooth as worn paving stones, beckoning a path across the water, winding through dawn's drifting haze...

Beseeching him to step, take one step, only one, from solid ground onto their dew-sparkled floats, to make his way through mist and cloud shadow--


A noise. Frodo flinched back from the dream path spread before him, and his eyes flew open-

Orange flare.

Fire and flame, smoke and ash, and the crash of a mountain collapsing into doom--


The crack of a branch, its marrow hissing into steam as it shattered and fell into the bright little campfire. Memory blurred at the edge of dream, Awareness returned, but it was long moments before his breathing stilled, and what was past became present.

Eregion. Homeward bound, mere days from Rivendell. Safety... and Sam, sleeping, half-clothed at his back, his breathing deep and regular, pressing morning-hard to Frodo's bared skin. They snuggled warmly between whisper-light eiderdowns - no sleeping rough on the way to Rivendell with elven lords and a wizard. Above, cobalt blue speckled with stars and tinged with palest pink in the east; below, the grassy hillside upon which he and Sam had tangled in love fell away, down to the campfire casting flickering orange light upon dark figures that rose from the earth as though they had grown there.

His companions, his friends, the immortal Wise. Gandalf and Master Elrond and the Lady Galadriel, sitting as still as statues carved from stone. Not so much as a lifted finger, though their eyes, and their rings, reflected the sparkle of dancing firelight. He knew that their conversation did not require words; the ripple of wind through the grass, the whoo of a hunting owl, the crackle of another small branch popping in the fire punctuated a humming vibration in the air that he felt more than heard, song and verse lifted in chorus with the dawn. But they were so... remote. He missed their ancient vitality: Master Elrond's compassionate wisdom; Galadriel's clarity and insight, her serene joy; Gandalf's - oh, dear Gandalf, beloved flawed friend and fallen mentor, whose quick temper and quicker wit had prickled from an aged form - returned luminous from death. His guide and inspiration...

He watched them drowsily. So still...

Where was the fluid play of life's emotion on their faces? What of truth could be told in carved stone's memoriam? Was this what it meant to have accomplished his task? That these people whom he respected, and had come to love, would fade, diminish, and pass into legend? He now understood the cost of their unlikely victory. He could see the diminution of the flickering light in the rings they bore, had heard them speak, even as far back as the Council in Rivendell, of the consequences of the Ring's destruction.

If the end of an age could exact such a toll of them, then what would it take from a mortal, a mere hobbit who somehow had figured small in the great affairs of the Wise?

Now I lie between legend and life...

He sighed, and rolled over within the circle of Sam's embrace. Sam's face was shadowed beneath the down coverlet, and his lips were warm as Frodo pressed a kiss, lingering to savour the vitality of his skin and breath as he tucked himself closer and wrapped his arms around his love. They had a little more time for cuddling before they must rise, bid a final farewell to Galadriel and Celeborn, and travel on to Rivendell with his cousins, Gandalf, and Master Elrond.

Surely they would be there in time to celebrate this birthday with Bilbo, together for the first time in... how many years? He hoped so - and even to hope again for such an ordinary pleasure was a blessing in itself. He smiled, and burrowed closer to Sam. Yes, unexpectedly, beyond hope, they could celebrate many more birthdays... each one a reminder of all that they had come so very close to losing forever.

***

Rivendell, September 21

Eight days later, on the eve of Frodo and Bilbo's birthday, the company crested the final steep ridge and there - the Last Homely House lay below, its arches and attenuated windows ablaze with golden light silhouetting the graceful figures swelling forth to welcome their lord. Frodo's heart pounded, and he reached for Sam's hand, as giddy as he had been as a child waiting for Uncle Bilbo to arrive, to return, to complete his business or reading or study, eager to hear his voice, his laugh, his tales. Bilbo, even more than Bag End, was the safe haven of his youth; grief had been soothed, and his dreams had been simpler, and had spoken only of life, promised only love.

In their hurry - in Frodo's hurry, urging them on - to see him again, they did not shed their cloaks, nor take time for the tempting food or drink offered, though they were weary and hungry. Merry, who treated Frodo as both a hero and a rather addle-pated invalid, gave him a stern look. However, it was unlikely that his somewhat bossy cousin would ever again deny him anything he might wish, which could be quite useful when they returned to the Shire to cope with their more officious elders. At least Merry appeared somewhat appeased by the elves' assurance that trays with plenty of food had already been provided in Bilbo's room.

Pippin's eagerness almost matched his own, and his longer legs set a pace that had Frodo gasping. They rushed, heedless of the distant feasting and festivities, through torch lit, garlanded halls; only Sam was able to slow him to safety as they took the back staircase to the garden levels almost at a run. Undignified, perhaps, but none of them were likely ever to stand on dignity again when it came to what mattered most - family, friends, and home. They raced across the balcony above the main hall, glancing only to see that it was filled with lively people; lute and lyre and harp thrummed, rising with joyful voices in song and conversation - the clear serenity of the elves' unusually fast and high; the gruff, growled laughter of a few dwarves; the low-toned fervour of several men, most likely Aragorn's stern Rangers.

