In the Grey Twilight
After the Quest, Frodo and Sam try to come to terms with their unrequited love. Frodo/Sam and Merry/Pippin.
All the wishing in the world won't make Tolkien's characters mine. Writing about them won't either.
The first glow of morning peeked through the kitchen windows of Bag End, and Samwise Gamgee stood humming softly to himself over a frying pan of scrambled eggs. The kettle whistled and the scones turned golden brown under his appreciative gaze, while a cool steady breeze teased his nostrils with the aroma of fresh strawberry jam and warm bread. Smoothly efficient, Sam took plates in one hand and Bilbo's fine cutlery in the other, carrying soft-as-silk napkins under his arm to the table. As he was setting the places a bright stream of light poured over the windowsill like liquid gold, spilling over Sam's strong shoulders and resting warmly on his hands.
Time to pull back the drapes, Sam thought cheerfully. He took a moment to slide the eggs onto each plate, and then tiptoed off to Frodo's bedroom. Pushing on the door, he saw Frodo's dark tousled hair poking out in the expanse of white sheets, making Sam smile as he went to the window.
"Good morning, Mr. Frodo!" he said and light flashed over the bed. Sam watched his master's maimed hand reach out from under the sheets, grasping futilely at something that wasn't there. Sam bent and touched Frodo's forehead, saying quietly, "Come now, breakfast's awaiting."
A smile teased Frodo's mouth and his eyes fluttered beneath their lids. Sam swore he'd never forget those unusual, extraordinary eyes that seemed to suck in the entire depth of the sky--yet every morning he was almost driven to gasping when they finally snapped open. "Ah...smells good..." Frodo murmured.
"There you go." Sam playfully yanked the covers back from Frodo's body, and left with laughter on his voice.
The routine was comforting, something to remind both travellers that peace had, indeed, come, despite uncertainty or nightmares or old pain. Though Samwise felt sunlight and warmth flowing through his very veins ever since he awoke on the Field of Cormallen, he knew Frodo needed a little prodding to take it in. In fact Sam's own energy seemed fathomless, though he never paid it any mind. He awoke at dawn to prepare breakfast, leaving for the Shire-fields before second breakfast to oversee the planting and growing of the land. On a usual day, that is; today was Mid-year's Day and work of a different sort awaited him. The holiday was generally considered the best celebration in the Shire but this year's Free Fair would be more fantastic than dreams could tell.
Sam was almost tense with hope. His chest grew tight when he thought of the last great celebration in the Shire: Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday. There were a lot of things to remember about that night, but it was the carefree light in Frodo's eyes that he held closest. He had heard some inkling of mysterious rumour that Gandalf might ride in through the hills and shower them with fireworks and his incurable laughter tonight. Would Frodo laugh with simple mirth as he had before he knew of the Ring? Wanting his master to be happy was so normal for Sam that he didn't acknowledge the wealth of anxiety that lay beneath it.
Shortly Frodo emerged from his room and Sam watched him surreptitiously. Under the simple joy of life in Bag End there ran an undercurrent of nervousness that penetrated even the most ordinary things. Despite the temptation to set his mind on the promises of the future, Sam knew that where his master was concerned, life was to be taken day by day. This morning, though, his master seemed to be in fine spirits and Sam felt he could almost sigh for his heart's ease. They sat down together and Sam poured out the tea, but when he looked again at Frodo's face he saw it was drawn with confusion.
"Mr. Frodo? Is something the matter?"
"Sam," Frodo chided gently, "you only set two places."
Sam started as if he'd been slapped across the face. "Ninnyhammers! I forgot to wake Rosie! And today's the Party day. What's gotten into me?"
"I'm up," Rosie called from the corridor, and they heard her shuffle quickly into the washroom.
