West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Over His Head
Sam can't swim. Frodo can.
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Note: Written for the Hobbit_Smut Livejournal
Community "My Birthday Suit Needs Pressing!"
Challenge. It has been re-edited slightly since then.
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Sam couldn't believe he'd missed the change in the breeze. He'd taken himself bathing in the Bywater, in a sunny, shallow pool behind Farmer Mower's corner pasture. While he was making the most of an afternoon hour between the hot work in the garden and the time for fixing tea and supper, he'd spread his shirt and breeks over two dry patches of grass to air.
Then the warm breeze from the far side of the stream had shifted, and a cooler, fresher, much stronger breeze blew from south to north, directly from this side of the stream to that side. And now his clothes were on that side, waving at him from a patch of corn where they were precariously twined amid green leaves for the time being, until the next breeze came along to carry them away to further folly. Without him.
Now he was trapped with the width of the Bywater between him and his clothes, and him not able to swim any more than a decent hobbit should -- that was, maybe enough not to drown, if he was lucky. Not enough to be comfortable in water over his head. Sam worried his lower lip between his teeth. It was swim, or climb out in his skin and tramp round to the Little Bridge (so called to distinguish it from the Large Bridge a half-league further down the stream) and into Farmer's Halley's corn fields, hoping all the while that his errant garments would make no further excursions.
The deep part of the stream here could be no wider than a wide cart-road. Surely it would be only a matter of jumping and wriggling until he was on the further side of the stream? He'd seen Mr. Frodo swim up and down the stream, taking his ease in the water like a raft between the episodes of jumping and wriggling that seemed to constitute swimming.
Sam crouched in the waist-deep water of the side-pool and launched himself with a mighty leap into the deeper water, arms windmilling and legs kicking.
He sank like a stone. Sam watched the surface of the Bywater rise to his neck, his chin, and slide right up past his eyes to close above his head.
It was a good thing he'd remembered to hold his breath before he took that ill-judged leap.
Heart beating rapidly with incipient panic, Sam did the only thing he could think of -- he leaped again, backwards. Everything seemed to work slowly: The bending knees to give himself force, the push upwards, the slow rise through water pressing on every part of his body... until he broke the surface, gasped, and sank like a stone again.
This time his flailing arms seemed to have some effect, and with effort, Sam brought himself to the surface again, no longer sure which way to turn for the safety of the near bank. He thrashed, gasped whenever he broke the surface, and eventually found himself standing on his toes, chin-high in no-longer-clear water, leaning precariously toward the center of the stream instead of the edge.
"Sam!" The triumphant voice belonged to Jerod Halley. "I've got yer shirt! And yer breeks!"
Sam tried to ignore it. He wasn't sure he'd win the fight with the Bywater yet. Winning a fight with Jerod would have to wait. He leaped again, thrashed, and lost his footing.
"Sam? Where are ye?"
Sam wondered if he was still in the Bywater, no more than an ell or two away from the placid bathing pool, or if he had somehow fallen into one of Mr. Bilbo's tales where he was lost in a murky forest, tied up in spidersilk where he couldn't breathe. He milled arms and legs in hopes that it might bring him to the surface again, and found himself once more head in the air, toes brushing mud, and the rest of him bathed more thoroughly than he'd ever planned when he set out to take a cool bit of a wash after the heat of a busy morning.
He leaped again, aiming desperately for the shore, and found himself, this time, on solid footing with his head above water.
Sam took a long moment to breathe, arms still stretched out in the water as if to hold it down where it belonged. Gammer Cotton said water was the unruly element, and he reckoned she knew the truth of it. You couldn't hold it and you couldn't get rid of it, either one.
He waded out of the stream, too thankful to be on solid land again to mind just yet that his clothes were still in Farmer Halley's cornfield, in the hands of Farmer Halley's whiffle-witted son. The summer heat that had pushed him into the water now welcomed him back to earth. Sam sat on the Mower side of the stream, sunlight above and rough-cropped grass under his bare skin, and had no complaints on his state of being for several minutes.
Two lads in their tweens, no doubt hoping for a bit of cool wading, topped the little rise in the path above the stream, traded glances, and went back the way they came. Jarod's voice could be heard from across the Bywater on a taunting note. He waved Sam's shirt, semaphoring come and get it before I throw it in the Bywater. It seemed that not everyone was quite pleased by a Samwise Gamgee alive in the sun and in the altogether.
Breath restored, Sam got to his feet. A hobbit shouldn't be ashamed of being, well, exactly a hobbit and nothing but a hobbit, he told himself stoutly, but he wasn't sure he believed it. Was he going to walk back through Farmer Mower's pasture and up the lane between the Brown and Stubb farms, likely meeting Gammer Stubb or Gammer Brown or even Mistress Pennyroyal Brown, and what was he supposed to do then? He sat down again on the bit of grass near the stream where a hobbit who had nothing to show but himself might be less conspicuous about it.