Here, the tall door to Bilbo's suite, its furnishings designed for a hobbit's comfort, and one step closer to the Shire. To home, and to a future he had not believed he would ever have. But beyond hope, Sam and he were here once more.

Frodo took a deep breath, and lifted his hand to knock firmly upon the door.

No answer. He shifted impatiently, glanced at his companions, and knocked again. Silence.

Sam took his hand, gave him an encouraging nod; the rapping sounded like thunder as he strained to hear footsteps or a call: 'yes, yes, I'm coming...'

Nothing.

"We will wait. If he has stepped out, they will tell him... He will be here."

Frodo sighed, turned to Sam and pulled him into his arms, looking over his shoulder to see his cousins holding fast to each other, too. He tucked his face into Sam's curls and whispered into his ear.

"We came back. We did it, love. Despite all."

"You did--"

"Together, then. And soon, home."

"And no little side trips, either." Sam punctuated the admonition with a kiss to Frodo's nose - and was that a bite? Yes, it was, light and gentle, ending with a similarly teasing nibble to his lower lip--

"Well, Samwise, I see that you have taken very good care of my boy."

Sam leaped back, but not nearly as far as he would have done before the Quest. The door had swung open on silent hinges, and Bilbo's eyes shone bright with unshed tears. He smiled, let Merry take his cane, and held out his arms.

"Come here, my boy, my lad, dear heart--"

"Oh, Bilbo!" Moments before, Frodo might have flung himself into the comfort of Bilbo's arms as he had as a child, but Sam's tender kiss had calmed him. Instead, he gently wrapped the frail body in his arms, and leaned his chin onto Bilbo's white curls.

"Have you been here long? I must have fallen asleep, reading." Bilbo's voice was muffled at Frodo's shoulder. "I am not so spry, these days..."

"We just arrived - oh, Bilbo, it is so good to see you!" Through blurring vision Frodo saw tears standing bright and clear in Merry's eyes and streaming on Pippin's cheeks as he searched his pockets; Sam handed him a handkerchief, his other hand warm on Frodo's back. They held fast for long moments, until Bilbo squeezed him hard, took him by the shoulders, and took a shaky step backwards.

"Let me look at you, lad." Frodo stood very still as Bilbo laid a palm gently to his face, pushed back his hair. "They said you were hurt... here..." He took Frodo's right hand and held it to his cheek; he kissed it and looked up to meet Frodo's eyes.

"Your dear hand... Well, there is nothing for it now, and with luck, it should not hinder your writing much - or anything else?" Bilbo glanced at Sam, who turned quite pink. Bilbo's gnarled hands quavered as he laid Frodo's gently upon Sam's, outstretched and steady. "Come in. We have more tears ahead, I am certain. You must fill in what they left out of the lays - Frodo of the Nine Fingers is very fine indeed, and a tribute to your spirit, my boy, but it does not tell everything, hmm? Well, time enough later. For now, they've brought seed cakes, my old recipe, and cheese, mince-pies and cider and... well, I'm not sure what else - that's how I knew you would be here soon. At last. Come, and we will celebrate. For you have come back to me, my lad... you've all come back--"

Bilbo turned to peer up at Merry and Pippin. He frowned and shook his head. "But not quite the same, are you? Look at you lads; you've grown more since you left - why, you're both half a head taller than Frodo! Well, come in, come in..."

***

They spoke about light matters suitable for dinner conversation: the beauty of the wedding, the long journey from Minas Tirith, the grand festivities planned for Master Elrond's homecoming celebration on the morrow's eve, and the smaller ones at lunchtime for their birthday, for which the elves had assured Bilbo that they wished to provide whatever special dessert their hearts desired.

Of course they would share a cake this year, as they had not been able to do for so long, which necessitated the vigorous, and much missed, annual argument about its flavour - or flavours, as the layers could be different, to accommodate their tastes. But even so, they should at least complement each other, and that opened an entirely new debate, requiring detailed discussion about the merits of a host of remembered favourites. Frodo preferred hazelnut, with hazelnut cream and toasted nuts; Bilbo was partial to a dense cake with raspberry filling and cream cheese icing. For some time, the only thing upon which they could agree was that those flavours would be dreadful together.

In an attempt to resolve the good-natured dispute, Merry wondered whether they might just as well have a birthday trifle, instead, and then anything and everything could be put into it, including some of that excellent looking brandy in the very attractive crystal decanter. Pippin asserted that he would be content with anything, and perhaps it might be best if they did, indeed, have an assortment of different cakes to celebrate the great age attained by the two of them, since clearly no single cake could accommodate that many candles.

Sam leaned closer to Frodo, whispering, so low that only he might hear, that a lemon drizzle cake, just like they had enjoyed that last night, might be... nice. He had such an uncharacteristically sly look that Frodo had to laugh as he returned Sam's wink.

