West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Everything's better wet.
Author: Elderberry Wine
Written for the "My Birthday Suit Needs Pressing!" Challenge
Notes: Part of the Shire Morns series. Falls between Dangerous Fruit and A Rose for My Love. (ie, 2nd Year)
Sam smiled fondly, hearing Frodo's delighted laugh behind him. He was not yet reconciled to the river; the sensation of water tugging at his body, no matter how gently, still made him uneasy, and the thought that, should he be somehow swept down the stream, he could die with his mouth full of water and no last sight of the sun, was still terrifying to him. But he could not deny to Frodo that the cool water itself was enticing indeed on such a hot, muggy late August day, and washing the dust of the road off of his body was pure bliss.
Frodo, of course, had shed his clothes in an instant, and had dived head-first into the shimmering Brandywine. Surfacing far out into the river, he tossed his head back, his dark locks freeing a sparkling shower of drops. "Oh, Sam," he exclaimed in unalloyed delight, "this is so marvelous."
Doubts that Sam still held, as to the wisdom of indulging in a swim so close to Brandy Hall on the eve of Merry's birthday dinner, vanished at once in the face of Frodo's pleasure, and he waded stoically farther out into the water himself.
"This is likely to be a perfectly dreadful few days," Frodo swirled gracefully around him, and then stood up in the knee-deep water with an apologetic expression. "So I would just like us to put off all the tension and ill-feeling to which I'm likely to be exposing you for a little while, if we possibly can. And this water is simply irresistible, and I do know it still bothers you a bit, Sam-love, but it shouldn't, you know. I'm here with you, so nothing could possibly happen, could it?"
Sam smiled happily back at him, feeling joy once more surging through him at the thought of being so loved by Frodo. Of course, what could happen? He was being a perfect ninnyhammer, and there was no reason whatsoever not to put his faith in Frodo. Frodo would never put him into a position where he would be exposed to harm. Holding his arms out trustingly to Frodo, he was instantly caught up in a tight embrace, with Frodo's own arms wrapped around him, and Frodo's face marvelously against his neck, nuzzling it tenderly. Sam sighed, in deep content, and turning his head, buried his nose in those dark wet curls that smelled in some improbable way of pine and smoke and dampness, and that elusive scent that was Frodo's alone.
And there were Frodo's lips on his neck, kissing, and teeth nipping, and that tongue, oh my stars, that clever tongue against his skin. He felt his legs irrevocably give way at that assault, sinking giddily into the water, supported by Frodo all the way down, with his knees finally touching the sandy bottom of the clear shallow pool, and Frodo was over him, covering him, and... Those hands. Sure and skilled and touching him in a manner that caused him to instantly ache, craving and desperate for that touch to continue, that touch that had been unlike anything he had ever previously imagined. He had dreamed, certainly he had dreamed on his hard straw mattress in his corner of Bagshot Row Number Three, but even after the face in his dreams had at last become clear, the dreams had never approached the reality. Those few fumbling experiences that had up to that time been his only encounters with this mysterious process had not been remotely close to the ecstasy that he had found in Frodo's bed. No longer could he imagine life without this joy, these transcendent moments.
Moaning his desire and acceptance, he found his own hands answering with delight, holding and caressing, drawn inevitably over those enticing curves, and then finding that unyielding flesh, as Frodo gasped, and surged against him in reply.
And then it was a matter of twisting and stroking, hot kisses given and received, bodies ducking in the water in their frenzy, and writhing and tightening and intertwining until no disinterested spectator, should there have been one, could have told whose limb was whose. Not that it mattered, as they joined bodies, and mouths, and hearts, as closely as possible, until passion was released in the both of them, and they sank, breathing heavily and still unable to break their kisses apart, into the shallow water at river's edge.
The gentle slosh of the water against the warm sand at the shore of the river was beginning to lull Sam into a drowsy dream, as he lay in Frodo's arms, his head on Frodo's chest, and their bodies still covered by the shallow water that lapped over their legs and bellies. At least he was drowsy, until he heard a quickly stifled high-pitched giggle and a furtive rustle in the reeds nearby. Instantly, he felt Frodo stiffen beneath him, and a breathed curse was murmured near his ear.
