On the Eastern Shore

By Europanya

Hours had passed since they'd left their little boat behind on the muddy shores of the Anduin. The time had gone slowly for Sam who marched on with a sore heart, his eyes cast downward, away from the falling sun. He settled his attention instead upon the footfalls of his master, just ahead, leading them over the slopes of Amon Lhaw and down into a narrow vale that blocked the warmth of day in cool shadows and clustering evergreens. Their steady pace encompassed all Sam's thoughts at present so he would not pay mind to the aching lump that had settled into his belly since he first saw that empty boat leaving Parth Galen's shores without him.

Sam was wet and cold but told himself a steady march would keep him warm enough. He knew they had many miles to go before it would seem reasonable to stop for the night. Threat could be near or far and it was not orcs alone they were running from now, but their own company as well--their friends, some now turned enemy. The knowledge of this set a grim purpose to Sam's steps as he plodded through the undergrowth. With only his own sensibility now to council him in what was right and good, Sam knew this: Frodo would lead them, away from the river, down into sharp barren rock and beyond to dry cracked plains and burning fire. Orcs would soon be the least of their worries.

So with this understanding, Sam moved on, pack and pans rubbing against the swollen cloth stretched tight across his back. It had been an ill-planned time to fall into the water to be sure. The temperate weather had dried his sleeves and cloak, but the inner folds, chafing with his movements and fed with sweat, remained sodden and heavy. Now that the sun no longer reached them in this forested cleft, the damp seeped into his skin and muscle, stunting his movements, slowing his steps with cramps and shivers.

Sam fell behind. Far ahead, he saw Frodo come to the edge of a stream, pausing before its run to consider their path. Frodo drew Sting partially from its sheath to examine the silver blade, then thrust it back in, satisfied that they were alone. Only then, for the first time since they had begun their flight, did his master turn about to speak to him. His blue eyes were dark with uncertainty as he waited for Sam to hurry through the fallen leaves.

"We should stop," Frodo said as he drew near. "Find a safe haven to hide in before nightfall." His master's collar was rimmed with sweat and his skin carried the reddish colour of chill.

Sam scrambled down the embankment to join him, masking his stumbling legs in a hop and shift of his pack. "Yes, sir. I think that's a fine plan."

"We've given ourselves a good lead." Frodo's brow furrowed as he noticed the state Sam was in. "Sam, how long have you been shivering like this?"

"Ain't so bad as long as I keep moving, if you take my meaning. I can manage on a bit more if you'd like." Sam tried to sound earnest, but the chattering of his teeth set an edge to his words.

"Sam, hold a moment" Frodo said, slipping his own pack off his shoulders to the ground. "I forgot you'd been soaked clear through, so intent was I on getting away. You must be miserable."

Frodo stepped close to pat the front and side of Sam's shirt. "You are miserable. Sam, you must speak up about these things," he said sternly. "I can't alwaysthis is wet, too," he said, distracted by Sam's weskit which was stuck to his belly. "I have so many concerns weighing on me."

Sam felt ashamed and averted his eyes as Frodo continued to fuss over the sorry state of his clothes. The aching lump he carried in his chest was made heavier by Frodo's concerned touch. He squared his shoulders and began to tighten the straps of his pack. "You needn't give thought to me, Mr. Frodo. I promised I wouldn't be any trouble to you."

"Trouble?" Frodo said abruptly. "We will have trouble if you catch a chill. You mustn't be so stubborn. You're not a mule, Sam. Set that pack down before it pulls you over and we'll get you out of these wet things. Night is coming on."

Sam did as Frodo asked and shrugged off the pack, nearly dropping it in his exhaustion. He hadn't realised what a weight it had become until his unburdened shoulders felt as if they might fly off on their own, now that they were freed.

"Come to this lee here, if you can," Frodo said, leading Sam along the water's edge. There was a large stone fallen into the stream and to its uphill side there was a small hollow rimmed in cedar roots and blanketed with fallen leaves and dry needles. He had Sam duck under the roots and slip down into the hollow. "How is it in there?"

