Sam will never forget it.

He had woken with a start, and looking across, had found Frodo's pallet empty. The pavilion had been filled with light and with the dawn chorus of Ithilien.

Outside, nothing stirred. Sheer morning mist rested in the chill shade under the trees, but rays of steaming sunlight were slanting into the glade from the east.

Sam had followed the dark footprints in the glittering dew and found Frodo among slender trees not far away, and they had walked for a spell through the woods, now talking, now silent, and the world had seemed young and innocent, freshly made, filled with the sweet scents of green things.

Sam had seen the expression of wonder and relief on his master's dear, thin face, and it made his heart overflow with thankfulness and his stomach tighten with protectiveness so intense it felt almost like something else.

They had stopped in a glade where the grass was luxurious as a silken carpet. Frodo drew a deep sigh, looking at the endlessly clear sky through the trees.

Above their heads, a blackbird burst into song, six rippling notes of unbridled love, and when Frodo, radiant as the morning itself, turned to him, Sam had finally overcome his fear, as a raindrop clinging to a twig overcomes its fear and falls, in jubilant and unhesitating trust.

He grasped Frodo's arm, awkwardly, and leaned in and kissed his mouth.

And this is what Sam remembers most of all: Frodo had let him. For several trembling heartbeats, as the blackbird sang and the sun rose in a haze, promising a glorious day ahead, Frodo had shyly returned the pressure, and then his mouth had moved with sweet hesitance under Sam's. It had spoken, soundlessly, of a joy uncontainable, of a delight in being alive that simply had to be shared, and Sam had answered with all his heart, silent, gentle words of boundless love.

Time had seemed to stand still, finally, after the long journey. But everything must come to an end, and finally Frodo had pressed his face to Sam's neck for a few moments, and then looked away, as he gave Sam's arm a final squeeze. So early on, a little had been more than enough for Sam's racing heart, and he had asked no better than to follow, half a step behind, as Frodo began walking again, not letting go of Sam's hand for several steps.

In Sam's mind, this is not a brief and dreamlike spell, soon over and never mentioned again. For Sam, the moment has yet to come to an end. His heart is still, waiting, ever since.


In the heat of the late summer of 1420, this most glorious of years, the fuchsias in the window boxes at Bag End do not last long. Flowers that opened crisp and fresh a mere three days ago wilt on their fourth day of life.

Plucking them off early one morning, Sam finds a spider's web in the frame of the drawing room window. Intricately symmetrical, heavily laden with round beads of dew that weigh each thread into a gentle sag, it covers the bottom half of the round window like a delicate screen. Sam stops what he is doing and leans in, awed by the perfection and fragility, and sees the spider, sitting immobile in the centre. He leans closer, intrigued by the cross-shaped mark on the spider's back.

He doesn't hear him come up, but suddenly Frodo is behind him, peering over his shoulder.

'It's beautiful,' he whispers.

Sam nods.

Without warning, the spider suddenly moves, scurrying lightly across the net.

'Where did it go?'

'There, sir.' Sam raises his finger to point, close to the fine threads, but right then Frodo lays his hand on Sam's shoulder as he leans in closer, and Sam startles, despite himself, and his finger tears the net in two, causing it to collapse. Invisible shreds cling to his hand where the glittering drops have broken into an icy spatter.

Frodo draws a sharp breath of surprise. His hand on Sam's shoulder tightens momentarily.

And as Sam turns to look at him, he forgets what he was going to say and do, forgets all other beauty, the morning, the flowers, forgets everything except how close Frodo is.

Long seconds pass, in which the chatter of many little sparrows can be heard from the orchard, underneath the clear voice of a wood-thrush, closer by.

Sam waits, suspended in Frodo's eyes, drinking in the grace that lingers, shines through, despite Frodo's many trials, caressing the angles of his face with his eyes.

'Oh, Sam,' Frodo says, under that gaze, and with that warm tremble in his voice, low and lovely, or with the birds singing like they did once in the clearing near the Field of Cormallen, Sam knows that Frodo remembers, too.