"What is it, me dear?" he questioned at once, looking up into Frodo's face in bewilderment.
"Stay right here, Sam," was Frodo's terse reply as he glanced, with his brows drawn fiercely together, behind them. In an instant he was gone out of Sam's embrace, and vanished into the reeds that hid this section of the Brandywine from the road.
It was not long, however, before Frodo returned, and re-entered the water next to Sam, with a reluctant smile crooking the corner of his mouth. "Just like Burt and myself," came the mysterious response, to Sam's state of silent bewilderment. "And well-paid I am, indeed, but it certainly could not be worse timing."
With a sigh, but his smile lingering nevertheless, he returned his attention to Sam, lightly kissing his forehead. "I was such a scamp, Sam, when I was younger. You have no idea," he murmured, somewhat shamefaced.
Sam sat straight up at Frodo's words, now totally mystified. "Not that I'd be disputing you, me dear, but what are you goin' on about? You have me in a muzzle, t'be sure."
"Well, I don't think it could still be Burt at this; too many years since we were teens together, but I wouldn't doubt but that he's instructed others since then." He gave a wry grin at Sam's look of puzzlement. "Burt was the stable lad at Brandy Hall, and the same age as I. Whenever I could escape surveillance, the two of us would be into some mischief or other. This would have been when I first came to Brandy Hall, and Merry was still quite young. Since I loved the river, even back then, we spent a good deal of time here. And whenever we ran across other bathers, we tended to, erm, well, their clothes would somehow go missing."
"What, then?" Sam cried out in alarm, sitting up even straighter. "And our packs as well?"
"Most likely," Frodo admitted. "We never filched them for keeps, mind you, and always left them thoughtfully at Brandy Hall, but it proved rather inconvenient for more than one traveler, I must confess."
"But then what are we to do?" Sam exclaimed, in distress. "Surely, we can't be goin' back, now."
"Absolutely not," Frodo replied, instantly dismissing the thought. "Tomorrow is Merry's twenty-first birthday after all, and it would never do to miss his birthday dinner this evening." The twenty-first birthday was, indeed, accounted as an important landmark by the folk of the Shire, for was it not but an even dozen more years until a hobbit's coming of age? "I have no doubt," he continued, uncertainty finally beginning to creep into his voice, "that if we go in through the back entrance, we will find that our things are there, and Aunt Esme, and the pack of guests that are indubitably already on the premises, need never know of this difficulty."
Sam cocked an eyebrow at that remark, however. "I'd not be knowin' your aunt a'that well, Frodo, but I'd be havin' the feeling as you'd not be her favorite nephew, no ways, and this ain't goin' t'be helpin', me dear."
Frodo couldn't help giving a clear laugh at Sam's understatement. "True enough, dearest, but it possibly couldn't get much worse, now, could it?"
Sam kept his doubts to himself on that score, but Mistress Brandybuck had certainly never impressed him as the sort with even a rudimentary sense of humor, and he was quite sure that this time he and Frodo would be tossed back onto the road without so much as a quick drink of water, a rag on their backs, and a nasty remark to be going with it. Not that that fate would grieve him over much, but he knew that Frodo would never forgive himself for disappointing Merry, as that outcome surely would.
Frodo, in the meantime, had been trying to calculate their chances on slipping into the back kitchen entrance, relatively unnoticed, and had decided that it was worth the attempt. "Possibly we could wait in the apple shed until it darkens a bit," he commented rather optimistically. "There's the stables, but I am definitely not going to give Burt the satisfaction; that is, if he has not gotten wind of it already."
"Would there be folk about who might be able to lend us a bit of a cloak, or a blanket?" Sam asked, somewhat timidly.
"Oh, wonderful suggestion, Sam," Frodo brightened up instantly. "There were a couple of families living on about this stretch of the Brandywine, a little further back upstream. I never met them, myself, but I do remember Cook used to send someone up this way to buy trout from them from time to time. Perhaps they wouldn't mind giving us a hand."