Almost, almost it seemed that there had been no dark days, and that this was a reunion like any other after far-flung family members were happily rejoined.

Finally, they had their fill of debate (which remained unresolved, though the myriad suggestions were almost enough to stimulate more appetite), banter, and hearty hobbit fare, and only the tucking into corners remained. They gathered the tea service and biscuits onto a tray - Merry added the brandy decanter, and crystal glasses for himself and Pippin after the others declined - and moved from the table to the more comfortable furniture by the fireplace. Bilbo gestured toward a box sitting on the carved bench between the sofas.

"There, Frodo, before you tuck yourself in next to your Samwise, if you please? In the burled box, you'll find pipes enough for all of you, and the finest weed the dwarves could provide."

"Thank you, Bilbo. A welcome end to a fine meal." Frodo opened the box; inside were Bilbo's familiar old pipes, as well as several Frodo did not remember. He offered the box to Bilbo.

"No, thank you, none for me anymore. But take whichever you like, please."

"May I use this one? It's the first pipe I ever tried, thanks to you." Bilbo nodded, smiling, as Frodo held up the oldest of the lot, the smooth briar that Bilbo had favoured when Frodo had come to stay. Sam was pouring tea, so Frodo set aside the sturdy long-stemmed pipe that his Gaffer had carved. He pinched the fragrant weed, placed it in the bowls, and carefully tamped it down - he knew by now exactly how Sam preferred it - then passed the box and the pouch to his cousins, and bent to light spills.

Sam pulled Bilbo's wingchair closer to the hearth and settled a soft shawl over his lap as Bilbo laid his head back and closed his eyes; within moments a slow snore punctuated his deep breaths. Merry and Pippin curled together on a sofa, carefully drawing their smouldering pipeweed to a red glow. Sam smiled and took a seat on the sofa across from them, arranging the pillows so that Frodo might rest against the armrest with his feet upon his lap.

The little fire crackled cheerfully as Frodo sank back into the soft cushions; with a groan, he swung his feet up and drew deeply on his pipe, watching Sam rub his feet and stroke his fingers through their curls as if there were nothing else he would rather do. In these months since... well, while they had lived in Minas Tirith, Sam had regained the roundness that he had lost so cruelly, and his skin had healed, tawny over strong muscles that had borne them both to the end... Sam looked up when he realised that Frodo's gaze was upon him, and with one finger he traced the tender instep and returned Frodo's smile. Frodo sighed with contentment and closed his eyes.

The day had been long, with a last hard push to reach Rivendell before dark, and it would be easy to fall asleep right here; best to enjoy their pipes, then repair to their old rooms before midnight tempted him to pass out the small gifts he hoped would please: for Merry, a meadow-green vest, its golden buttons carved with proud horses; for Pippin, a deep blue scarf of softest wool from agile mountain goats, embroidered in silver thread with the falcons that bore his name, and reminiscent of the Eagles themselves. For Bilbo... the choosing had been easy. A book, bound in chestnut brown, lettered in silver: Gondor's legends, rhymes, and songs, including the melody lines so that he could sing them. A gift of time spent together, made with care in Minas Tirith, and now, to be shared with love.

And Sam? Sam would have liked Bilbo's gift, himself, and he hoped that Sam would join his clear, low voice with his when he sang. He had made a similar, smaller book for Sam, but with the love songs he had heard him hum... had felt him hum... but he had another present in mind that required them to be alone...

"And what did you do with my old ring, Frodo?"

Frodo's eyes flew open. Sam froze, his hand tightening on Frodo's foot; Pippin stopped chewing, his eyes wide as he looked from Bilbo to Frodo, and Merry sloshed the brandy he was pouring onto the table.

Frodo's fingers trembled on the stem of the pipe. Surely Bilbo had heard that it had been destroyed, if not anything else? He had mentioned the songs from Minas Tirith... but their tale was lyrical, and the reality was bleak, and the last thing he wished to speak about tonight, or anytime, for that matter. The simple pleasures of the evening withered before the scorching, molten memories, bubbling always just below the surface of any peace he had since found.

Your old ring... my doom. Oh, Bilbo... so much to say, but it comes to this. I bore it, wore it, and was foresworn before it.

Desire and fire, and craven need even now...


Sam leaned to take the pipe before he dropped it, and laid his hand upon his shoulder, whispering urgently, "He's just tired, love, and forgot. Don't do this now, dearest, please."

Sam was right. All of them were tired, too tired for this, tonight. Bilbo must have forgotten, for he would never have asked about it like this; he would know how it must hurt. Forgot... and he was a little confused. He had aged so much, despite his animation during dinner. It showed in the deep lines on his face, the rapid nodding off, the palsy of his hands as he had held Frodo's ruined one... The Ring had done this to him-- No. The Ring had stretched him unnaturally, but had not given more life. This aging was natural... and would lead to a natural end, dying as mortals must, and as surely as the elves would fade. That knowledge pained him even more than Bilbo's question and brought him back from the brink of memory.

