West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

Spared
A post-quest au. Frodo and Sam are slow to realize the damage done to Frodo by the Ring, and the decisions the two of them face.
Author: Princess of Geekland
Rating: R

 

A/N: It took me months to finish this story, because I can't say goodbye, and I do think it's my farewell to writing this pairing for a while. Many thanks to goldberry and to serai, who hold my hand through Frodo's eternal departure.



***

It was quite late when I heard two firm taps at the door, then the groan of the hinges. I looked up from the flames in the fireplace; realized my mug of tea had gone cold in my hands, half empty. One of Bilbo's books lay forgotten in my lap. I used to sit here and lose myself in endless perusing of the old tales and songs. Now I would catch myself staring into the fire, thoughts drifting. All Bilbo's priceless books and scrolls and maps had barely been touched since we'd been back. I looked around to see Sam standing in the arched door of my study, looking tired and happy. And beautiful. I was so glad that he would knock and then just come in now -- and use the front door, even, if he wished. It told me that he felt at home here. So much had changed between us; so much and yet so little. Both those truths were a comfort.

"Sam," I said, smiling.

"I thought I'd find you awake. I saw the lamps were still lit," he said, coming a step closer and suddenly looking shy. He knew all my bad habits -- sitting up late, watching the fire and thinking, trying to write, sleeping till elevenses.

"Sit down," I said, patting the cushion next to me on the small sofa. "I'll get you some tea."

"I can do that, Mr. Frodo; that is, if it's not too late for talk."

"Well, come back to the kitchen, then. My own tea's gone cold and I've probably let the fire die in there. We'll make another pot together."

That suited him better than letting me wait on him, as I knew it would. We poured more water, built up the fire, pushed the old iron kettle on its hook over the renewed flames. I found another mug while he put more leaves in the pot.

"Here's the rest of that shortbread, too, that Daisy made for us -- just the thing for a late snack," I said, bringing the plate from the shelf in the pantry. He was sitting in one of the kitchen chairs, looking into the fire. Just the way I had been in the study, earlier -- I must have had the same preoccupied expression. I wondered what he saw.

I set the plate on the table near him and, standing behind him, put my hands on his shoulders. He sighed and covered my left hand with one of his, stroking automatically, in a soothing way, at my stump of a finger. We were still for a while, watching the fire, listening to the kettle hiss.

"Tonight I've asked Rosie to marry me, and she said 'Yes,' " he said, still looking into the fire.

I squeezed his shoulders. I wasn't surprised at all. "Sam, you two were made for each other. Everyone's known that since we were all tweens together. Merry and Pippin will be delighted."

"Some good news over breakfast, then? They're still here?" He said, looking up at me. His eyes caught the firelight, shining like opals.

"Yes, they're still here. I put them to bed an hour ago." We three had left Sam at the bar at the Dragon, after supper, chatting up Rosie. My cousins and I and had walked back to Bag End, predicting matrimony for our Sam. Then they had drunk plenty more ale; I had drunk tea. Tomorrow they would go home -- Merry to Buckland, Pippin to Great Smials. It had been a wonderful visit, their first since we had all been back, and it was lovely to think of Sam choosing this night, this visit to have his words with his Rose.

"It's a happy thing," he said, turning back to the fire. I stayed where I was, my hands on his shoulders. "It just seems right, sir, and you ... you knew that, too, seemingly. You knew it, when it was her I thought of, there at the end on the mountain." He twisted around to look up at me again, the firelight kindling his hair. His hand still covered mine. "Except it weren't the end at all."

"You said, 'If ever I was to marry someone, it would have been her.'" Our eyes met, and my voice was warmer, softer, than perhaps it should have been, but I couldn't help it. I turned my hand under his, squeezed.

"I know," he said, and there was wonder and puzzlement in his voice. "I know. But --" He stood up, awkwardly, the chair between us, and put his hands on my shoulders. I held his arms, looking into his eyes. "I know, but somehow, this sounds so strange, but it's what I was thinking as I came to tell you that she said 'yes,' I was thinking, somehow, if I could, I would marry you, too. I know that's wrong, that it don't make sense, but ... I would." He looked as if he couldn't believe the words were out of his mouth, yet, there they were.

"It makes perfect sense, Sam," I said. I was surprised, amazed, but he looked fearful, and so astonished at himself. My first thought was to comfort him. Because I understood. I put my hand to his cheek, my heart overflowing. Sam would marry me! It was an odd thing for a hobbit to say -- outrageously odd. As well say he expected to gather daisies from a rosebush, or Gondor's oranges from Bilbo's old apple trees. But to hear that that would be his wish! I had not dared even so much, to put what I felt into words. Samwise the Brave, indeed.

"You understand, then," he said, still gripping my shoulders. "It doesn't sound daft to you." He lowered his chin at looked at me, hoping, I supposed, for assurance.