"Then I will go, Frodo," Sam said, standing up decisively. "They'd not be knowin' me, and I'll just tell them the truth o'it, and only mention that I have a friend waitin' for me who could use a hand as well. You stay here, love; there's no point in any of this reaching Mistress Brandybuck's ear, if it can be helped, and you know how folk can talk."
Frodo stood up as well and grasped Sam's hands, the look on his face doubtful. "That does make sense," he had to admit, "and I would really like to avoid any unpleasantness this time, seeing as how it's Merry's birthday and all. Are you quite sure, Sam?"
Sam nodded briskly, trying to appear far more confident than he actually felt, and Frodo had to concede that the plan was practical.
"Then don't be long, Sam-love," he murmured, kissing him tenderly. "It will seem like forever until you return, but then it always does, whenever you are away from me."
Sam returned the kiss, and then nodded cheerfully, and strode away through the rushes, only barely hiding the fact that he felt distinctly unnerved.
Sam kept back from the road, but that seemed to not really matter, as it was quite deserted. As he walked on, the long afternoon began to wane, and the Brandywine and sheltering rushes were left far behind. The country lane was now open, and exposed with only low bushes that straggled at its borders, just starting to throw their shadows onto the dusty road, and with only wide overgrown fields beyond. There had been no sign of inhabitants for awhile now, and Sam was beginning to think uncertainly of turning back to where Frodo remained waiting for him, when he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Desperately fighting down panic, he glanced about for some sort of cover, but there was none about. He had been fortifying his courage with the thought that folk who lived in such an out of the way place as this would be glad to see a stranger, and would sympathize with his plight, but a traveler, especially one of the fine folk likely to be heading toward Brandy Hall, might not be inclined to be so kind.
There was no help for it, however, for the stranger was striding purposefully down the lane, with a careless whistle on his lips, and approaching in an unavoidable manner directly toward him. Sam could feel his face flush uncontrollably as the stranger drew nearer, the whistle vanishing in an instant, and an unmistakably curious expression beginning to appear on his face. He was well-dressed, and remarkably tall and lean, and Sam suddenly realized, in complete horror, that he had seen him before. But there was no time to duck away from view, and indeed, nowhere to duck to.
Planning to stride past the stranger without a word, for indeed, what was there to say, Sam was nevertheless halted by the stranger. "Hold on," the stranger said, with a frown, scratching his chin contemplatively and coming to a complete stop midst lane, "I do believe I know you."
And then Sam's humiliation was final as the amiable traveler's face cleared, and he declared, with an air of perfect satisfaction, "My dear old fellow, why of course. How perfectly idiotic of me. Frodo Baggins' friend, to be sure. How delightful, old thing, how absolutely splendid to see you again!" he continued on, cordially reaching out for Sam's hand. "I believe the name was Sam, was it not? I'm so dreadfully sorry as I believe I never caught the last name; that was frightfully rude of me, without a doubt." There was nothing for it then, but for Sam to awkwardly shake his proffered hand, and wish, as fervently as he ever had in his life, that the impossible would happen, and that the ground could open him up and swallow him this very instant. Now he had placed the tall hobbit. He was one of Frodo's friends, who had been staying at Brandy Hall last Yule on the occasion of their awkward and revealing visit.
"You know, I don't believe Frodo ever actually introduced you to us; horrendously remiss of him, to be sure. I must chastise him severely for that omission. Fredegar Bolger, quite at your service. Commonly known as Fatty, alas. But where is that old fraud Frodo, anyway, and why is he not with you and headed in the direction of Brandy Hall? Merry will positively kill me if I let the two of you escape these festivities. Although I can certainly sympathize with a certain amount of reluctance to spend time chez Brandybuck; Merry's mother is a perfect dragon, is she not? Ah, the sacrifices that we must make for our friends at times."
A rather stunned Sam let the words stream past him, realizing, with a certain incredulousness, that Fatty had not mentioned, nor appeared to notice, that Sam was standing in the middle of the road in a rather severe state of undress. He attempted to make some cordial response, but it seemed as if his capability of speech had vanished along with his clothes, and a rather strangled squawk was the absolute best that he could manage.
