Snowblindby Europanya

To hear the elder Shirefolk talk about the winters they'd seen, one might expect to find a good deal of trouble on the icy snow-swept roads of the Four Farthings and think it wisest to stay indoors and not bother oneself about travelling near Year's End for fear of losing a toe. But the folk who have lived over The Water and around The Hill some years know the old-timers tell tall tales. Truthfully, a Shire winter is scarce more than a lamb's wool coating of snow, falling in the weeks preceding Yule and courteously departing on the first week of Afterlithe, no more than a puddled memory on the pathways. That is, unless a white-haired hobbit rocking on his stoop is fixing to talk about the winter of 1403.     
      That would be a winter most young lads and lasses have caught wind of during a visit to their grandmum's. But for once the yarn spun is fit to knit a scarf. For the 21st of Afteryule brought a snowstorm unseen by the likes of any hobbit for over a hundred years when it set to unload its burden over the span of the West Farthing hills, freezing The Water solid around Hobbiton and cracking the mill wheel.            
      But to hear this story told proper, one should take a closer look inside the grand old hole at the top of Bagshot Row. Here you'll find Bag End; built by Bagginses, now overrun with Gardners (various descendants of the prolific Samwise Gamgee). If they'd shuffle outside a spell, one could walk the finely trimmed smials and listen to the wind as it wraps over The Hill, and a tale of another sort might be heard if you have ears and heart to listen.    

For Frodo Baggins, the morning of the 21st promised little more than a leisurely bath, a re-reading of some dense Second Age poetry (he'd a flair for that sort of thing), a perusal of his evaporated uncle's storage trunks (more lacking in gold than parchment), a careful reorganisation (and admiration) of the diverse wine cellars, and a pot of hot tea with several sticky slices of Bell Gamgee's fruitcake. Or quite possibly the whole cake over the course of the day spaced carefully, for the poor hobbit was a hopeless wreck with pot and stove.    
      Regrettably, his cook was now knee-deep in slush a half mile down the Bywater road helping the Cotton lads mend a fallen sheep gate. The old gate had flown off in the winds the day before, sending old Odo Proudfoot's lambs in a scatter. By now the sheep were herded and the winds calmed, proving only a harbinger of the perfectly average snow which had begun to fall outside Master Baggins' bedroom window upon his waking quite late into the morning.
      Frodo didn't think much of the weather and paid it little mind as he sat soaking in his bath, poetry book in one hand, the other occupying itself with alternating fingersfull of teacup or jellied cherries and dates. (His late start necessitated combining several of his daily plans into one sitting.) He still failed to pay Nature any mind even when the clouds hovering over his grand hill were clumping and darkening. The feather-snow was quickly accumulating into larger and more elaborate lacings of ice crystals, until the fluff that fell from the sky could stuff a pillowcase in two handfuls. In fact, Bag End's Master only bothered to look up from his tangled tengwar when the light that normally carried from the large parlour window dimmed in a sudden 'flump.' His window seemed to have disappeared.        
      Frodo licked the green and red stickiness from his fingers and set his book aside with a troubled sigh. It wasn't like his windows to spontaneously shut themselves against the outside. He stepped out of his now less-than-tepid bath and donned a robe to inspect the situation. A heavy layer of snow had fallen across the diamond panes of the round window. He looked upon it with brows knit, wondering where that much snow could have fallen from – surely not the turf roof – and made his way back up the smial to his front door. Mindful that his robe was situated appropriately, he pulled the knob. It gave way with force and to his shock an avalanche of snow along with it, pouring onto his tile and threatening to bury the entry hall's bench. He yelped as only a gentlehobbit of some thirty-four years can with candour, and tried to shove the green door back in place. He succeeded only in unsettling more snow which now tumbled partially into his parlour as well. At the top of this white wall was a break and his eyes grew rounder than they already were at the birdnests of snowclumps falling from the busy sky.             