"No, it doesn't sound daft. It's flattering." I moved my hands along his arms, suddenly nervous. So brave, and so impossible. "I know I have your love, and you have mine. In fact I wish there was more I could give you. Because, Sam, you should have everything. You should be happy, have a family of your own. Have the love of a wife and of children."

He smiled, that small, rueful, knowing smile, and he put his hand on my cheek. "Love," he echoed. We stood there, the warmth of skin sinking into our palms, warmer than the kitchen fire. His eyes were beautiful and deep as always, the color of leaves in the summer sun. It was such a blessing, these days, to see those eyes at peace, without worry or fear.

Then I watched his face change to that "nothing to lose, why not" expression I used to see when Pippin had dared him to climb the most trees in the cherry orchard, or to pick up a snake. And my Sam leaned across my kitchen chair and kissed me.

I could almost feel him thinking, comparing. I was sure he had kissed Rosie not long ago -- and I wondered, with one fragment of a dizzily swirling thought, if I were the second ever to kiss him, or only the second tonight! But there wasn't much thinking, very soon. Just the sweet bliss of his warm lips, tasting faintly of ale, and, so close to him as I was, the smell of soap and earth and green that always clung to him. I kissed him back, clumsily, eagerly, drowning in his scent and taste, and then pulled back just a bit and rubbed my cheek against his.

"Help me with the tea, Sam." Just a murmur was all I could manage.

A shadow of fear and confusion crept into his gaze. I showed him with my eyes and my smile that it was all right, and tilted my head toward the teapot and the cups. He passed a hand over his face and turned to the small chore.

Somehow we carried the mugs and the shortbread back into the study where he had found me, and I drew him down on the sofa. I put my arm around his waist, held his hand with my other hand, and curled up against him. His arm came around me, tight and crushing at first, then relaxing. How I had wished for this comfort, yet never presumed to reach for it, knowing how wrong hobbits thought it to be. How I loved him. I could feel his breath, feel his heart beating fast. Our fingers twined together and his lips pressed into my hair. Then his cheek brushed against the top of my head, and, again, his lips.

"Sam. My dear Sam," I said. I closed my eyes.

"What's to be done, then," he said, as much to himself as to me, not even making it a question. He was planning, then, going ahead. I found I had no wish to think ahead. None at all. To be near him, to hold him, was enough. I raised my head and looked into his eyes.

"What's to be done? Why, I don't know, Sam. I expect you'll marry Rosie fairly soon, and in the meantime I suppose you could kiss me again."

He grinned at me then, fit to warm the entire Shire, and he did. Kissed me, long and sweetly, then pulled back to search my face and stroke his thumb against my cheek. He cupped my jaw in his warm, strong hand and kissed me again. He found me willing, pliant. I'm sure that whatever he had wanted that night I would have done, or tried to do. But he simply kissed me, over and over, and held me close, until he said, laughing again, "The tea will get cold."

I laughed, too, and lifted my head from his shoulder leaned forward. I picked up both mugs and handed him one. Sam! So close. The sweetness of his mouth; the warmth of his hands. I pulled the plate of shortbread onto my knee, picked up a bit and offered it to him. I wanted to giggle. Sam had kissed me, my Sam. I grinned at him, wondering what he would do next. He opened his mouth and let me feed him the biscuit, looking at me with wonder and a bit of heat. I poked the last bite between his lips and leaned against the sofa's back. I tried to quiet my suddenly hectic breathing. I sipped my tea and looked at his dear face. I would never tire of seeing his face, how his eyes crinkled when he laughed, how his curls rested on his forehead. He rested his fingertips on my lips. It made me close my eyes again.

"It's funny," he murmured, "how ordinary this feels."

"To kiss me?" He took his fingers away and I opened my eyes. It was almost a loss, the removal of that touch, though I could feel his knee against my leg, feel the heat of him next to me.

"Yes, to kiss you and to ... want you like this. Not strange at all."

I was still giddy, almost lightheaded with wonder. "You just have kissing on your mind, that's all, because of Rosie. I'm just getting the leftovers!" I joked.

"That ain't it and you know it," he contradicted, serious, his hand on my cheek again.

"I know, Sam. I know." I waited. He looked at me, the puzzlement plain to see. Didn't he know what I knew? I suppose I am better at putting things into words than he, though I found that very hard to believe. "You look puzzled. But it's just that... Well, I love you, Sam. I will always love you. No matter what we do, or refrain from doing. No matter whom you marry."

"And I love you, Mr. Frodo. Frodo." We were quiet for a moment. We were so close now; these declarations were not surprising. Not really.

I said, "As for what's to be done, well. Here we are together. You'll marry Rose, I'll be here writing my book -- what else? Isn't that enough?" I laughed. Sam. He laughed, too, taking my face between his warm, rough hands, so gentle as they caressed my cheeks. His eyes were bright.