Fatty, however, responded as if it had been the lightest of bon mots. "How absolutely true," he smiled sympathetically, "and that is really the best solution I've seen in absolute ages for this perfectly ghastly heat. How extremely clever of you."
Sam finally managed to find his tongue then, and stammered, "Well, I can't say as it was my idea, or Frodo's for that matter, but truth to tell, we are in an awful pickle, and I don't mind saying so."
"My dear fellow!" Fatty exclaimed with immediate compassion. "Has there been an inconvenience to the both of you? Do tell me all, my good lad; I am absolutely at your disposal." Sam waited no longer then, but presented their dilemma to the supportive Fatty, and saw no more than the fleetest flicker of a smile at their uncomfortable situation.
"Well," Fatty stated decisively, as Sam finished his account. "I must certainly follow you to Brandy Hall then, and do what I can, or I should never deserve to show my face in decent company again. How very inopportune to be in such a situation. But no fear, my dear Sam (and I do hope I am not being too very forward in calling you that?), let us find Frodo again, and see what assistance the contents of my pack might provide for the both of you. I did not bring over much, I am pained to admit, but whatever meager offerings I do have are totally at the disposal of the both of you, I assure you."
The trip back to where Frodo was waiting seemed far shorter to Sam than did the first journey, so distracted and entertained he was by the light and incessant chatter of the other hobbit. So in no time, they had returned to the section of the Brandywine sheltered by the reeds, and Fatty laid his pack by the side of the road, as he made ready to follow Sam through the thick rushes. That proved to be, however, an unfortunate and definite mistake.
Frodo scowled darkly at the spot on the road where Fatty's pack had last been seen, and Sam, whose hopes had been fluttering feebly back to life again, suddenly felt his heart sink like a stone once more. "Now this has gone far past being an inconvenience," Frodo growled, as Fatty looked hopelessly about. "Not to mention that it is getting far too late, and the birthday dinner can't be more than a couple of hours away."
"One hour, actually," Fatty murmured sympathetically. "I understand that some of the more elderly aunts tend to fall asleep in their soup, if dinner is held at a more reasonable hour. So our chances of arriving in time to secure clothing prior to dinner would be best if we set off at a rather rapid trot."
Frodo sighed and nodded, and Sam fell in behind the other two, as they trod resolutely down the road, the oddest of mismatched pairs. This could not possibly get worse, he thought to himself. He was quite wrong.
The afternoon had faded into dusk by the time the trio drew near Brandy Hall, much to Sam's great relief. If only Fatty could be persuaded to be sent into Brandy Hall in search of their packs, he thought, perhaps all would be well after all, and the awkwardness of their situation would be only known to Fatty. He had to admit that that thought did not trouble him at all, and he was inexpressibly grateful for the supportiveness and lack of harsh judgment from Frodo's friend. But as he looked quickly about the countryside for a likely location in which he and Frodo could remain unnoticed, he realized that, once again, there was another approaching traveler headed towards them. He reached out for Frodo's hand, wordlessly trying to pull him back, but to his amazement, Frodo stopped short and let out a clear laugh.
"Well, Merry," he chortled, "I do hope we didn't overdress for the occasion."
And indeed, it was no one other than the birthday celebrant himself, who even in the fading light could be seen breaking into a wide grin, and catching up to them in a run at Frodo's words. "Frodo!" he exclaimed, catching up a willing Frodo in a tight embrace. "You silly goose! What on earth are you doing? And Fatty," he added, reaching out for him as well. "Are you in on this as well?" Catching sight of Sam behind the other two, he added, with an obvious reduction in spirits, but an attempt at cordiality, "And you, too, Sam? All right, Frodo, do tell!"
Frodo explained the situation as best he could, with Fatty wryly interspersing the occasional remark. Sam kept his silence, keeping as far behind Frodo as unobtrusively possible. He had to admit he still did not feel at ease around Frodo's cousin, and this predicament certainly was not helping.