      "Sam!" he shouted, for that was the name he was used to calling whenever something about the hole squeaked, broke or smelled funny. Sam the gardener, cook, valet and loyal companion, was not within earshot. He was mending a sheep gate, after all. The sweet tang of fruitcake on Frodo's exacerbated tongue, a reminder of his hardship, was now overrun by a cascading slide of everfalling snow through his half open door.           
      Snow. What did one do about snow? Well, he supposed a shovel was in order, so he sloshed his way back to the cellar, fumbling to light the lantern hanging just inside. Shovel. Where does Sam keep such cumbersome things? Tip-toeing over last season's seed pots and outdated crockery, Frodo found a standing thatch of long-handled tools of sorts. A hoe was among them, but no shovel. If memory served, the garden shed was a better residence for such outdoor contraptions. A hoe would have to do.    
      Still in his robe, Frodo set about whacking the drift into submission. He pushed it aside and pummeled it back far enough to shove and kick (or apply a running jump and shove – though that tended to smart) the stubborn door back into position. Locked and latched. Very well, then. There was still the matter of a good foot of snow coating half the front hall, but he couldn't think of a better place to put it unless he tossed it up a chimney or down the privy, and that would prove difficult with a hoe. So he surrounded the white stack with extra blankets and towels and lit a fire in the nearby parlour, hoping for the best. Then he got dressed and saw to boiling a second pot of tea.            
      It wasn't until some hours later in the day that anything in particular bothered Frodo, save perhaps the gradual fading of all his south-facing windows (which were most of them). He was accustomed to staying indoors during the winter and the privacy suited him just fine; as did a freshly uncorked bottle of 1299 Winyards keeping him company while he wrote letters to his cousins, forgetting, naturally, to mention the weather. He was just penning his account of last fall's walking tour of Green Hill to Merry when he heard a funny sound. Not funny in the sense of amusing, but more on the edge of disturbing. He lifted his head from his pen and paper and paused to listen. The snow, as thick as it was, fell silently, muffling the usual creaks and chirps of his garden. He shrugged and continued. He was just finishing a particularly riveting description of a meadowlark's song he'd stopped to listen to outside Pincup when the funny noise came again. This time it sounded like a moan.    
      Moan? Frodo didn't like to think about moaning while attending his writing desk. In fact, there were very few occasions during the length of his quiet afternoons in which he'd welcome such a sound. Not to say that Frodo was a hobbit lacking in expression. He had plenty of passion, however properly folded and locked away for only the most stirring occasions. (Letter-writing was surely not one of them.) An ill-placed moan was unsettling at worst and inappropriate at best. He didn't want to be troubled to guess the source of that sound and found it most comforting to think it was nothing more than an errant wisp of longing stirred up from the depths of his solitary heart. That was, until it sounded again, closer. Worse, it sounded like a word.     
      Most Shirefolk would be taken with quite a fright over something so unexpected. But not Frodo Baggins, who had been brought up from his tweens by his 'mad' uncle Bilbo who spun stories of creeping, stinging spiders and fiercesome hobbit-eating trolls. Besides, if Bag End was haunted, he couldn't imagine any spirit more imposing than his grand-uncle Bungo, who occupied his days chasing nothing larger than butterflies and even those with a deft hand and light net. (In truth, he'd had quite the collection.) No, it would take more than a whisper in the smials to shake this gentlehobbit.       
      "Very well!" Frodo said, standing and addressing his hole properly. "I do not know who or what is making this loathsome sound, but I've had plenty of game-playing and wish to finish my letter. So either come on out and speak plainly or refrain from any further voicings during my waking hours. You may moan all you like, provided I'm soundly abed."   
      The voice spared no time replying and seemingly also read the name on the postbox because it began to call him by his front name. "Frodo. Frodo."  