"It's more than I thought I would ever get, for certain, on a time. More than I ever hoped I would have."He pulled me against him again, with his arm around me, and I leaned on his shoulder. "But now we have everything back -- all safe and sound. All home."

"Home," I echoed. I leaned my head against his. He absently reached for the shortbread with his other hand, nibbled on some more of it. I was content to lean against him. We sat there, pressed together, until our tea was gone and the plate was empty. The fire burned low. Finally he stirred. He sat up straighter, folded his hands in his lap, and caught me with his determined gaze.

He said, "I don't know how it is that I can love you both like this, but I'm finding I do."

"You have a big heart, Sam."

He sighed and shook his head.

"You," he said. "You're a rare one, and no mistake."

He put a hand to my cheek and leaned in again and kissed me.

"I'd best be off to the Row. It's late and you need your sleep. And I have a deal to think about."

We stood up, and I saw him out. He hugged me tightly by way of goodnight, and turned back once to look at me when he reached the bottom of the steps. The gate creaked behind him, and, as it was chilly, a breath of winter on the breeze, I closed the big door right away. It was the work of only a few minutes to put out the lamps and bank the fires in the kitchen and the study. I had let the parlour fire die hours before.

Lying in bed, alone as I had been my whole life, I wondered. How I could be so -- content, so desireless? Truly, what I had from him before tonight -- his love and care and forgiveness -- had seemed enough and more than enough. And Sam -- Sam should have everything. Rosie, and children, and everything green and good, as Merry used to say. Whatever the Shire could give him now could not come close to being as much as he deserved.

I closed my eyes, curled into the feather mattress, feeling it give softly under me -- still not an ordinary comfort. Still a pleasant surprise. And whatever Sam wanted from me, I knew I would give. Even something wrong and odd and scandalous. Sam deserved everything, anything he wanted. And if what was left of Frodo Baggins was what he wanted, well, he should have it.

I smiled at the memory, so fresh as I lay there, of him taking his leave of me. At the front door, in the chilly fall breeze, I had smiled into his eyes and leaned in again to taste his kiss.

"See you tomorrow?" I had said, wanting to reassure him, though of course I knew I would see him. "I expect Merry and Pippin will be off right after breakfast. You must come to tell them farewell, and tell them your good news. And then, I think we can get one more crop of green onions, if we work on it right away, and also Widow Rumble has some pansies she wants you to thin for her. They would look lovely there along the front walk."

"And the woodpile is getting low."

"Tomorrow, then," I said, and stepped back, smiling at him.

"Tomorrow," he said, and hugged me.

"Congratulations, Sam," I said, my mouth against his hair. I pulled back to let him go. His face was serious. He looked at me a long moment, and turned to go down the steps, going home.

***

I slept fitfully, as I always did these days, it seemed. Nightmares would wake me, and I would fling a dressing gown on and pace the halls. Sometimes I would go in the dark, sometimes I would have to have a candle or a lamp because the shadows even of Bag End would make me so uneasy.

The days were filled with simple chores now, and when I could sit down and think, I would write. I wanted, very much, to tell the story that Bilbo now could not. But often I could not seem to gather my thoughts, and so instead of writing I would sit at Bilbo's desk and drift, quill in hand, thinking of the people and the realms we had seen, always shying away from the hardships and the evil memories. I both wanted and did not want to think of my own deeds, and Sam's. Putting them into words was too hard. And the shadows, the pain... Being outdoors would sometimes distract me from the pain in my neck, in my shoulder, in my heart. Sam's presence was the greatest comfort I had, the greatest gift I had been given. He was what I had leaned on since that unspeakable day when I awoke in the Tower of Cirith Ungol. I had learned a bitter lesson, and the lesson took. It was Sam I relied on, after that and always.

Since our return, it was Sam who understood my black moods, who could practically hear my thoughts, who understood all that I had done and failed to do. It was Sam who lit up these dear old rooms, and when he left every evening at sunset, I knew he left reluctantly. In the few short weeks since we had been back, we had resumed our old routines. By daylight I would listen for him as he worked. I would look out the windows, resting my eyes on the splendid flowers that his love brought to life. By night, I comforted myself with memories of him, lying close to me, comforting me in truth. I think he did suspect that the nightmares still haunted me as they had on the slow journey home. I wondered if it was as hard for him to get used to being separated from me at night as it had been for me. I clung to those memories of sleeping near him, when a nightmare wakened me but left me too drained to get up. I would close my eyes and remember the sound of his breathing -- or even his snoring. His presence, now as then, was a never-failing balm.