"I lost it, Uncle..." He met Bilbo's eyes; something in his voice or expression had returned Bilbo's mind into its typical sharp focus and he was looking at Frodo with concern - and love. "But, if you do not mind, we will speak of it in sunshine, when we are rested."

"Just as well. I'm too sleepy for a long tale, anyway. You young ones will have to party without me, at least till tomorrow." Bilbo set aside the lap shawl, and started to push himself unsteadily to his feet.

"Here, Uncle, let me..." Merry rose quickly to help him before Sam could, gesturing to him to continue tending to Frodo, who leaned heavily against the pillows, but was watching Bilbo with some alarm.

"Goodnight, lads." Bilbo peered past Merry to Frodo, and added, somewhat sharply, "You look a little peaked, my boy. Have your Samwise tuck you in for some rest. No more partying. Why, I remember that even as a lad you never seemed to know when to give it up. You'd go on and on till you dropped in your tracks, whether it was a book you couldn't set aside or one of your walks. You'd be pale as a turnip the next day... and that won't do at all for our birthday, eh?"

"No, Uncle." Frodo managed to smile, and to look properly contrite. It was not difficult, as leaden as he felt, and he was grateful that no further comment seemed to be expected. Merry caught his eye; he clearly would run any interference needed. He certainly had experience in doing just that with their elders... and Pippin, too. He had moved smoothly to collect Bilbo's cane and to push aside the bench so that they might more easily pass.

"I'm sure I haven't heard the half of what you've been up to, but you've been travelling long and far, and probably haven't even seen your beds yet. Now, Samwise, you mind what I said."

"Yes, sir. I'll be sure he rests, and you can count on it." Sam's voice held both amusement and a grim note that Frodo hoped no one else heard. Frodo squeezed Sam's hand and let him pull him to his feet; he would offer no resistance at all to the comforts of an early bed time.

"There's never been a day any Baggins couldn't count on a Gamgee, and especially you, lad. Don't think I don't know it."

"Thank you, sir." Sam blushed, but he met Bilbo's eyes, and his arm was warm around Frodo.

"Thank you, Bilbo." Frodo hugged his uncle gently.

"There, Frodo. You'll be fine after some sleep." Bilbo patted his cheek. "We have a birthday to celebrate, and maybe a surprise or two. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

Merry offered Bilbo his arm and helped him move toward his bedchamber; he leaned in as Bilbo whispered, conspiratorially and a little loudly, "...healer who helped him... hoped... healing touch... stone..."

"Now what do you suppose that's all about?" Pippin shook his head, then bent to collect their pipes and clear away the clutter. He looked up as Frodo, too tired even to wonder, turned to fluff the down-filled cushions he had squashed.

"Frodo, dear, stop that."

An unnecessary instruction; Sam already had taken the pillow, and was giving it a good shake, and him a stern look.

"You and Sam go on. Merry and I have everything in hand, here, and it won't take but a minute or two. Best that we all have an early evening, now that we're finally back."

"Thank you, cousin." Frodo reached up to ruffle Pippin's hair, but instead pulled him into a hug. "You really are too good to me." He pressed a kiss to his cheek, and added, "Be sure to give Merry an extra one, from me. Good night."

Sam picked up their cloaks, and they let themselves out into the hallway to walk slowly, hand in hand.

"It is different, isn't it, Sam?" I am different...

"Mmmm... dear one... Yes and no. Bilbo is, and that's hard. Not the elves. They don't seem to change much, far as I can see. Though I suppose that they will, now."

"Yes. I can see it already... And Bilbo...You were right to suggest that explanations wait... till he is clear again, and we are rested. But I do not know whether I can bear to speak of it. It has been such a relief to travel, to be away from the accolades, the reminders, the songs. They are beautiful, and I do appreciate them, but they tell little of the truth that we knew, and say far too little of you. And the memories... Sometimes they are more real than my hand in front of me."

The long corridor to their old rooms seemed to swirl with memories. Their first desperate journey here. Pain, and piercing joy. Recovery and the sweet discovery of love's pleasures... Their last treasured night before setting forth into the unknown. The fears he had then had been realised in ways far more terrible than he could have imagined; experience and certain knowledge fueled a vastly expanded imagination now.

I am so very tired. Always. Even a pleasurable night wears me out. It seems I have nothing to spare...

Frodo stumbled against Sam's sturdy bulk and found him trembling, too. Bless him, Sam had spent even bleaker time pacing these halls, waiting, worrying, and he had to be every bit as tired.

But here was their room, a refuge then, and now. Several beeswax tapers and a small fire cast a golden glow, their packs sat neatly by the bed, the bedlinens had been folded back, and their beautiful robes and delicately embroidered white gowns were laid forth for each of them. Flowers - autumn's purple chrysanthemums, spiky among draping yellow rose clusters - stood on a tray near the bed, with a round of orange cheese, biscuits, apples, and a crystal pitcher of iced water.