Sam dropped his fork and tried to put things to rights. He felt a lightning stab of bitterness, the parasitic emotion worming through him where it didn't belong. Complex feelings were frustrating to his pure soul: like a locked door leaving him out in the cold, he couldn't break through them. He couldn't look at Frodo. A hot rise of shame burned his face--ashamed of what? Chewing softly on the inside of his cheek, Sam tried to shrug off a wave of apprehension concerning Rosie, at the same time begrudging her for some harsh and unnecessary remarks she'd made about Mr. Frodo the night before. Surely these troubles were of the normal sort: Keeping a family is a hard-learned trade, as the Gaffer says--and he's right all the way.
"Merry and Pippin will be here soon, I should think," Frodo said, but his voice was strained.
Sam contented himself with the reassuring clatter of Bilbo's china. "I reckon it'll be noon, knowing them."
"You look tired, Sam," Frodo said quietly, and took Sam by surprise. His thoughts seemed to dash from his mind, as smoke carried off in the wind.
"Well, it's you as was stayin' up all night working on your speech for the Fair."
"And I'd ask how you knew that, except I heard you tiptoeing around. Sam...you must know...you don't have to stay up for me..."
Sam had dropped his eyes to the floor, struggling to understand if his protectiveness was wrong, when Rosie appeared in the kitchen. She tapped his shoulder pointedly. "See," she said not without humour, hands on her hips, "Mr. Frodo agrees with me."
"Good morning, Rosie," Sam said, and poured her some tea.
* * * *
It was coming on luncheon and the air was thick with cheer. Frodo sat out on the sun-warmed hill, a book resting closed in his hands, keeping a solitude that knew no name. He knew he should be going down to the tents. At least to look at the dozens of blue-ribbon hopefuls--the pies and preserves and ponies--which he was to aid in judging. Perhaps old Will Whitfoot would be making rounds, filling in the social duties that Frodo was finding more and more difficult to attend to. His office as Deputy Mayor kept him busy but while work was medicine enough for Sam and Aragorn and armour-clad Merry and Pippin, Frodo yearned for peace. He had precious few aims in accepting the position; beyond rebuilding the Shire he had no great plans or interests. And it was certainly not promises of power or control that lured him to take office, as these things now deterred him. There was really only one reason why he'd taken it: because Samwise Gamgee had turned to him, his face glowing with such a smile, somehow still thinking Frodo could be a leader, a hero, a hobbit of action. Frodo found he couldn't let him down.
He already had, of course. Sam was at ease these days, his brown skin glowing in the sun as he worked the fields. Sometimes Frodo watched him walking home at dusk, bare-chested with a rucksack slung over his shoulder, a glittering sheen of sweat covering him. Sam loved the sun, but Frodo had moments when the sky seemed pale and cold, and his inevitable shiver brought a sad look over Sam's face.
Frodo clutched the white stone that hung about his neck. His feelings for Sam took on a fever pitch most of the time, whirling in unending confusion and conflict. Sam filled too many roles in Frodo's life, obscuring any solid truth of their relation. How could he describe a friendship that had gone to the very end of the world? How could he name a love that carried the weight of Middle-earth on its shoulders? He had been presumptuous, he thought they'd crossed irrevocably over the line, leaving plain friendship behind in the waters of the River Anduin. How could two people ever separate after such an ordeal? Why did they have to grow used to sleeping alone again, when the close entanglement of their limbs had been natural, accepted, and desired?
It was too painful to dwell on it; and it was selfish to want more of Sam. After all Sam had done, after everything Sam meant to him, Frodo felt sick knowing that he wanted something else. They had gone from friends to soulmates without a word, and without a word they returned to a discreet distance; and though the transformation may have been silent, Frodo bore it as a wound worse than the Morgul- stabbing. What Frodo actually wanted, he tried not to imagine. He knew it was unnatural, and perhaps worse; but he'd always known he was different from others. He had learned not to care what anyone else thought of him, but when it was clear that Sam didn't share his feelings he was deeply afraid that Sam might think him abnormal, and be repulsed by him. In that one instant, when Sam unknowingly rejected him, Frodo knew he should go away to Rivendell where Sam wouldn't feel obliged to take care of him. But he had been gripped by desperation, hearing Rosie first fall from Sam's lips, and he insisted Sam move into Bag End--Rosie and all. The days played on in awkward agony, as he tried not to reach out too much or take too much. For one thing, Sam was well honoured now and certainly didn't need the charity of a wealthy old hobbit, so it was ridiculous for him to continue his role as servant.