"No one mentioned finding packs, or clothing, or anything of the sort to me," Merry had to admit, when he caught his voice again, after gales of laughter. "And Mother is perfectly frantic, I must admit, to get this dinner underway. She even allowed me to go off in search of you, Frodo, if you would believe it. I suspect that she hopes to tuck you and Sam away in some obscure corner, and making a late and dramatic entrance will not be facilitating that at all."
"The entrance is likely to be far more sensational that she ever imagined," Frodo allowed with a grin, "if Fatty and you don't go ahead and find us some clothing."
"Good point," Merry smirked. "But I'm sure Cook would have some sort of towel or sheet about the kitchen that she could toss to the both of you, until we get to my room, and then we'll see what we can find."
"Without a doubt she'll think of something," Frodo exclaimed, with a relieved expression. "She always did have her wits about her."
"As well she needed to have, what with you in and out of the kitchen, if I remember correctly," Merry laughed, linking arms with Frodo, as they approached Brandy Hall. "Fortunately for you, she isn't the sort to bear a grudge."
Fatty, walking behind the other two with Sam, gave his companion a sympathetic glance. "Buck up, old chap," he remarked kindly, "Frodo always seems to get out of scapes like this unscathed."
Sam gave his head a slight shake. "Mayhap," he murmured, his words lost to the pair ahead of them, "but it seems as if we cause Mistress Brandybuck enough aggravation just by showing up. Something of this sort ain't likely to go down well at all, I'd be thinkin'."
Fatty gave a rueful smile. "All too true; I have noticed a rather truculent reaction to both you and Frodo on her part, although I can't imagine why. But possibly..." and he stopped short at that, while Sam also halted, looking at him curiously. "Perhaps if the list of offenders is extended a bit," he mused, and even in the fading light, Sam could see the smile that tugged at his lips. With a sudden resolute expression, he started on his own buttons, and had totally stripped himself of all clothing before the bewildered Sam could do no more than opened his mouth in silent amazement.
Bundling his clothing up and dropping them behind a nearby hedge, he beamed at Sam, as well as the other two, who had turned around to watch in disbelief. "I'll pop back later sometime for them," he announced airily. "And I expect that my pack will be at the Hall along with the both of yours, as far as the dinner get-up goes. But there's no point in causing Miss Esme to suspect only the residents of Bag End of being uncouth barbarians. Let us spread the blame about a bit."
"Oh, well, I certainly am not going to stand for the lot of you doing that," Merry exclaimed indignantly, "without letting me join in the fun as well." And he suited deed to word, and promptly followed Fatty's example.
"Merry, are you quite sure about this?" Frodo couldn't help laughing at the spectacle the four of them now presented. "After all, we don't have to stay around Brandy Hall, and you do. You do realize that your mother will be furious, don't you?"
"Not much she can do to me on the eve of my birthday, with a smial full of guests, now, is there?" Merry gave him a wide grin. "I'd say the timing is perfect, myself."
There were not many inhabitants of Brandy Hall in the courtyard as they arrived, with the last of the afternoon light, but those who were there had a identical reaction. Nobody, to Sam's great relief, felt the need to point out the obvious, but he could see hobbits stopping dead still in their tracks, and watching the unusual party with matching wide grins on their faces. The kitchen door was not far ahead, as they passed through the kitchen garden and back courtyard, lit already with great torches to either side, for it was to be a busy and festive evening for the Hall. Sam could not help but hope, somewhat selfishly, that he was passing by fairly unrecognized, in comparison to the gentle-hobbits ahead of him. If word of this ever reached the Gaffer, he realized with a sinking heart, there'd be no end to what he'd hear, and it would definitely not help the Gaffer's still uneasy acquiescence to his relationship with Frodo. Frodo had fallen back next to him, and had unobtrusively grasped his hand, to give him what comfort he could, but the other two strode merrily ahead of them, laughing and chatting and generally giving the impression that there was no better way to travel on such a muggy day as this.