"Sam, love, we will sleep as we have not for weeks. Months! I am glad to be here with you. Alone, finally." Frodo sank gratefully against the high bed as Sam laid their cloaks on a chair, then came to stand before him.

"Aye. I have to say, that big bed does look good, and the pool across the hall is one of my best memories.

Sam smoothed the curls back from Frodo's ear and kissed his throat, lightly traced the tender skin below his eyes - no doubt purple and shadowed, if Bilbo's reaction and the heaviness in his limbs were indications - then ran his thumb over his cheekbone.

"Frodo, love... I don't think either of us is up for much more'n sleep, tonight."

"You are what I need most. In my arms, unrestrained by any need for discretion." They might very well be too weary to make love, but after weeks of fervent caresses between hindering folds of fabric, tonight he would be sure that Sam's golden skin pressed freely all along his body.

"Aye, love. Here..."

As swiftly as the haze of exhaustion allowed, they unfastened wool and leather and linen, letting braces and trousers drop to the floor, unheeded, and stepped from the pooled fabrics. Sam shrugged off his last stitch and stood naked; Frodo's long-tailed blue travelling shirt still hung loosely past his thighs - on the road, it had served well enough as night clothes, bunched at his chest as Sam covered him.

"Enough of all these clothes, love. No need, now." Desire flared in Frodo's belly, and he felt Sam's body swell and lift to press hard, nudging, seeking, pushing between his legs. Sam lifted the shirttail to lay his hands upon hardened flesh and quivering skin, sliding over his belly, chest, arms to pull the shirt up and off, till they pressed skin to skin.

"Sam, my Sam..." Smooth, beloved, strong ... The memories melted away beneath Sam's gentle touch and Frodo lifted himself onto the high bed, and wrapped his legs around Sam's waist. He held his arms out and lay back, pulling Sam on top of him into a slow and tender kiss, thrusting gently, stretched across the bed... where first they had loved... Soft pillows and softer sheets, warm candlelight... his beloved, sweet Samwise... Almost home, and always home wherever they were together.

Exhaustion vied with desire, and every breath felt like a dream. They shifted only enough for Sam to move his weight to Frodo's side, his leg thrown over Frodo's thighs, and to pull the covers warmly over them. He traced the fine line of fur on Frodo's belly down, down... tangled his fingers through the curls, then curled around the warm thickening at his groin, petting, gently massaging a drowsy glow that might flicker to sleep or flare to flame. Frodo rubbed ever slower circles on Sam's back, and gradually, their breathing became deep and regular.

Frodo fell asleep with Sam's head lying on his breast, its weight a comfort to the cold, numb scar beneath his soft cheek, with one hand cupping the golden curls on his head, and the other lying softly over Sam's.

***

Sam's hand... warm.

Too tired to love... too tired to bathe in our pool.

Smooth warm rock down to mist drifting over heated water, curling beneath the spilling waterfall, splashing... crashing...

Water coursing over rock... mist coiling, wraith like...

Black mist, black robes, water splashing crashing turbulent...

"No, no! Neither it nor me! Noooo!"

Hands clutching from black robes, clawing... sword glint falling, piercing pain... falling hard to cold wet rocks into darkness, desolate darkness...


"Frodo? Frodo-love, wake up!"

Light, a light, pale moonlight. Where...?

A gentle touch... and a beloved voice.

"Oh, Frodo, it's me, it's your Sam!" Tears glistening on his cheeks, in his bright eyes, strong arms holding him close and secure to his chest.

His Sam. Their room. Night, in Rivendell... on their way home...

"I know, yes, Sam."

It was only a dream. A bad one, and terrible memories, but better than the worse ones in which his failure caused the world to fall to ruin, never saved by mere chance... those were the ones that waking thought could not dispel. He had awakened Sam, who needed sleep as much as he did - but he had promised, long before and right here, that he would never again leave their bed to endure his brooding alone. He brushed the tears from Sam's cheek.

'I am all right, now. But I am sorry to wake you, love. You were so tired...."

"I don't want you ever not to wake me! Seems to me we talked about that, one or twenty times, starting right here, hmm?" Sam daubed at his brow and his neck with the sheet. "Dear one, you're drenched."

"So I am." The wretched tension of his dream shuddered into a chill as sweat cooled on his back, his chest, ran down his belly to pool at his groin. He shivered, and smelled the pungent musk of his fear - he knew that odor well, distinct from the honest scent of effort and exercise lingering on their bodies from their travels.

"I did you no favour holding you close, and smelling like this." Frodo shrugged his arm to sniff, and wrinkled his nose as he looked ruefully at Sam.

"Hmm... it's a toss-up who's worse, but that pool across the hall can take care of us both, and be warming, too. But perhaps you can go back to sleep now...?" Sam bent to kiss Frodo's shoulder, and added, "We've put up with worse, Frodo-love, in harder places, with less chance for a bath - and somehow I still found you the sweetest thing I've ever known. Sleep, now, or a swim?"