Servant. Frodo felt the word slip bitterly in his mouth. What did his Sam think of him, master or comrade or soul-sharer?
"I know he's not all right, but you needn't look after him like a maidchild. Let him fend for himself, and then you'll see," Rosie had said last night, thinking Frodo had gone to sleep.
Shame-faced, Frodo took up his pen and opened his book, his once fair handwriting now almost illegible, do you know, as I do my Sam, that I could not go on without you? Do you know that if I didn't wake up to your smile, I wouldn't want to wake up at all? You forgot about Rosie this morning and I don't know what I'm supposed to feel. One day, will you forget about me?
The soft clatter of hooves and the glare of shields and mail jarred Frodo from thought. He rose and was greeted by two most impressive hobbits on ponies, their emblems bright as they waved enthusiastically. Frodo abandoned his book hastily and stood up, feeling his spirits lift at the sight of his proud and strong cousins.
"Hey ho, shining knights from afar!" Frodo called out, teasing them.
They grinned wide and Merry dismounted with a flourish, taking Pippin's hand as the younger hobbit jumped down from his pony. "Hullo, Frodo!" Pippin cried.
"Things have been well in Crickhollow, I take it?"
"Indeed, well! And Hobbiton?"
A fair glint caught his eye, first on Pippin's hand, then on Merry's. After a moment Frodo perceived that they wore small matching rings, and he took Merry's hand to peer at it. He was piecing together a stunned realization while Merry laughed somewhat nervously.
"Pippin said no one would notice, but I should have known better."
He managed to keep his mouth from falling agape though he faltered, and a thousand thoughts rushed through him then, as a gust of wind through an opened door. Merry and Pippin...they've had these feelings too... They're in love... He was silent, looking at his friends as an upsurge of joy swelled to diminish the fragments of clawing jealousy. It was a deep yearning to look upon them, and an unspeakable comfort to know that he hadn't been so wrong. They were tall and strong and heroic, but there was youthful humour in their faces and the kind of softness in their eyes that was unmistakable: a bond of love and comfort and caring that was born on the battlefields of Middle-earth and was never broken since. It was right and natural and achingly sweet...
"Frodo?" Pippin said. "You're not too surprised, are you? I think we've shocked him, Merry."
"Not at all," Frodo breathed. "And as much as others will act surprised, they shouldn't be either. But when did this happen, pray tell?"
The pair stood close and clasped hands. Warmth sparked again in Frodo's limbs and nestled in his stomach. "O, since forever, like," Pippin offered.
Merry ruffled his hair. "Nay, not forever, not when we were lads."
"Well not before we met, no. But nigh on forever, I say."
"And...?" Frodo prompted, gesturing to their adorned hands. He wasn't quite able to say it, despite the sentiment his heart held for them. In Frodo's mind rings would forever be frightful things, never symbols of love...
"The formalities, the rings, that came just this Spring. It was slow work and scary, for it wasn't until the Field of Cormallen, really, that we understood what we had. A shocking big risk it was, when we finally opened our mouths and said something about it. After that it was determination--and stubbornness, and hope, until we knew for sure." Merry seemed to study Frodo's expression as he spoke.
Frodo steadied himself with a long breath. "It's beautiful, you've been blessed," he said, and he bowed his head and then he moved to embrace his friends. They shared a silent moment before Frodo spoke again.
"I guess you'll be wanting something to eat, and to get settled in your room. Or are you going to ride down to the tents first, and let everyone know you've come? They'll have to do some re-arranging once you've informed them that you're guests of honour."
