by Teasel

Sam often noticed, during their long, slow journey toward the Black Gate, how tired Frodo was becoming, how the Ring dragged at him, how little he ate, how little he slept. And all these things pained Sam, so much so that he felt -- for a few heretical moments now and then -- that he bore a burden as great in its own way as Frodo's was.

He dismissed the thought, of course, and called himself fool and ninnyhammer and a hundred other worse names. He tried not to think of Frodo's agony. Sometimes he tried not to think of Frodo at all, though that was impossible when Frodo walked or staggered or stumbled right there next to him for every weary hour of every exhausting day, and when Frodo was besides the only fair or good thing to be seen in all this cursed country. Still, Sam did his best to lock his feelings away where they never would hurt any but himself. But at times his resolve would falter in the face of simple things. Take Frodo's hair, now. It had been long since they'd been at an inn or any place with good honest folk where a body could find someone to help with the needs of daily life -- like cutting the unruly hair that had grown so much over the course of their journey.

Sam noticed, when he wasn't noticing all those other things, how Frodo now always seemed to have his curls dangling down into his face. It made Sam think of brushing them away: of reaching with his broad hand as Frodo slept, perhaps, and oh-so-carefully sliding his index finger under Frodo's hair, so he could feel the heat of the pale skin beneath, even though he wouldn't, of course, be touching it. Or then again, sometimes Sam would notice, when they stopped for a meal, that when Frodo looked down at the stale lembas in his hands, one stray curl kept falling so close to his eyes that his thick dark lashes would brush against it every time he blinked.

And one day when that Stinker or Gollum was off somewhere, Lady-knows-where, (and it couldn't be far enough away to Sam's way of thinking), the dangling hair just got to be too much for Sam, and he reached forward and smoothed an offending curl away. And as Frodo looked up in surprise, Sam was well caught. He stared into those startled blue eyes with his fingers still in Frodo's hair, somewhere close to the delicate tip of one ear. If Sam moved his fingers for another fraction of an instant, then that eartip would be beneath them, smooth as a rose petal and just as fragile.

And both of them thought at the same time: what if Sam really did that? What if he moved his fingers? If he did that (Sam thought), he would take his time and do it slowly, running one trembling finger from the eartip to the soft lobe to the even softer and warmer flesh just beneath it. And if he did that (Frodo thought), then Frodo would lean into the caress and sigh, and say "Oh, Sam," with a catch in his throat, scarcely able to believe that at last, here, in this dark place where all good things seemed dead, he was feeling the touch he had dreamed of for so long.

But no: instead Sam froze as if he'd been caught stealing Bilbo's best silver. They sat there, neither of them able to move, until Frodo smiled and blinked and said, "Sam, do you suppose I need a haircut?"

Sam replied without thinking, "Never that, sir, you look like . . ." and then he stopped, and blushed.

Frodo hesitated, and pressed his lips together, and parted them, but he wasn't quite able to think because Sam's fingers were still in his hair. For a long moment he so feared breaking the spell that he did not speak. At last, though, his need to hear Sam's voice overcame him, and he asked, "I look like what, Sam?"

And this is what Sam thought: oh, the Elves do say the Lady Arwen is beautiful, and they sing their songs of Luthien the fair, but all the songs would speak only of you, sir, if I had the singing of them. For there's naught fairer in this world, no, nor beyond it neither, than Frodo Baggins with his hair hanging down in his face after six days on a hard road through marsh and over mountain.

But Sam did not say this. For he never had said it in the Shire, when he easily on any blessed day could have walked in from the garden to Frodo's study and planted a kiss on those soft lips. No, he hadn't said it there. And here in the shadow of the Dark Lord's gate he had no chance at all of freeing the love inside him, the love that only the light and air of his native country could ever have nourished and brought to bloom from the secret places of his soul.

So he pulled his hand awkwardly away and said instead, "You look a fair sight better than that Smeagol, sir."

Frodo smiled faintly. He knew that for Sam to use this kindly name for their gangle companion was itself a gift of love, the only such, perhaps, that Frodo would ever receive. And the two of them returned to their meal, not quite looking at each other, with both their hearts broken for the thousandth time.