He was going to have to settle a score with Jarod. The only problem there was that, on reflection, Sam couldn't for the life of him work out what Jarod could have done to be useful. Jarod, being the last and least of the clot-headed Halley lads, purely had to make a show of flapping Sam's old hempen breeks about as if that were some kind of accomplishment, but if Sam couldn't get across the Water to fetch them, it stood to reason that Jarod couldn't get across the Water from the other side to bring them back to Sam.
Sam sighed and stood up again.
"Is that Samwi-- oh!" A brown-and-silver head of curls framed sharp brown eyes and a mouth pursed to avoid smiling.
Sam felt himself flushing red-faced. "Gammer Brown," he said politely. "Have you a spare shirt about you?"
"I'm afraid not," she said, and somehow she didn't look entirely unhappy about it. "Not about me, that is. I can see you've a need for one, lad. You're going to sunburn a bit." Her eyes made a quick but thorough assessment of just what and where he was likely to sunburn. "I'll fetch you one of my son's shirts, if you'd care to borrow it."
"Thank you, ma'am. That'd be a kindness."
"It'll be a pleasure." She squinted across the stream. "Is that the Halley lad making a fool of himself?"
"Pay him no mind," she advised.
"I'll try not to."
"Good lad." She smiled at last, rather broadly, and gave him one more look, something between grandmotherly and admiring. Sam wondered, later, which he should have liked it to be.
Sam sat down again on the grass, clean as a hobbit should be, and waited. It presently appeared that every hobbit between the Bywater and Bagshot Row had some business at the far end of Farmer Mower's pasture, for Sam received a number of visitors in the next half-hour. There were a gaggle of children who pointed and gaped and giggled at him before splashing their feet in the same pool Sam had used; some minutes later, a single small hobbit-boy gave him an incurious look before skinning out of his shirt and breeks and weighting them down with stones before he plunged into the pool for an enthusiastic bath of his own.
Sam wished he'd done that.
Three minutes later he wished it much harder, for the boy's sister or cousin or somesuch minder, a lass of fifteen years or so, appeared. "Halbo, you scamp, are you in the wa-- You-- I--" She blushed a violent pink. "That is-- you haven't seen a bit of a lad in a green shirt, have you?"
"Is that the shirt?" asked Sam, nodding at three stones and the bundle of clothing under them.
"Oh, ah... yes." She turned away from him, toward the stream. "Halbo!" Moments later, the hobbit-boy was led away, clothed again, being scolded about the dangers of immersing himself in water deeper than his head, without another word from the lass to Sam.
However, three more lasses arrived so quickly and with such determination to view the afternoon sights that Sam suspected Halbo's sister-or-whatever must be a notable gossip. They appeared over the rise of the pasture as it sloped down toward the Bywater and paused to let their eyes widen, and then all three burst into giggles. Sam sat with his hands demurely in his lap and wished there were a tree or a tuft of tall grass to retreat behind, but the smooth, sandy banks that made this bit of stream good for bathing left nothing but the water itself to cover a lad, and Sam had had quite enough of that water for today, thank you.
And -- oh, bother -- one of the new lasses was Statitia Sackville, Mistress Lobelia's own cousin twice removed, visiting Hobbiton with an eye (it was said) to marrying Master Lotho. Everyone in Hobbiton would know every detail of Sam's swim by suppertime.
It appeared, indeed, that everyone in Hobbiton might know of it already, for yet another step could be heard coming down the path. Was it too much to hope that it might be Gammer Brown with a shirt or perhaps even a pair of trousers?
It wasn't. It was worse than Mistress Statitia and all the tweeners in Hobbiton.
It was Mr. Frodo.
Sam felt himself go from rather too warm, as the lasses' eyes had made him, to crisped, glazed, baked and set out to be carved for dinner. He gazed back at Frodo, speechless.
Frodo smiled at the three lasses, and made a gesture that showed he would have raised his hat to them, if he'd been wearing a hat on a sunny afternoon that required no protection from the elements at all. As Sam could attest. "Perhaps you ladies will excuse me," he said, all smooth and polite and sincere. "I've come down to the Water to bathe on this lovely warm afternoon, and I'm sure you'd rather not spy on a hobbit's bath. Unless, of course, you'd all care to join us?" He nodded at Sam and began, slowly, to unbutton his shirt.
One of the lasses -- it might have been Violet Bracegirdle -- gave a little gasp, but Statitia turned, tossed her curls over a ruffled-muslin shoulder and said, "It's nearly time for tea. Vi, I can't think how we took this turn instead of finding the Row."
"Good day to you... ah... both of you," said Opal Proudfoot, and scampered after her two friends just as Frodo was pulling his shirt open.