"A mite damp towards the stream-side, but the rock and undergrowth are dry enough," Sam said, crunching the deadfall down with his toes.

"Good," Frodo replied from above. "We won't be able to make a fire, so we'll have to trust to the comforts of nature. Have off with those wet clothes and I'll retrieve our gear."

Sam heard his master move away as he worked at his buttons with numb quivering fingers. He was more weary than he'd thought and had to sit down to stave off a woozy feeling working its way about his head. He peeled off the weskit and set it up on the rockside, uncertain if it would have any chance to dry in this shaded cleft. The shirt buttons proved more challenging and the cool air hitting his wrinkled skin was making his trembling come on harder.

Frodo returned and sat kneeling in the leaves just outside the depression, searching through Sam's pack.

"Have you got anything dry in here?" he asked. "A spare shirt, perhaps?"

"Not for sometime, Mr. Frodo. I'm already upon my warmer wear. The first got left in the barrows, if you follow me."

"Oh, how forgetful of me. I suppose, with all that's happened, we didn't think of how we might get dry in a situation such as this or I'd have asked the elves for a spare tunic."

"I don't fancy those silks meself, Mr. Frodo. But right now a nice dry blanket would feel mighty good." Sam had managed to strip himself down to his linens and was hugging his chest to try and stop the shivers.

"Of course, Sam. Here you go."

Frodo tossed down their heaviest blanket. "Get this about your shoulders and I'll go fetch us some fresh water and something to eat."

"You needn't fuss, Mr. Frodo. I can see to the meal," Sam started to say as Frodo lifted himself up and away to the stream with their bottles. Sam threw the blanket over his shoulders and sank to his knees in the dry leaves, rubbing his hands together. He felt dangerously close to tears and scrubbed his cheeks to still them. Now wasn't the time for Gamgee silliness. It was hard enough to bear being the one to halt their march; and to be served upon as wellSam wasn't about to add tears to the humiliation. Am I a hobbit or a mouse? he asked himself, and thought at least mice have nice warm fur on their backs and bellies that dries out proper after a dunking.

There was very little room in the small hollow, so when Frodo returned, he let down the water bottles and a sack of food as well as their second blanket, leaving the packs just above hung in the roots. He asked Sam to spread the blanket out over the leaves before he dropped in next to him.

Sam shivered in his wrapping as Frodo sat beside him, offering him one of the filled bottles. Sam uncorked it and brought it to his lips for a long drink. The flow of the cool water eased the tightness in his throat, allowing him to speak with a steady voice again. Frodo broke off some bread and crumbled apart some dry cheese for Sam and they ate for some time in silence. Frodo took on the distant stare of a hobbit deep in troubled thought as he set upon an apple which he ate half of and offered the rest to Sam. Sam sat looking dully at it on the blanket as he chewed slowly on a bite of crust.

"I want to see you finish your share tonight," Frodo said, giving Sam a look before reaching to his side for Sting. He drew it and turned the sword about before his eyes, then leaned the exposed blade against the rock next to them. "I don't know why I didn't think of this before," he murmured, lying back on the blanket with a sigh of tiredness. "Too many concerns and not enough sense, I suppose."

Sam watched Frodo close his eyes and stretch out, his fingers drifting over the clasp of his cloak and down to settle over the small lump that was the Ring, hidden under his shirt and weskit. It made Sam feel even more wretched and useless. There was no wondering why Frodo had tried to go on alone. Between one breath and the next his master fell asleep and Sam remained huddled in the rough blanket, watching over him, and over the pale silver sheen of the elven sword.

****

Sam had meant to stay awake. But he had done as Mr. Frodo had asked and eaten his share of the food, although each bite had been difficult as dry wool to swallow. The food eventually eased him and his shivering stilled. His eyes grew heavy and his head fell forward on his blanketed knees where he slipped into a dream of the wide running river. He was upon it, rowing in the little boat, alone and searching, calling out into the night. Sam woke himself with his dream voice, trailing on his master's name. The blanket had fallen off his shoulders and he was chilled again in the cool darkness of the forest night.

