West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
The Last Kiss
Sam encounters a Yule custom that throws him for a loop.
It's a perfect Yule evening, crisp, cold and clear. The moonlight glances off the snowdrifts that blanket the garden and paints the tiny room with broad strokes of silver laced with deepest black. It bleaches the sun from his hair and the ruddiness from a brown cheek, and all the world seems remote, unreal. Just the way he wants it to be.
He falls to his knees beside the bed and gropes in the shadows underneath. There's the creak of a floorboard pried off, and in the uncovered space, amid the small treasures of his life, his hand finds the prize he seeks. He sets it gently on the worn quilt---a small box, carved of dark oak and polished to a lustre that only years of handling can achieve. And he sits back on his heels and stares at it, and his eyes are dry.
He belongs to the moon tonight, and there is ice in his veins and a coldness in his heart.
Mr. Frodo, Mr. Frodo, come and see! Come and see!
There's a festive bustle about Bagshot Row these days. Everyone is bound and determined to make Frodo's first Yule as heir to Bag End an exceptionally fine one. It isn't just from plain relief either, although the Gaffer has been heard to hold forth on Mr Bilbo's kindness in ridding them of those pesky Sackville-Bagginses. Rather, his heir seems to have charmed everyone out of their holes whether he was meaning to or not. He's made partisans of them all, it looks like; Gammer Twofoot has been seen to box Sandyman's ears for sneering at his betters and Sam nurses bruises bought in Frodo's defence with pride. May and Daisy have been baking frantically for days, and even young Master Merry has been prevailed upon to share what he knows of his cousin's favorite dainties. Sam is amazed that the tweenager isn't as round as a tun, such a sweet tooth he has.
It's a fine, clear morning, and he sings to himself as he nips down the lanes, enjoying the brisk chill and the pristine beauty of untrodden snow. He's been up since cockcrow, scouring the bare hedgerows for the best ivy vines and collecting a scratch or two in his search for the glossiest hollies to be found. The old oak atop the hill yields up its burden of mistletoe, and he stores the waxy leaves carefully away. The Gamgee lasses will have need of them too. And he seeks out the winter honeysuckle in sheltered nooks and breathes happily of their sweet scent. Frodo will love them, he knows.
He spends the rest of the day decking the old hall with his spoils. Frodo helps, although he's apt to wander off with his nose in a book more often than not. Mr. Bilbo declines to join them---he's busy with the makings of a magnificent Yule pudding, and it needs all the attention he can give. He's promised Sam a slice, and Sam's mouth waters at the very thought of the treat to come.
He watches as Frodo tops the portraits above the mantelpiece with bunches of holly. There's a new one---there beside Mr. Bilbo's mam and da and Frodo strokes it, glancing at his cousin with a smile. Mr. Bilbo smiles back and Sam feels his heart swell joyfully. He doesn't know why, really.
Frodo looks up from his book at Sam's call, and goes to admire the beribboned bunch of mistletoe presented for his inspection. It's the last thing to be done, by custom, and Sam peers at him diffidently.
"Mr Frodo, there's a peg above the parlour door yonder. But I'm too little to reach it, begging your pardon, sir."
"Of course, Sam, that's no problem at all." Frodo leads him to the parlour and to Sam's surprise his master bends down suddenly, clasps him about the waist and lifts him high. There's a wiry strength in the slender arms; he feels the warmth of Frodo's face against his belly, and the twitch of a smile through the homespun shirt he wears. "Quick, Sam. You're no lightweight, you know," and he fumbles the bunch onto the hook, hardly daring to breathe. Frodo loosens his hold, and Sam begins to slip down, but his master tightens his arms again halfway, and Sam looks up, startled. He feels the light touch of warm lips on his forehead, and a murmured 'thank you, Sam', before he is released to slide down to the floor.
*He kissed me! Me, Sam---the gardener's son! Mr. Frodo kissed me!*
He stands stock-still for a moment, and then he breaks into a wide grin and whirls toward the door.