And with that, it seems the easiest thing in the world for Sam to pull Frodo close, slowly, across the few difficult inches between them, take him in his arms and kiss him. His heart is jolted into motion again, with a warm rush of newly woken blood and unshed, stinging tears, as Frodo's arms wrap closely around his neck.

The wind moves over the garden, gently brushing its fingers through the trees. It causes a heavy, drooping rose that has already bloomed too long to sway and release a scattering of deep-red, bruised petals into its palm.

Then Frodo pulls away. His hands slide down to grab Sam's elbows, squeezing them, and leans his forehead against Sam's.

'Oh, Sam, Sam, Sam.'

'Frodo... I wanted to... for so long...' Sam can barely speak.

Frodo nods, quickly, once, as if it hurts him to do it. He isn't looking at Sam. Sam can feel the tension in his body, he is vibrating like a string under the bow, and Sam can hear the sound he makes deep inside.

'What's the matter?' Sam whispers.

Frodo shakes his head and squeezes Sam's arms harder.

'Don't you...' Sam falters.

Frodo's head comes up. He looks at Sam and shakes his head. His raises his hand to Sam's face, and Sam can feel it shaking.

'Oh, Sam, I *do*. You know I do. More than my own life.'

'Well, then...' Sam looks down. He drops his hand, not without hesitation, to Frodo's hip. Lets it rest there for a moment, before allowing his thumb to put a shade more pressure on Frodo's skin, just above the hipbone, under the velveteen fabric. Lets the warmth of his hand seep through until he can feel it blend with Frodo's in his palm.

Frodo takes his hand. Slowly, he pushes his fingers between Sam's, and closes his hand so that their palms come together.

'I have this thing I do,' he says, lowering his eyes. 'I have done it ever since I can remember, when there is something I want. Do you know what I mean? Something I am looking forward to so much that the very waiting for it is a secret pleasure.' He moves his hand against Sam's, the pads of his fingers feeling for the bones under the skin on the back of Sam's hand. 'I cheat. I take little peeks at it. I allow myself to imagine it, map it out, taste it, bit by bit, and it makes the anticipation all the sweeter. It could be a trip, or a party, or a new book...'

He looks at Sam.

'But not with you. Not one glimpse, not one sweet morsel of you have I taken, not in the depth of my loneliest nights have I allowed myself to touch you, not even in my dreams.'

Sam has to kiss him then, hard, in love and gratitude and reassurance. But Frodo pulls away again and whispers:

'I could not bear to have you and then lose you.'

'That will never, ever happen, Mr Frodo, don't you know that,' Sam whispers fiercely, closing his hand on the back of Frodo's neck.

Frodo shakes his head again, stubborn and unhappy.

Sam kisses him again, lifting Frodo's face with his lips, and for a brief second drawn out with wordless yearning, Frodo lets him, before he pulls away again, and this time, it nearly breaks Sam's heart.

'Sam. Listen.' He leans his forehead against Sam's, as before, as if despite it all, he needs the contact. 'This is... Can you... can you imagine anything more beautiful than this? To be here, sharing this moment, this love, this... desire?'

Sam is blind to everything but Frodo's mouth as it forms the last word, barely speaking it, and taking an unsteady breath before the next ones.

'I love you.'

Sam closes his eyes.

'I want you.'

It's the barest whisper. Sam waits, caught between desire and despair, as if he fears what will come already.

'What more could you possibly have from me?'

Frodo's voice is tense with the need to convince, with the need to give, and his fist is bunching Sam's shirt sleeve. And Sam squeezes his eyes shut, afraid of the bottomless hole that opens up inside him. Every part of his being cries out in protest, and he wants to shake Frodo, hold him and make them both forget about everything but the here and now. As long as there is air between them, he feels each second that passes to be lost and forfeit, like the notes of a song unsung.

When he opens his eyes, Frodo is looking at him, and Sam sees that he has given all he can. That the littlest word from Sam could break him.

They search each other's eyes in stillness, hands grasping tight and hard, and Sam knows that he will never live a moment so perfect in all its disastrous, aching beauty again.