Time had stopped for me, going neither forward into something new, nor backward into the kind of blessed nostalgia that Bilbo enjoyed. I was just here, with every day somehow cut off from the one before and the one to come, despite the weight of memory and pain that I carried. Some days I was overwhelmed with gratitude for life, for the simple things that I could again enjoy: food and drink and friendship, green grass and cool breezes and sunlight. But some days I was clutched by darkness, as if still tangled in Shelob's webs. Somehow I was still alive, my battered body still containing my life. And my heart sometimes was fit to burst out of me, because of what I knew: it was because of Sam -- dear Sam, who had saved me, who had carried me, who had saved everyone when I had failed. After what we had done together, there was so little that I had to explain to him; so much that he could sense without words. But it would be important to find words now. Things were changing. He had spoken to Rose; he had decided to act. What else would he decide?

Morning finally came, bringing his arrival and Merry and Pippin's departure. In the forenoon, bundled against the breeze, we worked at transplanting the pansies he had brought up from the Rumbles' at No. 1. It was a simple, leisurely job. The Sun was often hidden behind clouds and the breeze was chilly. He was wearing an old jacket I remembered from before, just the jacket over his waistcoat. But I was in my heaviest winter coat and scarf, and the longest trousers I could find. The cold went right through me now. Even the exertion of bending and digging could not warm me as it used to.

I was afraid that soon I would have to go in and sit near the fire, but I didn't want to give in yet. The cold spread from the scar at my shoulder -- never warm even in the summer, never healed even with all Aragorn and Gandalf could do for me -- and that wound added its deadly effort to the wind. Soon I was shivering.

I was making shallow holes in the beds along the path, and Sam was nestling the flowers in them, then soaking them with water. He had insisted that his hands could stand the cold water better than mine, and I had to agree. He had let me join him in the chore, though, where before, he would have resisted, insisting he would do it, insisting it was not my place. We worked along for a while in companionable silence. I could hear him thinking.

"Tell me how it went with Rose, Sam. I forgot to ask you last night, you distracted me so."

He smiled. "You're sure you want to know."

I laughed out loud. What he didn't say, his smile did: Was I Rosie's rival now? Did I really want to hear this?

"Sam! Of course I do."

"I asked her to step outside with me, and she got that Lily to watch the bar for her, and she did. I imagine she knew, or hoped, what I was up to." He shook his head. "You know I'm not much for speeches, but I told her I was sorry it had taken me so long to speak. I had a job to do, I told her, and I couldn't speak before. Well, she said, you've wasted a year now, so why wait longer? I told her you couldn't call it wasted, but I see what she means. How it must look to her." He shook his head, leaning back on his heels, the water can in his muddy hands, looking past me, thinking. "Sometime today I'd best go see Tom Cotton, if you can spare me."

He glanced at me and I just smiled. He knew his time belonged to himself, and not to me. Not anymore.

He went on, "But as to why I waited so long -- I always knew, somehow before, that it wasn't time, as much as you egged me on, and as fond as I was of her."

"You did have a job to do, Sam," I said gently.

Our eyes met again, in perfect understanding. Now his job was done. I wasn't sure why I had been spared to come back to the Shire, but I never questioned why Sam had been. Despite everything that I felt for him, even with what he and done and said last night, it seemed so right that he had finally spoken and that Rosie had accepted. I hoped it still seemed right to him. I looked on the time he wanted to spend working with me as a gift. Undeserved, and appreciated perhaps more than he knew, more than I could ever say. A shiver ran through me that I could not control, and he saw it.

"Look at you. Let's get you inside for a bit."

"Much as I hate to admit it, I think you're right. I need to warm up."

He looked at his muddy hands, then at me, and let me get up on my own. I was glad -- I felt enough like an invalid as it was. We headed for the back door.

"It's near enough lunch time. Let me get cleaned up, sir, and do you sit by the parlour fire. I'll make us a bite. And you get a blanket right away, and wrap up -- I can't get it for you; I'm all over mud."

I did as he said, staying in my coat, slowly pulling an armchair up close to the parlour fireplace, then bringing a blanket from the chest in the hall. I threw it around my shoulders and sank gratefully into the chair, stretching my feet out to the warmth. I should have wiped them better -- I had tracked in mud. More work for Sam. I was hopeless. I shut my eyes, smiling a little at how hopeless I was. Hopeless, but here, for some reason. The shivering slowly left me.

Warmed and tired, I must have dozed off. When I started awake, the tendrils of a bad dream sliding away from me, there was a tray with a teapot on the footstool next to me. I stretched, poured a cup, drank. There was already milk in it, and honey -- not how I took my tea, and Sam knew it, but he must have wanted to get something hot and nourishing inside of me as soon as he could.

I sat there, warming inside and out, and soon he came in with another tray, piled with steaming dishes, and set it down on the floor and took my hands.

"Thank the Lady -- warm again."

"Now Sam -- it was just a bit of chill. Nothing to worry so about."

He glared at me as if he knew better.

"We could eat right here, if you're tired, Mr. Frodo."

"I would rather come to the table, if you don't mind." And I stood up and stretched again.