He skids to a stop and looks back questioningly. Frodo reaches up, plucks a berry from the cluster and holds it out in the palm of his hand.
"Here," he says with a smile. "This belongs to you."
He traces the worn carvings on the lid with a trembling finger. They were leaves once, he recalls, now they are mere shadows of what they had been. A dim memory comes back to him; he seems to see a slender, work-worn hand caress the box and an old pain joins the new one he bears, no less painful for the years gone swiftly by. Bell Gamgee loved the Yuledays, and there's never a Yule but her son doesn't remember her with longing. A faint clattering from the kitchen and Mari's voice raised in song only serves to make keener the loneliness he feels. "Mam," he whispers, and shuts his eyes, and when he masters himself again, the phantom is gone.
He eases the lid open and tips the box on its side, and the contents spill out, rolling into the creases of the coverlet. Round, brown and wizened---the detritus of years.
Sam, you'll stay for supper, of course.
A very fine supper it is too, with the granther of all baked hams and three kinds of pudding to fill the corners with. Pippin eats the oliphaunt's share of it, like as not, and Sam wonders where he manages to store it all.
Bag End is full of happy voices this Yule, and the noise abates only when Mr. Bilbo is called upon to tell one of his tales. They take the tarts and mugs of ale into the parlour with them, and Sam bestirs himself to stoke the kitchen fire.
"Sam! Where have you got to? Come, join us."
They're piled like puppies on the rug at Mr. Bilbo's feet, and Frodo nudges Merry and Pippin aside and makes room for him with a smile. Folco and Fatty are momentarily surprised to see him in their midst, but they welcome him as well; such good-natured lads they are. They settle themselves expectantly and wait as Mr. Bilbo knocks the dottle from his pipe and they breathe in the fragrant scent of Southfarthing weed as he lights it with a spill. It's all so familiar and comforting. They've already heard it all, of course, but on this cold night, with the snow falling softly on the world outside and firelight ruddy on their rapt faces, Smaug's red-gold wickedness looms likely in the shadows, and the heat of his fiery breath is as real as the smoke that wreathes the air.
"Peregrin Took, you greedy-guts! You've gone and snaffled all the tarts!"
In the scuffle that follows, Sam quietly leaves the room and when he emerges from the pantry, Frodo is waiting at the parlour door.
"Here, Mr. Frodo," he says, ducking his head shyly. "I saved some o' them custard ones for you."
"My favourites! Oh Sam. You think of everything!"
"Well, I don't trust that Mr. Pippin as far as I can throw him, and that ain't very far, 'specially tonight."
Frodo laughs delightedly, and before Sam can take a step away there's a hand on his shoulder and the feather-touch of soft lips on his cheek. All at once, it's impossible to get a breath in---the room's doing the springle-ring, and the platter tips downward in his lax hands.
"Steady, Sam!" Frodo exclaims, and relieves him of his burden quickly. He smiles, but there's an odd look in his eyes and an uncertain twist to his lips, and before Sam can say another word there's a white berry pressed into his hand.
"Merry Yule, Sam," Frodo murmurs, before he turns away.
He prods them into a ragged line and counts them silently, though he knows full well how many there are. Twelve Yuledays in as many years.
Twelve kisses given, and gratefully received.
He wonders drearily when the kisses had begun to burn; when the press of Frodo's lips on his skin and the whisper of a hand ghosting down his sleeve had become the touchstones of his life. When had the mere memory of them begun to keep him sleepless in the night, aching for the remembered touch? It had crept up on him like the stealthy mist on a cool autumn evening, and he can't find the answer, and he doesn't really care.
He rolls the last berry lightly under his finger. There's a tinge of waxy white on it still, although it's been a year since the last kiss.
He rubs his hand over his face and frowns. His head feels heavy on his neck, and it's hard to think. How did that song go again? Ahhhh... yes.
Sam, we're going to the 'Dragon for a pint. Are you coming?