"Sam?" Frodo asked drowsily as he woke. "Did I fall asleep? I'd meant for you to take the first rest."

Sam wanted to answer him, but his teeth wouldn't lie still as he tried to cover himself back up.

"Sam? Are you still cold?" Frodo asked, sitting up and helping Sam rewrap the blanket about himself. "You must get warm. Come. Lie down beside me."

"I'm not too" Sam began, resisting.

"I won't hear it; you're a wreck. Come now, I insist upon it," Frodo said, urging Sam down upon the blanket. It was so narrow in their resting place that they were soon full against one another and Frodo loosened Sam's trembling cocoon so he could slip under it and circle Sam's bare back with his arms, drawing him against his chest.

"Rest your head here, upon me, Sam. That's a good lad; now try to get warm."

Sam shut his eyes and clenched his jaw to try and stop the infernal shivers from shaking Frodo as well. His arms were stiff with cold and his feet half-numb. He'd lost too much of his own heat-stores during their trek over the hills to catch up properly before nodding off. Now the chills were unbearable and made him feel sick and weak as he surrendered to his muscles' instinct to shake and try to recover. But here was Frodo, now, warm beneath his chest. They both lay with their arms about each other in the fullest of hugs, shoulders to toes. And it felt good, so very very good. The heat from his master's body seeped into his own in a way no mere blanket could and he moaned a little despite himself for the comfort in it. Frodo held him with a strength Sam had often underestimated and it calmed him deeply to know Frodo was close, solid and sure. One minute slower to the banks and he'd have slipped Sam's grasp for good. Sam swallowed the painful recollection and held tight to his master. He's not gone. He's here. He's here.

"Shh...you'll be better soon," Frodo whispered to him in the dark as he rubbed Sam's back and shoulders to aid his warming. The moon rose steady and a pale sheet of glowing light fell over them, just enough for Sam to see his master's face when he finally relaxed enough to open his eyes. Frodo looked upon him with loving patience--gone were the cloudy thoughts of his cares and burden. For now his expressive eyes beheld Sam alone and there was something irrepressibly inviting in that open regard, though Sam was too shy to name it.

"Frodo" he said in awe before his tongue could remember to add the formality. In this light, his master was ever so blessed with the elven air many had ascribed to him and Sam had years before fallen so deeply for. Frodo was beautiful, more beautiful than Sam could ever remember him. To lie so close and take from his master's warmth and strength brought more happiness to Sam's heart than he could conceal, as the most wonderful feeling spread deep and pleasurable through his skin.

"Sam?" Frodo asked gently. "Are you feeling better?"

Sam dropped his eyes, embarrassed by his rapt staring and noticed he had finally stopped shivering altogether and in fact, felt quite well indeed. More than well, he felt

Frodo closed his eyes and smiled bashfully. "Don't worry about it, Sam. It's perfectly understandable"

"Oh.." Sam said, pushing his hip off Frodo and turning several shades of crimson. In all his stiffness and shaking he'd failed to notice what had arrived late to the party, quite uninvited. This was far from the first time gazing openly upon his master had elicited such a response, but he'd never been wrapped so fully in Frodo's arms before. He should have thought

"Sam, it's all right, really. Don't"

Sam felt the heaviness that had rained upon his heart all afternoon suddenly coalesce into a befuddled thundercloud of hurt and yearning that he was helpless to waylay. He rolled away as much as their narrow space would allow, burying a sob in his palm.

"Sam dear, please don'tyou needn'toh, please don't weep."

Frodo's pleading and gentle hand laid upon his back did nothing to forestall Sam's cloudburst and he was wracked with a new wave of shakings as he tried desperately to hold it all in.

"Sam, it's all right. Here, please don't turn away. Let mejust let me hold you."