He followed me into the dining room with the big tray, and we made our meal. I watched him, all his movements economical and tidy, his thick fingers and big hands never clumsy, though he called them so. I finished eating first, but gave him no grounds to admonish me for lack of appetite. After our meal, I began clearing the table and quietly laughed to myself when I saw him silently bite off his protest. He was learning, Sam was. I would get him happy yet with the idea of him as an equal, as a guest. But I would never take away from him the jobs he loved so well, like the gardening. It was an odd balance, but we were finding it. I wondered again what would shift in that balance when he married. Everything would change, and I could not regret it, for his sake. I looked out the window over the sink, surprised that I had thought of regret, examining my heart. He had kissed me, but I had no right to expect more. I closed my eyes, feeling those kisses again, the warmth and strength of him.

The two of us? It wasn't done, not in the Shire. How brave, even reckless, Sam had been to tell me of his desire. But then, I never doubted his bravery. And after all the strange perils and desperate places we had been in together, a simple matter of the Shire's disapproval would hardly stop him from kissing me, I thought. But he had his own life to consider -- what he wanted, what he had earned. I found myself wondering, even hoping a little. Would those kisses of yesterday be all? Or would he want this odd new thing to find a foothold, too, in our new life? I realized that I expected it all to be up to him. I was waiting, like Rose, for him to speak. The thought made me smile. I never thought to feel that I had something in common with her.

I touched my lips, remembering his sweet mouth on mine the night before. I surprised myself, wanting. Wanting to kiss him again. I didn't hear him behind me; but felt his arms first, then his cheek against my hair.

"Sam," I said, and put my surprising knowledge in my voice. I did want to kiss him.

"Frodo," he murmured -- more surprise; he rarely called me that -- and he let me turn round in his arms. I kissed him, twice, thrice, and he was happy with it.

"This wedding," he murmured. "Rose..." and he pulled back and looked at me, frowning.

"Stop," I said. "There's nothing that needs changing, Sam. Nothing at all."

"You want me to marry her."

"Of course, why shouldn't you? You love her. You always wanted a family."

"You," he started. Shook his head and tried again. "This..."

"Sam," I said. "This is so little, compared to everything you'll have with Rose, your children -- grandchildren, even."

"You're no judge of that," he said roughly and caught my lips in a kiss again. Sweet, but sweeter yet was the tendril of desire I felt. So long since I had felt anything of the kind. I pressed my cheek against his again, and whispered.

"You know this is wrong, against nature, against common sense. But somehow, we belong together now. Nothing changes that."

He held me, listening.

"Sam. I'm here. I'm with you. Promise me you'll not let this sudden desire to kiss me, stop you from marrying Rose. She's what you've wanted forever -- I know it!"

"I'm, well, I'm torn in two. That's how it feels now."

"Don't be. Be one, Sam. Be whole." I held him tightly, as tightly as I could, my spent strength no longer any match for his.

He kissed me again, lingering and slow. And again. I heard him sigh and he finally stepped back. He looked at me a long moment, then turned away to heat water, ready to wash our lunch dishes. Perhaps it was good to pull back, for now, from what was blooming between us. Perhaps the familiar task was a refuge. I found I was breathing hard, very warm once again, down to my bones. I watched him set down the bucket, push the big kettle over the flames. His hands were shaking.

***

We worked in the early afternoon in the garden, and at teatime, he again took my hand, reaching across the table, as we were still alone and peaceful with it. I knew he also was reaching to take up the threads of the conversation we had had at lunch. He must have been worrying at it, like a dog with a bone as he worked.

"But you, sir. You said, you said you understood, about feeling as if we would marry if we could."

"I do understand, Sam. That's what I meant by saying we belong together now. But just being home, being alive, being with you the way we've always been -- that seems more than enough. Things are so different now --" I waved a hand, not wanting to have to capture in words the shadows I felt gathering around me. They were dark enough without describing them. And these days I worried him more than I wanted to, as it was. "You know I've been slow to recover. I know you feel this, too -- that every day we have now is a surprise and a gift."

"I do feel that."

"I think you knew it all along, Sam. It may have taken going to Mordor and back to teach it to me... How to treasure every day. Every moment." I shook my head. I took my hand back, pressed both palms to my eyes. The tears wanted to spill over, suddenly. I didn't want to take time for that. I wanted to tell him what I could. My tongue seemed thick.

I went on after a moment, "Remember -- all this time you had Rosie on your mind and I knew it."

He was looking at me earnestly, his forehead wrinkled with concern. I saw how he listened, holding himself back from getting up out of his chair and coming to me. He let out a long breath. His eyes strayed to his plate, to the window.

"Rosie has always been there," he said slowly. "But you... I never thought about it," he said, puzzled. "Mr. Bilbo was always here alone, and then you were. And nothing pleased me more than to know you were here -- the Baggins under the Hill, as he used to say -- with a Gamgee to tend your gardens for you. It seemed like it should be that way, like always."

"And so it should." I got up from the table and went around to where he was sitting, leaned over to hold him close.