It's been a rough time they've had since Mr. Bilbo went away. Frodo's been in a fey mood, although he's slipped into the ways of the squire as if to the manor born. But it's taking a toll on him, Sam can see that. He don't laugh so easy no more, and he's taking to spending days closeted with his books. When he comes out, he looks at Sam as if he isn't really there, and eats the food placed before him as if he doesn't care much about nourishing himself either. He's taken to tramping the Shire in all weathers, going who knows where, and Sam worries mightily. But he always comes home safe, although oftentimes wet and shivering, and Sam makes sure that the fires are built high, and the smial is warm and welcoming.
So it looks to be a dreary Yule, Sam reckons, although he decks the hall with holly like he always does. There's baking a-plenty, for the lasses of the Row are that worried about Frodo too, and there's more than enough to feed the appetites of any who might care to visit and brighten the Master's evening. Sam can't do that, seemingly.
He knocks on the study door when he's done, and a voice bids him enter. Frodo's standing at the window, and the late afternoon light reflecting off the snow surrounds his body in a bright haze. He looks round when Sam enters, and it glints on each feathery lash that veils his startling blue eyes.
*Love-in-a-mist*, Sam thinks absently, and then he feels a blush rise to his face at the thought and looks away guiltily.
"Mr. Frodo, I've got to be going now. There'll be a storm by tomorrow, the Gaffer says, and him laid out with the joint-ail something terrible. Everything's ready, sir, and I'll be back once I've got things squared to rights at number three, if that's fine by you?"
"My dear Sam! Of course you can go." There's an odd note in Frodo's voice, and Sam looks at him, puzzled. His master's staring at the well-filled woodbasket by the fireplace, and then he turns back and adds quietly, "Thank you for taking such good care of me, Sam."
So Sam sings as he trudges home through the snowdrifts, and sets about chopping wood with a lighter heart. And when he sees a sleigh full of laughing hobbits drive by on its way to Bag End, why, he's just purely glad that Frodo won't be alone after all.
By the time he gets back, there's naught left of the festive board and the merry company are well into their cups. Fatty is telling a humorous story, and the smial resounds with raucous laughter. For Merry and Pippin have come to cheer up their beloved cousin, and brought with them the cream of the Hobbiton lasses as well.
Sam sets about repairing the ravages to the kitchen and smiles at the sound of Frodo's merriment. It does him a mort of good, it does. And he hopes that it'll be just as heartening for Frodo too. Then he hears his master call his name and as he enters the parlour he chances to glance upward. As he always does. And the mistletoe branches are bare.
Pluck a berry off the mistletoe
For every kiss that's given;
For when the berries have all gone
There's an end to kissing.
He's surprised at how deep the pain goes, how keen the agony he feels. But he can't let it get out---not now---not yet. He schools his face into patient and undemanding lines, but everything's a blur now. The next thing he remembers is Frodo, with his arm around Merry's neck, waving a cheerful goodbye from the confines of the sleigh.
'Don't forget, Sam! We'll be waiting at the 'Dragon for you!"
He's waited so long, without knowing what he was waiting for. Well, now he does, and the knowing doesn't help him at all.
He wants Mr. Frodo, and Mr. Frodo don't want him.
He loves, and he isn't loved back.
Ninnyhammer, he thinks bitterly. Numskull. Whatever made you think that he meant more than a 'thank you' with those kisses anyhow? When has he ever given you cause to think he did? He knows, even then, that it's his head talking sense and his heart will go on its foolish way regardless. And he can call himself all kinds of a fool, but it won't change a blessed thing.
The pain subsides into a heavy numbness that weighs on his spirit, and he's surprised to find that his face is wet with tears. He yanks a fold of the quilt up and scrubs his face fiercely, and the berries scatter in all directions.
Should he have taken what he wanted? A proper kiss, and that sweet body warm in his arms at last?
Sam, Sam, the gardener's son. Stole a kiss and away he ran...
The ghost of a wry smile curves his lips at the very notion. It's not in him to take by force what isn't offered freely, and he's no lovelorn lass that sinks into a decline and hides in her bedroom either. He pushes himself to his feet and walks toward the door.