"Sir?" said Sam, still far too warm and a bit faint. What was Frodo doing here, when he had a magnificent bathing-room in Bag End?
"I'd really like a dip in the stream," said Frodo, and stepped out of his trousers, ivory buttons and all. "I see you've had the good sense to try it already."
"Yes, sir. I, ah..." Sam felt it would be rude to look away, but surely it was rude to stare at the Master of Bag End?
"Would you be good enough to stay with my clothes, Sam? I think I can get across and retrieve yours." Brown twill trousers and a linen shirt with bone buttons carved to match its embroidery landed on Sam's lap, as Frodo waded into the pool and thence into the deeper stream without breaking stride. A moment later he was performing the curious sideways wiggle that was "swimming," and Sam, watching, felt a flicker of heat that wasn't precisely embarrassment, at the image of rhythmically flexing limbs and smoothly rounded body parts glimpsed between one ripple of water and the next.
Almost before he realized that Frodo aswim was reminding him of something very different, Frodo had alighted on the opposite bank and was expostulating with Jarod over Sam's sorry pair of garments.
Jarod, faced now with a hobbit not barred by running water from bringing the argument to him, handed over the clothing with only a token bluster or two. Sam watched, fascinated, as Frodo held up the homespun shirt and dusty breeks in triumph. He remained fascinated when Frodo started putting them on: one leg into the breeks and then the other, the dark cloth brought up to veil everything from knees upward and the bit of string that held it up cinched around his hips; one arm questing into the open shirt-sleeve, then the other, and the arms and shirt together raised over his head until the rough cloth was released to slowly slide downward over the dark curls and bright eyes, hiding them for a moment before they reappeared from inside the garment.
It was only then that Sam realized that he was watching Frodo with quite unseemly interest, and also that Frodo had watched him watching during the entire process. Frodo smoothed the shirt down to his waist and smiled at Sam. "I'll wear them back!" he called. "Wait for me!" He strode around a row of cornstalks and was lost to view.
One curious goat later, a halloo from Farmer Mower as he chased the goat through the pasture and up toward the lane, and two affronted looks from Tansy Mower and Tad Brown come to dip their toes in the stream and visibly not sure whether they wished to see more of less of Sam than was left on view by the draped finery Frodo had left him, Sam finally heard Frodo return.
"I believe Mistress Mower has tea and muffins nearly ready," he said to the two near-tween hobbits. "She bade me tell you both that you were to wash your hands and comb your feet before you come to the table."
Tad seemed struck speechless, but Tansy said, bold as any gammer, "Thank'ee, Mr. Frodo. 'Tis a grand afternoon, won't you say?"
"It is indeed," said Frodo, almost solemnly, but when she and Tad were scampering up the slope to the lane, he smiled at Sam with a mischievous lilt and started to unfasten Sam's shirt.
"Oh, sir, what if someone else decides to take a walk down to the Water just now?"
Frodo shrugged. "Then someone will see me taking your clothes off."
Sam flushed, too warm and not quite comfortable, but with a seed of interest growing somewhere. He mumbled, "'Twas a grand sight to see you putting them on."
"I'm afraid I must confess..." Steady fingers unbuttoned three wooden buttons Sam had cut and shaped and sewn onto the shirt himself "...that I hoped you were watching."
"You did?" Sam felt suddenly dizzy in a way that merely watching Frodo undress could not entirely account for.
"Yes." Frodo set a hand to the twisted-hemp string that held the breeks up, and Sam thought the face under the dark curls might be a bit pinker than the afternoon sun accounted for. "Do you want me to take them off?"
Sam swallowed. "I'd like that."
"So you can watch me?"
The skin on Sam's neck prickled. The question was not, Do you want your clothes back? but Do you want me to take them off for you? He swallowed again. If he said yes, what would happen? He whispered, "Yes."
Frodo sighed a long breath out. "Good. Perhaps you'd like to come back to Bag End with me this fine afternoon? For tea, we'll say." He got on with removing Sam's breeks, undressing down to his skin with no sign of embarrassment, not even when Sam could see -- and Sam knew Frodo knew Sam was seeing -- all parts of Frodo more flushed with color and heat than a hobbit strictly might care to show in polite company.
Sam stood up, holding Frodo's trousers and fine shirt out to him, not caring that the move revealed some measure of the same excitement in himself. "That'd be a grand thing," he said, and gulped in half a breath, "Frodo." Not sir, not Master, but the bare name, suitable for use when a hobbit expected to go as bare as he'd first been made.
"It will indeed." Frodo smiled, watching unashamed as Sam put the garments back on, while he stood and made no move to resume the fine clothes that were his own until Sam could watch him doing so. "I quite look forward to taking off your clothes again."
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