"Things have their seasons," he said slowly. "And I knew I had no business thinking of taking a wife, or settling down for family life, or loving," he laid a finger on my lips, "because I had to go with you. I put it all away, until the right season, seemingly. And now that season is here. But it's you, too, that I love. I do love Rosie, Frodo, but I love you, too."

I kissed his neck, below his ear, because I could, now. We were alone and I could. He drew me down, right into his lap, held me close. I felt him breathing deeply. I held him tightly, pressing my face into his hair.

"Sam. I love you. You know that. But there is no choice to be made here. Please -- marry Rosie. Say you will. You know in your heart that the season for your family has finally arrived."

"Aye," he said, and held me tightly.

I leaned back to look at him, an idea blooming inside me, making me smile and sit up straighter in his lap.

"Sam!"

He stared back at me, a little alarmed. I clapped both my hands on his shoulders, shook him.

"Sam, I want you to marry Rosie, and bring her to live here! Bag End needs a mistress, and we should have all the room for all the children you could wish for."

He sighed, and a smile spread slowly across his face. I beamed at him, thinking again how beautiful he was.

"Both of you within arm's reach, then?"

"If you like," I said, laughing. "Nothing would please me more than to have you here with your wife and your children."

"I guess it's settled, then," he said, looking at me with what I could only call wonder.

***

Later that afternoon, Sam visited Farmer Cotton and asked his permission to marry Rose. I heard about it from him the next morning, while we were making bread. I wanted to make enough for two or three days for our meals, and I wanted to make some to share with the neighbors who had been keeping me in milk since our return.

Sam told me the visit had gone well. The Cottons, of course, had felt him part of the family for years. That bond between the families had been strengthened by Marigold Gamgee's marriage to young Tom, which had taken place while we were gone. Sam's face was contented and happy as he told me how happy Farmer Cotton was, and how they had insisted he stay to supper. He had walked out with Rose afterward.

He fell silent then, his hands busy with the bread dough, thinking and occasionally looking at me. "Torn in two," he had said earlier, and I wondered if he still felt that way.

Thinking of this wedding and the new family that would result pulled me into the future, stirred up my thoughts. I stood still, leaning on the counter. It was as if I could see it all, suddenly -- see Rose and Sam and their children, here, all here, laughing and running, in Bag End. Sam, and Rose, and Elanor, a golden haired girl, and little Frodo, and more. And their names... I swayed, caught my balance on the counter.

"Mr. Frodo?" Sam's hands were on my shoulders. I was dizzy. I shook my head, the room coming back into focus. The sunlight seemed too bright.

"I'm all right, Sam."

"Come, sit down." He got me into a kitchen chair, and I sat down gratefully.

"What happened? Are you ill?"

"Just a moment of dizziness, Sam. I am all right now, I promise."

"Let me get you a cup of tea."

He let go of my hands and bustled to get the warm cup back into them as soon as he could. He looked at me, frowning, and went back to the dough. It needed to go into bowls to rise by the warm stove as soon as might be. In a few minutes, I felt I had my balance again, and got up to help him. He watched me carefully, but did not ask again how I was.

***

"Walk with me?"

I had a staff in each hand. Sam was scrubbing the hearth in the parlour. The bread was cooling on the table in the kitchen. But the afternoon was too pretty to waste indoors, and though I knew I was taking him away from his work, I felt the words between us that might be said.

"It would be good to be outside for a bit. The rains will come any day now," he agreed.

We set off across the Party field, heading for the grove of trees beyond.

"You're not having second thoughts, are you, Sam? You will still marry Rosie, as you should, and bring her to live at Bag End?"

He sighed. "You know me a ways too well, sir. All the time I was with the Cottons yesterday, I was happy, but I felt so strange. I was thinking of you the whole time I was with her."

"And you're thinking of her now, aren't you, though you're here with me?" I smiled at him, swinging my stick. The pale autumn Sun was warm and comforting on my face and shoulders.

He sighed, rueful again. "I don't know what to make of myself, Frodo. I don't." He shook his head as if hoping to clear it.

"Torn in two. But Sam, you needn't be. Why shouldn't you love both of us? Why shouldn't you marry her, as you love her?"

"I do, at that." He sighed again and we walked in silence until the beech wood closed around us. We walked on in silence, the afternoon golden and still around us.

"Why'nt I never saw this before?" he said, finally. "Why didn't you?"

"Ah, but I did Sam, I did. For years."

"But you never spoke. You never did anything."

"Because it's wrong, it's not done. You know that. And even if it were -- with you? You working here in the garden, me so much older. So many reasons not to bring it up. And I had no way of knowing that you would not have minded."

"Minded? That's a pretty weak way of putting it, begging your pardon." He reached out and playfully shook my shoulder. He was quiet, thinking over what I had just said. "I see all that, Frodo. I do. And I just, for my part -- it was just my life, to be here working for you. You were ... You were like sunlight; you were just there. Always. You and Mr. Bilbo." He stopped and turned to me. "I guess I've loved you my whole life."