"Ha!" Pippin shouted, smacking Frodo playfully. "You think we wear mail just to get free meals. But no, we have to protect ourselves. I, for one, have love-struck lasses following me about most of the time!"
"And a few love-struck lads as well, I reckon," Merry laughed, poking him.
The three set out for Bag End, and Pippin talked happily of his favourite subject (outside food): his coming of age party. As far as Frodo could gather, Merry seemed to be withholding a special sort of present for him. Presently they found Rosie standing out in the garden.
"Hullo, Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin," Rosie said politely. "Mr. Frodo, have you seen Sam?"
"No, I suppose he's gone off on Party business."
She nodded, but pursed her lips. "I was wanting to tell him something before he left. I guess I'll have to go find him--though I've got enough to do myself."
"Merry and Pippin will probably run into him shortly, do you want them to bring him a message?"
Rosie seemed strangely ill at ease, shaking her head at once. "No, no, it's naught as to be told like a relay race. I'll find him myself."
Frodo hadn't noticed himself sigh when she left, but soon found Merry's arm about his shoulders. "It must be hard, dear Frodo, not being used to such a household," he said supportively.
"It sure surprised us," Pippin muttered.
Frodo turned, suspicious and confused, dislodging Merry's arm in the process. "What?"
"I--I mean, well, everyone thought--the Fellowship thought--that you and Sam..." and Pippin was halted by the firm jab of Merry's elbow in his ribs.
"What are you saying, Pippin?" Merry hissed.
"O, can't we talk about it? Why doesn't anybody talk about it?"
"It's none of our business, Pip!"
Frodo got between them, staring wide and intensely. He knew he must look a bit sick, the way his heart was pounding in his chest and his breath tumbled out of control. "What's this about?"
Pippin squirmed but broke under Frodo's stern look. Merry turned away, putting his hand over his face. "We never meant to pry, that's why we never asked or said anything. But you and Sam seemed so close, we thought you'd just...just live together for the rest of your lives, you know."
So it had been obvious after all...but somewhere along the road, things had gone wrong. He stared at the floor miserably. "We are living together."
The reply was almost a whisper. "But Rosie..."
"He's married!" Frodo cried, all pretense lost. "He's done too much, he's cared too much--he lived and walked and breathed for me when I didn't have a single hope left. We're so close it's painful--closer still would be agony."
Merry turned back to face them, saying in a calm, clear voice, "I think your being still separate is the real agony."
Frodo passed a weary hand through his hair. "But he's married," he repeated. "There's no hope, there's no sense in speaking of it."
"You should tell him," Merry said.
"And ruin everything for him? How can I do that to him? Sam's happy, and that should be enough for me. He loves her."
"No he doesn't," Pippin said plainly.
He grew frantic. "What? How can you say that?"
"Put your head on it!" Merry cried, trying to break through to him. "Sam Gamgee's been nothing but proper all his life. His Gaffer raised him stern, you know. I think if he ever had so much as an improper thought, he wouldn't hear it in his own head."
"But that doesn't mean they aren't there--those improper thoughts I mean," Pippin added helpfully.
Frodo stared out as if watching the ghosts of Bag End drift through the halls, a certain numbness descending over him. "Maybe he should know what goes on in his master's head, but don't you see? I'd scare him, and lose him forever," he whispered. Then he gathered himself together and escaped to the kitchen.
He leaned against the kitchen wall, hidden for the moment, his hands clenched in tea towels. He wanted to sink to the floor and let these new thoughts seep through him, until they took on the flavour of his own judgement, but he knew he wouldn't have time for that today.
"Merry! Pippin!" Sam's cheerful voice filled the smial. "How are things in Crickhollow? Have you had tea yet? Where's Rosie?"
"Rosie went out to find you a moment ago," Frodo heard Merry say.
"Oh. Well, like as not she'll come back. Where's Mr. Frodo? I'll fix some lunch."
TBC. Feedback would be greatly appreciated.