The thrush sings again, in the hedgerow, and the piercingly clear notes from its gleaming, bursting little chest cut like knives now.

Sam wants to kiss him again, one last time, but a hand gently touches his mouth. When the hand is taken away, Sam is still.


It is one thing wishing there was a way to capture a moment so that it can remain with you forever, bright as a star glass carried next to your heart, but what do you do with the moments you wish you didn't have to live through at all?

Sam doesn't know. And yet, while he aches with that incapacity, slow, silent waves reach the rocks, one after the other, ever so gentle, but regular as if nothing could ever stop them, and Sam's heart keeps on beating, although each of its movements hurt as if it was the last.

He lifts his eyes, up the grey boards of the ship's side, to Frodo's hands on the railing.

If the hands look like that, how will I ever look at his face?

Frodo's knuckles are white, as if the only way he can stop his hands from shaking is to take hold of the railing hard, so hard.

So this is how it is, Sam thinks. This is the true nature of everything that is. The waves must keep coming across the sea, the dusk must fall and hide the world, and every crawling thing upon the earth must hurt.

The cold and distant stars must come out, pale at first against the farthest reaches of the deepening sky, and Sam tears his eyes from Frodo's hands and looks up, trying to keep the tears from running. I blame you, he thinks, savagely, what do you stars know of the hearts of hobbits, the hearts of any living dying thing, what can you truly learn even in a thousand years, from your distant vantage point? What right does the evenstar have to dispense such bitter gifts and tear us from everything that could have been? As if we hadn't hurt enough!

And then he has to look at Frodo, because he knows that these are the last few moments of the world as he knows it, and each one is as precious as clear, sweet water, and like water, the moments run through his fingers. And Frodo's eyes are in his, searing him through with such unspoken tenderness that it leaves Sam raw inside, his throat filled up with words he could have said, would have said, but never will, and the long waves glide against the hull of the boat, and before he knows it - oh no, not yet, it's too soon - the space between them opens up, slowly, slowly, as if unwillingly. The ship is moving, and Sam takes a stumbling step forward, a sob filling his throat, and he wants to shout at the elves who are even now undoing the loops of mooring rope and jumping soundlessly aboard to stop, not yet, let me just... Ungiven touches burn his palms.

But he doesn't say anything, doesn't reach out, although he knows he will regret it for the rest of his life. He just holds Frodo's eyes with his gaze, holds Frodo whole, nine white knuckles, dark eyes, four kisses, in his mind.

How can this be happening? By what force is that ship drawing away? Has every force for good in Middle Earth abandoned Sam and laid itself idle, that this ship is let to sail?

But the ship moves, one fathom becomes two, three, and the sails begin to slowly flap, as they emerge from the shadow of the land and catch the evening breeze.

Still they hold one another with their eyes. Sam tells himself that he can still make out Frodo's features across the water, in the dusk, even as he himself is dissolving into the evening. Leaving the quay as if in a trance, he follows, trying to shorten the distance, onto the thinnest spit of sand stretching vainly out into the sea.

As the sails are raised, slowly, with ropes that creak and moan, an elf climbs the bowsprit and takes up a reed flute. The thin tones float and soar between the water and the empty sky.

Standing there, in the silence of the cooling world, Sam hears every one and marks its fragile flight and timbre, as one wave becomes another and the ship settles into its tack and draws steadily away. It melts into the sea, grey into grey, a misty silhouette under a single, flickering lantern.

Eventually, Sam cannot tell which of the many stars is attached to the mast of the ship.

He knows that he will hear the weeping of that flute on every clear, starlit night in the Shire for the rest of his life, that its long-gone melody will bleed into his every dream and waking moment and tinge his life with sadness. Never again will the stars inspire hope in him. That time is past, and the stars might as well go out and leave the skies black and empty.

Still he stands there.

And still the waves keep on coming. One by one, they curl around Sam's toes, gently as a touch imagined only.


A/N: As always, a million thanks to Teasel, the best beta reader ever.