"Sam." I put my hand on his shoulder for a moment, then swung my stick and kept walking before I could give in to the impulse to kiss him again, right outdoors.

He was thinking again, frowning in concentration. "I guess it were something the Elves and the heroes knew about. Like Beleg Strongbow and poor Turin. Even if hobbits call it unnatural."

"Or Beren and King Finrod Felagund.... I used to think of those tales, you know. And think of you. More than I want to admit, even now." I smiled at him. He looked at me, sidelong, shaking his head in wonder. Then he stopped and reached out as I stopped, too, beside him. He traced my cheekbone with his finger. His forehead was creased, his gaze intense.

"I know it's not natural.... What the gaffer would say!" And his face cracked into a rueful smile, but that crease was still in his forehead. "But I think he'd be more upset with me getting above meself than to learn I fancied a lad... The idea! A Gamgee, setting his cap for a Baggins."

I laughed with him, and felt it again, warmth, desire. As real as hunger, and, for me, these days, as rare. Sam. Like sunlight. Like spring. I closed my eyes, feeling nothing but his fingers brushing my cheek. Then I felt his warm breath against my face, and his lips, soft on my cheekbone, dotting a path to my mouth.

This was more -- this was different. His kissed me slowly, fiercely. His lips worked and tasted, and I tried to keep up, tried to match him. I was getting dizzy and his arm held me up. I felt the brush of his tongue against my lips, against my teeth, and I opened my mouth to him. His tongue pushed carefully into my mouth, making me even dizzier. No stolen kiss in my Buckland youth had been like this.

"Sam," I murmured, when he drew back to breathe. My heart was pounding in my chest, in my ears. If his arms hadn't been around me, I would have fallen. He pulled me to him, close, and I felt the firm ridge against my thigh. I felt through his trousers, through his sleeves, how hot his skin had become. He kissed me again. I was dizzy, my vision clouding with grey shadows. My blood sang in my ears.

"Sam, wait," I gasped.

He pulled back instantly.

"I'm sorry, sir. I'm so sorry." He released me, hung his head. "I am getting above meself, now, aren't I."

"It's not that, Sam. It's just...." I caught my breath and leaned on my stick. I was dizzy, desire swirling, making me breathless. Spots swam before my eyes; I swayed and he caught me.

"Frodo!"

I couldn't speak. I clung to him until the waves of dizziness passed, leaving weakness behind.

He was frowning at me, holding me up with one strong arm, petting my damp forehead with his free hand. My vision cleared. I could put weight on my feet, stand on my own. I half turned, looking for a spot to sit. He helped me to some soft moss under a tree, helped me lean back against the bark. He flung himself down beside me and held my hand. I couldn't speak, but I put a hand to his cheek.

"Frodo?"

I took a breath, forced out the words. "You're not getting above yourself, Sam. I wanted that as much as you did."

"What is it, then? You're not well."

"I don't know, Sam. I was very dizzy for a moment."

He sighed and shook his head at himself. "You're not well," he said again, "and your Sam's naught but a ninnyhammer."

"No, Sam. No. Never that."

I leaned back against the tree. Sitting down felt good. But I didn't want him to worry. I lifted my hand to brush his cheek, and closed my eyes.

He let me rest, watching me carefully, until I felt steady enough to get up and walk home. The dizziness had gone, but I felt tired -- much more tired than our short walk could account for. As we headed up the stairs to my door, I leaned on his shoulder. I let him bundle me into the armchair in the parlour before he went into the kitchen to prepare our tea. I felt very tired, but my mind was clear and alert. I watched the flames and thought of what I had seen.

It was clear as a vision -- like a waking dream. The children looked like both of them, like Sam and Rose, all but the eldest, who looked like a hobbit version of Lady Galadriel: slim and regal, with waves of golden hair. I sighed. Elanor, I repeated to myself. Bright Sun-star.

***

Over tea in the dining room, I said, "Would you bring Rosie to call on me? I have seen her so seldom since we returned, except at the Dragon."

"I'd be pleased, Frodo, and I know she would, too."

"And if you haven't told her yet about my plan for where you should live, I can tell her."

He looked pleased. "I hadn't said anything yet, sir. I wasn't sure how to bring it up, and, if you want to know, I was hoping you would offer. It seems more proper, somehow, for her to hear it from you."

"Exactly," I said.

"I'll bring her round tomorrow, then."

"Bring her for lunch. I can make it while you walk to Bywater in the morning."

"Are you sure? I don't like to think you are sickening for something. I worried about you, earlier."

"Sam, I have to do what I can. I enjoy my kitchen, you know that. I am quite able to make lunch."

He looked at me. "I worry, I do."