Frodo shifted close behind him, and gathered Sam up, an arm about his middle, his cheek to his shoulder, as Sam shook and choked down all the hard and soft feelings confounding his senses. "My poor Sam," Frodo sighed, his lips at his shoulder. "I love you dearly and that is why I tried to leave. Do you not know this?"

Sam hitched and swallowed the worst of his weeping and coughed to try and calm himself. "Yes," he said weakly; although truthfully, he did not know until Frodo had said the very words he had so longed to hear. "I thoughtI might have gotten to be too much of a nuisance to you."

"Oh, Sam. No. You've been so good to me," Frodo said, passing a soothing hand over his curls. "I'm sorry I called you a nuisance before. You're much better than I deserve, but to think I might see in your eyes anything touching on what Boromir revealed to me--I couldn't bear that, Sam. Not in you. I would rather you were far away from me, then to be so corrupted. I have to believe I can keep you safe."

"But" Sam stammered. "I didn't ought to add so to your troubles. And here I am, useless as a roll of wet hay."

Frodo held on to him, his warm breath falling upon his ear. "Sam, you must never think of yourself as a burden to me--the very opposite. I was wrong to try and leave you behind. So very wrong. I know now I cannot do this alone. I need you Sam. I have no doubt how much."

"Then" Sam sniffled, though the hurt was melting now. "You won't try to go off alone again?"

Frodo placed a light kiss behind Sam's ear. "I promise, Sam. I won't try to leave you again."

Sam turned in his master's arms and looked once again upon his face. Frodo reached with gentle fingers to brush the tears from his chin. "You've stopped trembling now. That's good to see," he said with a small smile. "I don't know what I would have done if Gandalf hadn't asked you to come"

Sam lay very still as Frodo pressed his lips to his forehead and temple, gentle and light. Sam never imagined that Frodo might hold him like this or ever touch him like a lad caresses his shy lass in the high grasses back home. But it was as spellbinding as it was unexpected and he couldn't hold back a soft sigh of wonder as those kisses dropped upon his cheek and eartip, stirring the most enthralling sensations low and full in his groin.

"I want to touch you, Sam," Frodo whispered in his ear. "If you'll let me."

Sam closed his eyes and felt he had managed a nod. But Frodo pulled away and Sam opened his eyes in worry he'd done something wrong. He must not have for he found his master leaning up, undoing the buttons of his weskit. There was an intensity to his blue gaze that Sam had never seen revealed so boldly before.

There were times when he had come in from the garden to join his master at table where their usual easy conversation turned suddenly awkward and short, Frodo evading his glance as if to hide the very deepest of secrets while the unspoken air hung charged and wondrous between them. And Sam would stumble home, bemused yet light in step, thinking he had just caught sight of something as rare and fleeting as a forest dove. But then it would pass and the next day Frodo would be very much himself again, composed--a smile and a laugh away from Sam's every dream.

But here and now, under these roots, cradled by the earth where their careful detachments were stripped away by hardship and doubt, there was no longer clear reason to hide. Frodo desired him, there was no mistaking. Sam could scarcely believe this was happening. But what did it matter, the how or when? He longed to touch Frodo, too, and to aid him in his undressing if he could but stir his fingers to action.

"I want to lie next to you as you are, Sam," Frodo said, unclasping his cloak and letting it fall from his shoulders. "And nothing more, if you so wish it."

"I do," Sam managed. "Want you to, I meanso much I can't seem to move."

Frodo smiled slowly, his fingers moving to undo the buttons of his shirt. Sam lay half out of the blanket, helpless to do anything but stare at how very lovely Frodo was just then--a little shy, a bit flushed, and so serious. The hardships he'd endured were now softened by shadows that caught his lashes and dappled the dark curls that rimmed his face. "It will be a little bit like that, I suppose. I hardly know myself, Sam. I've never"

"Oh, I do follow your meaning, sirneither have I really, but I suppose that won't" Sam's stammering stopped as the chain about Frodo's neck slipped forward over his shoulder, sending a rolling shimmer of purest gold down pale skin to where it caught short and sung briefly at the reach of the chain. Before Sam could say anything, Frodo grasped It tight in his fist, his expression turning inward and fearful. He sat up suddenly, facing away from Sam.