"You certainly have." Far worse places, and things that I have done, so much fouler than a little sweat...

Sam was teasing, but the dream had tipped Frodo's weariness to gloom. No, he would not be sleeping for a while, not after that. He had lived, despite all his expectations. Though sometimes, now, his moods sparked through him like lightning, from flat to bleak - but always, with Sam, joy, too. He did not think that he had been so mercurial; before, he had thought himself steady and strong, capable as the Master of Bag End. Before the task set before him proved to be far beyond those small skills.

But Sam had already suffered his nightmare and wakefulness; he did not need to be burdened with his moodiness, too, and the elven halls of healing had worked wonders before. The peaceful, silent corridor; their rock grotto, warm mist rising from the heated waters, thick cushions and a profusion of scented oils close at hand...

"A swim, and a walk, too, if you don't mind. And your turn for a massage, love, for your feet and more..."

"Aye. And I know just the hobbit to do it!"

They swung their feet over the side of the bed and helped each other slip down. Sam rubbed Frodo's shoulders briskly to warm him, wrapped him in his robe, and shrugged on his own. Smiling, he caught Frodo's eyes as he opened the drawer to their nightstand. Yes... a corked vial, just as they had left it, which he held up triumphantly, then dropped into his pocket.

"Best be sure we have whatever might be needed!"

Frodo nodded. His Sam could always be counted on for that - especially for that - and he would make sure that Sam enjoyed it...

They moved carefully through the shadowed room and opened the tall door to the halls of healing. Where the elves had striven so desperately for his life... He had lived then, and despite all his expectations, did still.

Distant music drifted from the celebrations below - a song Frodo recognised, with heroic lyrics he preferred not to recall. The curving hall was empty; it was unlikely that anyone else would seek the comfort of baths or contemplation during the festivities for the Master's first night home. Oil lamps, set in sconces wrought of leaves and vines, burned low, casting leaf shadows drifting as in a breeze across the curving walls and arched ceiling. Beeswax candles scented the air, and lit the recessed alcoves that lined the hallway to a golden glow.

Far down the curving hall, orange light spilled from the main entry's rotunda and danced on the marble floor. Within it, he could just glimpse an unfamiliar statue that faced away, towards the more public areas. It seemed much smaller than the lifesize elven figures he knew, though there was not another close enough for comparison. Had he forgotten one? He had forgotten so much else; how could he know which memories had not returned until he encountered their absence?

"Sam, look. Was that there, before?" Frodo frowned; little changed in timeless Rivendell, but surely he would have remembered a lone figure displayed prominently in the main entry?

"I can't see it very well against that light." Sam peered down the curving hallway. "Hmm. I can't say I remember it, either, love. But with the pool so close to our room, I didn't go that way often. Looks smallish, doesn't it?"

"It does. Maybe a child?" None from legend came to mind. Of course, Aragorn had come to maturity here, was now King, and had wed the beloved last daughter of the Elves... Perhaps one of the elves who knew him then had committed memories of his youth to stone or bronze?

"Hmm. Surely not a hobbit? Although Bilbo is well-loved..."

"One way to find out, love."

Hand in hand, they walked slowly through the leaf-shadowed hall towards the rotunda.

The music rose and swelled from below. It was one of the long, story ballads about the Fellowship; Frodo rather liked this part - Merry and Pippin, and Treebeard, a creature from legend if ever he'd heard of one - but he steeled himself for the inevitable verses that would patch false heroism from the slivered shards of his soul.

Better to hold tight to Sam, and to concentrate instead on remembering the statues they passed, a single figure in each alcove, with a high bench set before it. Frodo had not often lingered in meditation, but he had asked Bilbo about every one. Most were graceful representations of the Valar, but there were elves, too: healers and those healed, whose tales had become legend.

Here, the arched entry to a room from which wafted the soothing scents of medicinal herbs and blooms, in which stood Estë the Gentle, the healer whose gardens he had imagined as much like Sam's at Bag End. There, carved in grey stone, Nienna the Weeper held out her arms to embrace the enduring suffering of those who mourned. He had learned very young that, on the other side of grief, there might be healing. Next, a long side corridor to a balcony overlooking the ravine, where a dark figure beckoned: Mandos, in whose halls the elves might linger after grief or wound beyond what they could bear.

And here, fair elven daughter, wife, and mother. Here he had sat, stricken and confused, before the statue of Celebrian, whose grievous hurt he too had known. Why was such a tragic end included in halls devoted to healing? She had lived, breathed, been loved - they had tried to save her, and failed, and she had left Middle-earth unhealed.

Memorial stone is cold comfort for her life, cut short by Morgul blade...

He shuddered and Sam pulled him close as they hurried past. Better to look on Sam's flesh and blood beauty, lit golden by the warm light spilling from the rotunda as they approached. And upon the most beautiful of the statues, his favourite, set in a position of honour across from the entry.