"What a surprise!" I said in my best imitation of Merry, and he laughed. "You must write to Merry and Pippin as soon as you know when the wedding will be."

He looked thoughtful. "I'm sure her mum will have something to say about that."

Weddings were usually held in the spring, before haying season took too much of our time, but weddings at other times of year were not unheard of.

"Well, get married as soon as you can, I say. As she told you, you've wasted a year."

"You!" he said, and got up to clear the table. For once, I let him. I was still strangely tired.

***

He did indeed bring Rosie round, because I remember her voice and her cool hand on my forehead. But I also remember a sharp smell that was old Mother Green's potions and tinctures. She must have been there, too. Sam brought them, and perhaps others, perhaps Daisy, because I was abed for two days with a high fever and the ravings of a nightmare, as he told me later.

Two days of evil dreams and gray shadowed waking; two days of never getting warm, even under half the quilts Bilbo had accumulated. Two days of good broth and foul medicine, and Sam. Always Sam. His warm rough hand and his calm voice speaking gently of onions and pansies and the changes he foresaw in the weather.

"It is gone; gone forever, and all is dark and empty."

That was not Sam's voice, but mine, cracked and regretful, and the words echoed in my room, traveling on the flickering firelight, or maybe it was my vision flickering, changeable and strange. I pawed at the gem on my breast, still hearing the regret, still feeling it. My throat was dry. The covers bound me. My hand was caught. I pushed, and whatever was holding me gave back, and I reached for Arwen's gift. My clumsy fingers closed around it, cool moonstone, smooth and white. It even seemed white to the touch, beyond knowledge or memory. It felt white, touched white, cool and smooth as my lady's skin, Arwen's skin, cold as her doom, mortal Elf queen. White as the December stars opening above Rivendell, white as birch bark.

"Frodo," Sam moaned, "Oh, Frodo, you're awake at last," and I could see him then, more solid than the firelight, more substantial than the shadows, his dear square face, his brown eyes filled with tears. I reached out for him and he took my hand, but I kept pulling, and he came closer, so close. He leaned right in and took me in his arms again, the gem still caught in my fist, crushed between us. I let my head rest on his shoulder, the cloth of his shirt rough on my cheek.

"Frodo, oh Frodo me dear," he said, and he was calmer now, not so close to crying, I could tell. The firelight was real and vivid behind him, there on my own hearth. Sam smelled of bread and soup and worry and something else -- something salty and strange, thick and spicy on my tongue.

"Sam," I whispered. "Thank you." His arms tightened around me, as if they would never let me go.

***

It were hard, fair the hardest thing I ever did not to cry nor beg him when he came and broke off his promise.

I never knew Sam to behave like that in his life -- to go back on his given word like that. It's for the best, Ma said, that I never bound myself to him truly after all, no more than a kiss at the doorstep those two times, though goodness knows I would've done much more for him, and that first night, even.

But Ma's right, as she usually is. He come back changed. I could see that right away. Fairspoken and thinner, and a look in his eye like he were thinking things I never knew and that he could never tell, him, and the young Took and the young Brandybuck and the young Master. I knew right away he was changed, but I thought not too much. Well. I was wrong.

He came to the door and asked for me, and he wouldn't come in, turning his cap and turning it.

"Mr. Frodo has to leave again, Rose," he said, and this time there weren't no lies about Crickhollow and a Baggins running out of money. "He has to leave again and go to the Elves, and I'm going with him."

I couldn't speak. He waited, but there was nothing.

"I'm sorry, Rosie," he said. "I thought we could stay; I did."

But I didn't want to hear no more. "Be off with you, then," I said. "Talking won't mend nothing," I said, what Mother Bell used to say. And I went into Ma, and she told me later that he apologized as fair as he could to Dad, all proper and polite, like anything could make such a thing polite, and he made Dad believe that there wouldn't be no child, nothing to keep me from making someone else a bride soon enough. I could have told Dad that if he had asked me, which of course he wouldn't.

But I wouldn't go to Hobbiton after that, not even for the market. Ma had to go instead, but she didn't complain or call me slack. She told me, quiet, that she had seen those Chubb-Bagginses from Bridgefield come with a parade of waggons, and Mr. Brandybuck and a lot of Bolgers, too. It took two days to move the Chubb-Bagginses in. But it was Jolly who told me, a day or two after that, that he had seen them leave. He found me one noon at the washing.

"They left this morn," he said, and I didn't have to ask him who "they" was, nor did he have to tell me neither. "On Bill, that Bree pony, and the other little gelding the Master brought from foreign parts. Headed for Overhill right at first light, the sun at their backs. They'll have a fair week for travel; cold, it is, but not so much mud." He looked at the clear pale sky a minute, like he was thinking. "Packed a bit light, if you ask me... They never looked back."

"No, I reckon not," I said, and I got back to the washing.


***


"Safe in my arms,
Just sleeping..."

-- "Into the West"


The End.


 

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