It was beginning to seem as if they might make it into the safety of the servants' end of the Hall, without creating at least as much of a scene as Sam had feared, when approaching from behind them came the sound of a voice that caused Sam's heart to freeze at once in dread. It was Mistress Brandybuck, who had apparently not yet spotted the dubious quartet. The words were rather unclear, competing, as it were, with the sudden loud pounding of blood through his veins, but it seemed as if the Mistress of Brandy Hall had brought a party of guests out to show off some of her garden's prize blooms before they lost the light.
Helplessly, the four travelers turned around and found themselves facing not only Esme Brandybuck, but at least five of the more elderly aunts, the culprits in the early timing of the birthday dinner. There was at least a moment of stunned silence on the part of the two contingents, before both groups turned and walked rapidly in opposite directions, exchanging not a word.
Frodo and Sam had found a back bench in the Great Hall, in which to share a final bottle of wine. Sam, comfortably attired in his own clothing again, had finally relaxed. He had no doubt that there would still be consequences, but probably not this evening. Indeed, Merry had confided to them earlier, with great glee, that his father had let out a roar of delight on hearing of the escapade, and had firmly forbade his mother from retaliating in anyway against not only Merry, but his guests as well. Instead, he had commended his son for welcoming his guests and doing what he could to make them feel at ease, even under rather trying circumstances. It seemed as though the only negative consequence was going to be putting up with an extremely grouchy Pippin, who had felt grievously wronged, in being left out of the fun. The fact that he was nowhere about at the time, being forced to play chess with his young cousin Celandine as he awaited the other guests, had no effect whatsoever on his sense of being greatly ill-treated, and it appeared that it would take a good deal of attention from Merry to restore his normal cheery spirits.
The birthday dinner had managed to go off quite well indeed, delayed as it was, and not a single maiden aunt had fallen face first into the broth. Instead, they had proved to be undeniably a congenial and chatty lot, and Fatty had found himself surrounded by lady hobbits of a certain age and sparkling eyes, giggling like lasses at his every light comment. And to Sam's great alarm, more than one serving lass had passed him whilst distributing the dinner rolls, and had given him a coy smile and an unmistakable wink. Frodo had given a merry laugh at Sam's instant fierce blush, and his warm glance had made Sam curl his toes under the table in anticipation.
But the evening was finally drawing to a close, with the company beginning to break up into affable small groups, and certain quickly muffled shrieks in some of the darker corners of the cavernous Hall indicated that a few of the younger guests present had found more interesting ways of whiling away the time until the afters were presented. Frodo gave a glance to the center of the long massive table, where Merry was busily popping grapes into a giggling Pippin's mouth, and decided that they could make their exit in safety.
Drawing Sam out by the hand, he placed a finger to his lips, indicating silence, and with a mysterious smile, led him down a dimly lit hallway, and out through a shadowed side door. Sam breathed the night air gratefully, as they stood in the moonlit night, and then gave Frodo a curious look. "What'd you be up to now, me dear?" he chuckled.
"Oh, I saw the look Peony gave you, Sam my love, and I don't think you are out of harm's way anywhere within these walls tonight," Frodo warned him merrily. "And it's still entirely too close and warm to be indoors tonight anyways, and as much as I love my secret perch high above the Hall, it would indeed be unfortunate to find ourselves rolling off of it at an inopportune moment. So, if you don't mind, I thought that we could continue on where we left off this afternoon."
"The river?" Sam gasped, his eyes opening wide.
"Mmm," Frodo explained, throwing his arms around Sam and catching his mouth in a kiss. "It's really lovely in the moonlight, Sam; come and take a look. And I do believe our clothes will be quite safe this time. I understand that Cook has Had Words with those involved. I've had a bit of experience with those words myself, and I doubt if those young pups will be trying that trick again."
So Sam found himself being led to the nearby banks of the Brandywine, once again, and he did have to admit to Frodo that moonlight upon the water was lovely indeed. But privately, he thought that it was moonlight upon Frodo's fair skin that was the loveliest of all, and there was nothing sweeter in all the world than the taste of those wet lips.
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