"Mr. Frodo?"

Frodo passed a shaking hand through his curls. "Idon't know what I was thinking, Sam. I'm sorry. How selfish of me."

"Frodo?"

"It's no good, Sam. It ruins everything."

"But, not if we"

Frodo's head sank between his shoulders. "If It ever reached you, if It ever got near"

Sam sat up and scooted close behind Frodo, laying his head upon Frodo's shoulder, his hand daring to stroke his arm. "It won't," he said. "I won't let it. For your sake, I wouldn't give it half a chance. I love you too much."

Frodo raised his head slowly, a glimmer of hope returning to his eyes as he looked to the cool blade of Sting, reflecting them both, huddled close in the moonlight, all pale skin and fallen clothes. Sam let his hand move to the hem of Frodo's shirt, and button by button, covered him up until the Ring once again lay as secret as Frodo's long unspoken wish.

"There we are, Mr. Frodo, all well and good again."

Frodo whimpered and twisted in Sam's arms to grasp his startled face and bring it to his for a kiss, his lips covering Sam's with warmth and longing. Sam fumbled his hands for a new hold and found his fingers plunged deep into Frodo's curls as he kissed him back with a matching, if imperfect, desire. Lips and tongues worked against one another, striving to find a perfect melding that would communicate what was needed to be said since they'd left the boundaries of the Shire: I am here for you, and you for me. Always.

Sam fell back upon the blanket, Frodo atop him, arms grasping in clumsy strokes while legs tumbled and toes dug at the leaves to find a proper bracing for the message struggling to be spoken between their urgent mouths. It wasn't what Sam had dreamt of--of gentle hand-holds and lingering looks--it was wild and free and Frodo's touch burned all through him like grassfire in summer as their lips clung and tasted and their hips slid and met, pressing so achingly right against each other.

Frodo's slight weight upon him, tense and urgent, stole Sam's voice. Between deep kisses and startled moans, he was left with only his hands and arms to speak for him. He took Frodo up in his grasp and rolled him down beside him so he could guide Frodo's searching hand low to find him again, swollen and ready.

"Ah!" Frodo cried in delight when he felt Sam's pulse beating warm beneath the still-damp linen. "Theseneed to be off," Frodo whispered between nips of Sam's upper lip, as he sought the sturdy heat trapped under the thin cloth. Finding the parting, he took Sam in his eager hand, gentle at first, discovering him, learning him--soon growing into an insistent pleading and grasping Sam could do little to resist.

"Wait," Sam said, cupping Frodo's chin, unable to hold back the impulse to kiss his beautiful lips again and again. He framed Frodo's flushed face in his hands to still him. "Hush, now" Sam said, taking one more slow blissful kiss from him, rubbing their noses together. "We needn't rush soI can't manage much more if you don't"

Frodo blinked dazedly at Sam, his hand still well inside his undergarments, unwilling to let go. Sam gently removed him long enough to slip the fool things down off his hips and away.

Frodo lay before him, rumpled and heaving, those eyes taking all of Sam in, lying so in his skin. "So beautiful" he whispered, passing fingertips down the fur of Sam's belly and over his hip, making him twitch ticklishly. Frodo's eyes were dampening. "I've wanted to tell you, Sam. For so long" a quiver cut his sweet voice in two and Sam knew he could not bear it if Frodo wept, not now. Not when there were so many other emotions wanting to be spoken first.

"No tears, now, me dearor you'll have me all undone again."

Frodo touched Sam's face, in unbelief. "Did you ever think, Sam," he whispered, "that we would find ourselves herelike this?"