And he doesn't look back.
  
The windows of Bag End still flicker with firelight, and Sam pauses on the snow-covered doorstep uncertainly. But nothing stirs, and there are chores to be done, things to see to, and it wouldn't do to give the mice a Yule feast as well. It's early yet---he knows that he won't be joining his master at the Green Dragon tonight, and it's best to set things to rights while he's got the smial to himself. Tomorrow will be another day.
The candles have burned down long since; the kitchen is lit only by the hearthfire, and he goes about feeding it with all his old efficiency. Then he fills a kettle at the pump for the washing-up, and as he gazes into the rushing water the pain suddenly returns with all its pent-up force. Lost in a maelstrom of emotion, he is; he doesn't know how long he stands there, his fingers digging painfully into the countertop as he salts the water with his tears.
He finally gets a hold of himself and swipes his sleeve angrily across his damp face---then he hears it. The last sound in all the world that he expects to hear.
Sam turns slowly, and Frodo's leaning in the parlour doorway, his sleep-mussed hair a dark cloud about his face, his eyes heavy and uncertain. He holds out his hand, and there's a speck of white on his palm, and Sam is rooted to the floor because it don't mean a good thing to him no more. So he shakes his head dumbly.
There's a tremble in the soft voice, and Frodo's hand clenches convulsively over the thing he holds. Sam can't ever stand him hurting, so he obeys the summons---and sees what the shadows had concealed before. There are tracks of tears on the pale cheeks too, and a pain that rivals his own in the blue eyes raised to his. And the numbness in his chest is washed away by the love that surges up in him, mixed with the overwhelming urge to protect what he loves that has always been a part of Sam Gamgee.
He raises his hand hesitantly, and Frodo takes it and lays it against his own cheek. "I'm sorry, Sam", he whispers. His words seem to echo down through the long years that bind them together, and at last Sam understands.
"It's all right, Mr. Frodo," he says gently. "There's nowt to be sorry for, really there isn't."
But Frodo shakes his head, "Yes, there is, and I couldn't... I had to..." He takes a deep breath, "I left a message at the 'Dragon asking you to come. Because I had to tell you: I love you, and I've tried to throw that love away. Though I knew that that would have been the most stupid thing that I have ever done, or will ever do."
"But you didn't after all, did you? And I love you too. So much."
There's a look on Frodo's face, and Sam thinks that it's equal parts exhilaration, determination and not a little fear. "I know," his master says, and he sways forward, his eyelids fluttering shut. "Kiss me," he whispers hoarsely, and Sam is quite undone by the heat that flares through his body at the sound of it. He laces his fingers through Frodo's dusky curls and pulls him close, covering the eager mouth with his. It begins slowly, the kiss does, a tentative mapping of each other's lips---then there's the shy thrust of a tongue requesting entrance, and the kiss blossoms into a deep searching for the sweetness that they both have hungered for. And the finding and the taking of it is beautiful, and oh, so right.
"Glory be..." Sam stammers huskily, when they release each other at last. Frodo stares at him, his breath coming quick and fast, then he reaches up to pull the mistletoe from its peg, and with a quick movement, sends it winging into the fireplace.
"We won't be needing any of that. Not anymore."
Sam grins, "I suppose not". He laughs helplessly and pulls Frodo close again. "Ah love, you are a wonderment, you are."
Frodo giggles---oh, how Sam has missed that delightful sound---and leads him by the hand to the soft pile of the hearthrug. They sink down on it, always touching, and Frodo moves to cover Sam, his hands shaping the planes of his beloved's chest through the thin fabric of his shirt.
"May I?" he asks shyly.
Sam is busy doing some exploring of his own, and he answers solemnly, "I'm all yours, you know that."
Frodo stares down at him and smiles slowly. "As I am yours", he whispers and the sparks thrown up by the burning mistletoe are reflected in the brilliance of his eyes.
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