V: Answer

Bilbo had vanished into the night, walking stick, cloak and all--save a little gold ring and the papers to Bag End and all its secrets. Frodo knew Bilbo was following his heart, seeking the company of elves again and perhaps in a few weeks' time he would be well ensconced in the Rivendell library, dusting off tomes and blowing cobwebs from scrolls. Frodo missed him with a joyous sense of loss, knowing that nothing Bilbo ever did was without great love for him. The fire was dying; the whipping wind still stoked the smouldering logs while the oak's boughs rocked overhead. The garden gate was still latched and Frodo was nearly out of memories.

Earlier that evening, Frodo had slipped away from Merry's departing bustle just long enough to unhinge the bookcase panel in what would now be his study. He reached in and withdrew the silver box. Still tarnished and covered with fingerprints, Frodo pulled the small silver key Bilbo had given him from his pocket and unlocked it. The letter lay within, written long ago after many lengthy versions, now pared down to a single page: Sam's call to service. Merry had been a dear to deliver it, though no doubt he could not feel its weight in the waiting as he tucked it into his coat and set off. Had his cousin rung the bell, or was he mindful of his need to gain the East Road and had merely slipped it unannounced into the box by the door? Perhaps it would not be found until dawn when Sam rose to bring in the milk and start breakfast.

If Sam had yet to read the letter's contents, Frodo could not know. Just as he could not know if Sam still felt the same ever-present longing that rose in him whenever they met in the garden for a warm greeting and kind word before respectfully parting to attend their sundry duties. It had been so painful to see the hurt in Sam's eyes at first, when Frodo changed so suddenly. He knew Sam didn't understand why he took careful steps whenever they were alone together, or why he insisted that Sam keep to the garden and not worry so about his person--insisting that it would be better if he opened his own doors and put on his own coat. Frodo needed to believe that the slow silent resolution that came over Sam those first hard months was forged through understanding and not defeat.

Even so, there were fleeting moments when Frodo knew his eyes must have betrayed him. When, after their morning hellos, he would turn to glance back at Sam bent over the tumbled earth to catch him gazing back. They would connect for a brief breathless moment, before they knew they must lower their heads and not look too long upon what they could not hold or touch.

Frodo relearned patience and mastery of a love, which, for him, had only grown with the passing years. Sam had not been sent away and Frodo made peace with the knowledge that Sam's devotion was something to be earned, not had. He left the torrid swings of passion behind and strove to make charity and compassion his chief concerns. He went among his fellow hobbits, took meals with them, toasted ales, and listened through the clipped syllables and silliness for the wisdom spoken therein, brought up through the ancient roots of the land. He came to understand these country folk as he had been taught to understand the rules of the society that had raised him. In three years he felt he'd found a way in which he could serve both standards well.

But this last night of long waiting was the hardest to endure. For all his composure, Frodo wanted an end to it. He needed to know if all the care he had taken to earn his place as Bag End's master would come to fruition. Sam had been his guidepost on a difficult journey across the Brandywine that had not ended with his arrival at Bag End's gate, a stranger in a simple land. He hoped Sam would once more be the foundation upon which to build his mastership of the Hill; he had counted on it.

A knock came to the door. Quick and loud.

Frodo was on his feet and across the parlour to the hall before he remembered to breathe. He grasped and turned the large brass knob. The round green door groaned and opened.

Sam stood on the stoop, his hard breath leaving trails in the pre-dawn air. His hair was uncombed and his coat was on inside-out. A lopsided bag stood at his side, stuffed hastily with what appeared to be everything he owned in the world. The letter was in his hand, open and flapping in the breeze.

"You needn't have used such fancy words, sir. I'd a-come if you'd hollered out the back window. I accept! I accept!"

"Sam?" Frodo asked, as if in a dream. "Can you forgive me?"

Sam sorrowed at this. "For what?"

"For asking so much"

Sam smiled, a slow grin that grew and lit his face. "There ain't no part of me that's ever not belonged to you. I've lived but a few holes away all my life, but this door and garden has always been my home."

Happiness flowed in an unfettered stream through Frodo. He was for a moment struck speechless. Sam was here. Sam had come to him. They would belong to each other now. "Welcome home, dearest Sam," he said at last and moved back to open the door wide.

Sam took the final step and tossed his bag aside on the tiles. He took Frodo up his arms and held him tight for a long long time.

Frodo closed his eyes and lay his cheek against the rough turned-out wool of Sam's old coat, knowing nothing but the feel of Sam's breath in his chest, moving with his own. In his heart there was peace, and in his mind, a silence so pure and restful he forgot every step of the long road they had taken together to meet on this threshold. "I should close the door," he murmured, not wanting to move.

Sam raised his head and took Frodo's face in his hands, looking deep into his eyes with a light that had never ceased to kindle even in a great fall. He shook his head. "Let them see," he said, and kissed Frodo soundly as dawn broke over the sleeping hills of Hobbiton below.

~~~

Special thanks to: Cara Loup, Michelle, Elderberry Wine, Chica Chubb, Ghyste & Winter for providing me with guidance and beta-eyes through various versions of this piece. Take a bow, ladies!