Sam took his master's hand and kissed it, then kissed along the side of his face, soft and dream-like until it seemed Frodo forgot what he had asked and Sam's answer came to him as a mumbled "I didn't dare" against the warmth of his neck. Frodo made the most wonderfullest sounds as Sam kissed him here and lower, over the bird-fine bones of his shoulder and clavicle. The sharp-musk taste of his master's skin was making Sam's limbs tremble all over again as he clutched Frodo tight, desiring to crawl all into him if he could but find a way.

"Sam" Frodo begged as he squirmed beneath him. "I can't bear it, please" Sam's wandering mouth had found its way to the hollow of Frodo's throat where he lapped against the salt-damp pulse. Sam concentrated his efforts in this secret place, licking and feeding, while trailing a hand reverently down his master's clothed torso and over stretched velvet. Frodo's hips met him stiff and impatient, as he grasped the soft cloth. And this sound was even better, low and whispery, his name again, spoken like a poem over and over as Sam rubbed and kneaded. Frodo's hand clawed over his to grasp blindly at buttons and folds, dragging the travel-worn finery open and down until hot weeping flesh slid readily into Sam's sure grasp and Frodo's hands clutched at his bare bottom to urge Sam close and between where thigh and hand were soon crushed by instinctive thrusts.

There was no room in this frantic scramble of overwrought nerves to think or worry about anything other than this breath, this body, this face drawn in shadows and heated pleasure. Here was someplace Sam had never been, but found his way as sure as if they'd always met thus: flesh to flesh. His master tensed within his tight hold, crying out as spurts of relief bathed Sam's knuckles and belly, twisting his own desire to its euphoric end as he drove himself against slick living flesh, gasping endearments with every heavenly spasm and release.

***

It was quieter now. The moon had passed into the trees and shadow took over their hollow. The moments of lethargic delirium that had passed in-between were ebbing and the reality of damp crushed limbs and exposed skin was imposing on their wordless embrace.

"I shouldget off you," Sam whispered near his master's temple. They'd slid half off the blanket and Frodo was slowly sinking into the damp leaves under him, his heavy leg still claiming Frodo's slippery belly.

"Mmm," Frodo murmured, clinging to Sam's neck. "Perhaps we should roll towards the stream."

"That's a lovely thought, indeed, sir, but I might mention, you'd fair better by keeping your things dry."

Frodo smiled against his chest. "I'll trust you to know better than I."

Sam returned Frodo's smile as if the sun had just risen over Hobbiton on a new spring morn. Even the very memory of chill was gone. He felt safe and whole, as if any task they might take on, however hopeless, was now attainable. He bent for a kiss.

A crunching in the woods above startled them both apart and to their knees, reaching for scattered clothing and straining their ears to listen. But no further rustling came and Sting stood cold in neutral silver. Frodo sighed and made to button himself quickly after a brisk wipe with the corner of the blanket. "We should be more careful," he said, sharing a worried look with Sam. "We only have each other now."

Sam nodded and began to shake the leaves from his shirt. It had dried just enough he felt he might be able to get it back on, though the threads were cold. Frodo stilled his hand. "Don't dress just yet. I'll go up and have a look about. It was only a deer most likely, or a fallen branch."

"Wait," Sam said when his master had crawled up to the forest above.

Frodo turned about and peered back in. "Yes?"

Impulsively, Sam reached up through the roots to him, palm open.

"What is it, Sam?" Frodo asked, reaching down to grasp his fingers.

Sam eased as he read the devotion upon that fair face. "Thank you for keeping me, sir," he said.

Frodo squeezed Sam's hand firmly. "Whither we shall go," he said, "we shall go together."

Sam smiled as Frodo bent to kiss his wrist, then moved out from his sight. Sam sat back and drew the blanket around his shoulders. Tomorrow had not yet come, but he felt a warmth now as if the very sun shown down upon him. He would hold on to tonight and carry those words safe in his heart and be comforted by them over rock and fire, 'till the end of an age or more.

We shall go together.