"The Lady, the beautiful Lady." Sam breathed the words, almost a sigh.

In an alcove painted blue as the heavens, stood the shimmering white representation of the Lady of the Stars. Frodo gazed up to her in wonderment, recalling the hymns that had enchanted him when first he came to Rivendell. And since those days of peace, they both had cried for her mercy from beneath the shadow of death.

"O Elbereth Starkindler..."

They stood for long moments before her, with their arms wrapped around each other's waists, their heads bowed, and could find no words for all they felt.

"Sam--" Frodo tipped his face to find Sam's lips, soft and sweet, giving as gratitude and grace.

"Oh!" Sam gasped, and his body stiffened in Frodo's arms.

"Sam--?"

"Frodo, it is a hobbit! It's--"

A hobbit? Surely not. Frodo swiveled around within the circle of Sam's arms, to see what could have startled him so.

A hobbit.

Life-sized. Lifted on tiptoe, back arched, arms flung towards the sky. Head thrown back, hair streaming as though storm tossed.

Life-like, to the last detail - nude and male, with rounded flanks and heavy curls, a lean belly stretched tight... knotted wounds at breast and nape... scar whipped, hip to shoulder blade... hands outstretched... nine fingers.

Posed on a pillar, poised on a rocky crag above licking flames...

Flame, flaring failure...

"No! Oh, no... please, no..."

Blazing, blinding, searing, scathing consummation...

No grass, no love... no will to say 'no'...

Nothing...

Every thing, person, thought, mountain, storm-- mine... to take...

Take, taking, taken.

Scorching agony...

Falling, failed and flailing...


Frodo's legs could not hold him and he collapsed, a sudden dead weight in Sam's arms, hitting his knees hard, falling, falling... falling forward onto his hands, to his face, the marble biting cold beneath his cheek.

Sharp rock, hot beneath my hands, crawling, scrabbling bloodsmeared and broken, breathing life from air that burns...

Lifted up, urgent hands tearing carrying...

Carrying me...

Through shadow and light....

Sam...


"Oh, love, my sweet Frodo... there, love... there..."

Sam. Whose faithfulness and strength had never failed, who deserved any and every honour... whose arms cradled him close, and whose voice was stressed, murmuring into his hair.

"Why'd they do that, didn't they know it would hurt you, seeing it again like that, so sudden? And naked, as well, no matter how beautiful... Oh, love, it'll be all right... Your Sam has you, now. They couldn't have meant any harm by it... though what they were thinking..."

Sam's hand brushed hair from his brow, leaving it damp and cool. Frodo opened his eyes to a blur that resolved slowly to flushed cheeks, parted lips, and sun-flecked eyes beneath a concerned frown.

"There, dearest, it's all right." Candlelight, and yielding smoothness under his legs. Sam had carried him back to their bed, nestled them among the pillows. Sam's broad chest, wet, slippery beneath his cheek. Tears. His, and Sam's. Frodo kissed the salt from his breast, his throat, and reached to wipe the glistening tracks from Sam's face, touching his fingertips to soft lips.

"There, love, you just lie back, take your time." Sam's frown melted to a smile of relief.

"Sam... love." Frodo's voice was hoarse, as though he'd breathed in the smoke of his imagination; he coughed and managed to croak, "I am all right, Sam. It surprised me..."

Surprised, shocked, and stunned. The worst thing I have done, worse than anyone in all of Middle-earth has done, save the Dark Lord himself ... my naked failure, memorialized in stone, bared forever for all to see... Why, why?

"Well, of course it did! Surprised me, too." Sam swiped the last tears from his eyes and took a deep breath. "Was nice, at first, seeing you honoured like that - that's how they must've meant it - and such a fine likeness, I couldn't help but enjoy it. Leastways till I realised where it was, and how it must hurt you to see it- and then you hit the floor before I could catch you... Oh, Frodo-love!"

"I did nothing to deserve honour." Frodo heard the flatness in his voice, but it was simple fact. That statue no more shows what happened than do the songs that laud a fiction. You, of all people in the world, know that.

Sam shook his head, but said nothing. Frodo leaned back to look into Sam's eyes. If the truth is so horrible that you must deny it, too, I cannot bear it alone, any more than I could have borne the Ring...

"Sam, do not deny it. For whatever others think, or say or sing or carve -there must always be truth between us."

"Aye, love. But the truth won't ever come between us." Sam grasped Frodo's shoulders, and his soft drawl had become fierce and urgent.

"I was there for all of it, Frodo, and I love you even more for the way it really happened. Those songs - there's plenty of truth in them, just another way of telling it." Sam regarded him soberly, and his arms tightened around Frodo's shoulders.

It was impossible for Frodo to deny that Sam meant every word of what he said.

"And you, being a hero? That's as true as the Lady's light. Frodo-love, you were worn to a nub, and kept going, still. There's no shame in giving everything you had, and more, besides. Don't matter what you call it. I know the truth."

I will not cry. I am tired of tears, of letting them loose and of holding them back, and even more tired of not feeling anything.

Something in the tension of his shoulders or his expression made Sam's lips turn down and his face twist with compassion. He pulled Frodo close. "My love, my dear...Even now, I can hardly believe we lived to hear whatever tales they want to tell about us."

"Beyond all hope." Between there and back, I have lost my way. I have known too much and understand too little. I do not want to be a legend carved in stone. I want only to be flesh and blood, to love, to be loved...

"What am I now, Sam?"

Sam smiled and laid his palm to Frodo's face, tipping it up so that Frodo must look into eyes filled with love.

"You are my Frodo, gentlehobbit of the Shire. Hero of Middle-earth, too, though your cousins will do their best to keep it from going to your head." Sam kissed him as he untied Frodo's robe and slipped it from his shoulders, and his caresses were warm upon Frodo's chest. "You're a fine sight, Frodo Baggins, in naught but your skin, and that pretty statue can't hold a candle to the real thing. My sweet love..."

Sam was there, suffering, too. He knows, and does not think me loathsome. Can it be so simple? I am the hobbit Sam loves.

Frodo caught Sam's hand and laid it palm down over his heart. "You are my heart, my love. You knew my darkest hour and, somehow, love me still. I love you, Sam, I love you..."

He fell upon Sam, kissing his lips, his nose, his throat and rose to his knees, to straddle sturdy hips. Sam's breath was ragged as he pulled aside his robe to let heated flesh rise hard and thick between Frodo's thighs. The fur on his belly tickled as Frodo pressed close. Long suppressed fire blazed through fatigue, and simple desire - to love, to be loved - flared in his loins.

"Oh, Sam, I want you..."

"Aye, and you'll have me..." A low growl in Frodo's ear, and Frodo gasped as Sam took them both in hand. "Aye... where...?" Sam patted the folds of fabric and withdrew the vial, uncorking it with his teeth. With unsteady hands, he poured oil, warmed by his body, into his cupped palm. It overflowed and dripped hot upon Frodo's hands and length as Sam slicked it on himself, then slid past pendant flesh drawn tight, to slip unerringly within... Frodo raised up on his knees, bracing his hands on Sam's shoulders, bending his face to burnished curls, tilting his hips to welcome the tender caress... circling, loosening, pushing... stroking fire...

"Ahh!" More, more... Sam slipped his fingers from his body as Frodo reached to entwine their hands together to guide quivering flesh. Frodo pushed down, hesitated and caught his breath, pushed again... slowly, slowly embracing his love, until his legs were folded beneath him and he came to rest fully upon Sam's thighs. Was Sam breathing? There, a shuddering sigh, panting as his head fell back to the pillows.

"Like this, my love?" Between ragged breaths, Frodo managed a whisper to Sam's soft lips; he moved gently, lifting and lowering, watching pleasure flicker over his face; Sam groaned his approval.

"Aye... just like... ohh...Frodo..."

For long moments they held each other close, kissing, tangling their hands through curls, caressing every inch, until need could no longer be delayed. Sam encircled Frodo's hardness, stroking -

Supporting himself with elbows pressed into the pillows, Sam thrust upward as Frodo slid down... and fireworks exploded within. Frodo cried out, arms outflung to the ceiling, back arched... so close, so close...

"On me... roll... " Gasping, Frodo clasped his arms around Sam's neck, gripped his hips with his thighs.

"Hold fast, love." Panting, Sam wrapped his arms around Frodo's back and hips - and in one smooth move, lifted, rolled them, joined as one, and laid Frodo beneath him. With one hand wrapped around Frodo's length, he supported his weight on his arm - and thrust deep, and again and again -

Flesh and blood and all I need... take me, have me, I am yours!

Shuddering, tightening, pulsing - names twined in a wail - and they fell, still joined, into the serenity of a tender embrace between waking and a dream, murmuring a celebration of their love.


***

Breathing became regular, and the room filled with peace in the light of the coming dawn.

Frodo reached for the eiderdown and pulled it up, tucked tenderly around Sam. Their musk smelled of earth and fear, comfort, sweat and seed, a heady mix for their dreams; time enough in the morning for the pool, bathing... and loving, again. Frodo sighed with contentment, and stretched languidly along Sam's body. Flesh and blood, indeed.

"Happy birthday, Samwise. The first of your presents, my love."

"The best, ever... Happy birthday, Frodo-love." Sam's eyes were bright as he pulled Frodo on to his breast. "And many more."

Frodo lay cradled in Sam's arms, one leg thrown over his hips, his right hand twined with Sam's left, his head upon Sam's breast. His Sam...

A wonderful birthday, this year, beyond all hope... the best of many, with many to come...

Sam's heart beat strong beneath his ear, lulling him to a dreamless sleep, and his chest rose and fell with every breath, as steady and eternal as the Sea.

Finis

 

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