      Frodo jumped and poked his head into the smial. It sounded like the kitchen this time, so he made quickly for it in search of the intruder. A kettle he'd left steaming had boiled off some time ago and the copper had turned a nice glowing red. He moved it off the hook with a pair of tines, careful not to scorch his table (for Sam would certainly take notice of that). Then there was coughing. Not his own. More odd, the sound was coming from inside the fireplace. This was too much. Frodo fetched the kitchen pail and doused the fire with one hasty pour. The coughing grew worse and appeared to be coming from the ashes and damp half-burnt wood. When the smoke and steam cleared, Frodo dropped to his knees and leaned in. "Hello?" he said.      
      "Mr. Frodo, bless you! Can you hear me?"     
      "Sam?" Frodo asked, shocked. "Is that you? Why are you in my chimney?"     
      "I'm not, sir. At least not yet. I've been trying to call down to you through 'em, is all."    
      "Goodness, Sam. Why?"        
      "Seeing as it's the only part of the hole as I could find, begging your pardon."               
      "That you could find?"        
      "Yes sir, the snowfall. It's getting right bad. You're up to your chimneys in it, from the look of it all."        
      "But Sam, you're out in it!" 
      "Aye, Mr. Frodo. That I am." Although Sam's voice was distorted from its drop down the brick chute, Frodo could note the misery in it.   
      "You must come inside straight away before you get yourself buried."
      "That's the chief trouble, sir. There ain't a door nor window as I can find from up here."    
      This troubled Frodo. True, the light had continued to fade as the day wore on, but he'd kept up with several well-placed candles on the sills and tables, crediting the dimming to the setting sun, not the deepening of snow. The light filtering into Bag End from the outside made it seem like dusk, but when Frodo peered up the chimney, trying to spy Sam through its opening, he was blinded by a bright burst of white. Water dripped and he pulled back.         
      "We must find a way to get you inside!"        
      "I was thinking maybe if I tried the chimney in your bedchamber, if you wouldn't mind. As it don't seem to be blowing no smoke right now."    
      "Sam, no!" Frodo was dismayed at the thought of Sam dropping down through such a foul place, not to mention that his nice round hobbit belly might not clear the flue. "Listen to me. You must try to find the door. I opened it sometime earlier today." 
      "Not to disappoint you, sir. But I did try finding the door first. It's gone buried itself under a drift, if you follow me. There's no digging through it with my hands as they are."        
      The thought of anything amiss with Sam's hands upset Frodo even more. "Hold on, Sam! I'm going to try the parlour window. It's not shuttered. If I can get it open, you can slip in through there. I'll shout to have you come around if I succeed."       
      "Very well, Mr. Frodo."         
      Frodo hopped up and skittered down the smial to the snow-packed hillside window. He unlatched the fasteners, but try as he might, he couldn't push the panes out. The layer of snow was built solid against them. Fleetingly, he bemoaned the fact he'd had Daddy Twofoot replace the old glass in his bathroom last fall, which had stood for years installed backwards much to Bilbo's love of the absurd and Frodo's impatience with the impractical. Perhaps the absurd can prove itself useful from time to time, Frodo noted to himself, but his lesson in hindsight was caught short by a loud faalummp!  
      Sam had come down the chimney.              
      His bedroom chimney from the sound of it.          
      "Sam!"           
      Frodo dashed to his bedroom to find a black-smudged ball of hobbit rolling out of the hearth, crashing the grating to the floor. "Sam, are you hurt?"           
      Sam groaned something vague as he righted himself, shaking his sooty head. "Sorry about the rug, Mr. Frodo." 
      "Forget the rug!" Frodo said, kneeling to check Sam for injuries as he sat stunned and shivering on the floor. He was a little scraped, but appeared more or less intact. "What a ninnyhammer you are, dear Sam. You could have broken your neck!"   
      "Begging your pardon, sir, but it was getting mighty cold up there."   
      Frodo touched Sam's face and hands; they felt icy as a frost-coated pole. "You're half frozen. We must get you into the bath. Can you walk?" He put Sam's arm around his shoulders and tried to raise him to his feet, but only succeeded in pitching them forward. It took a few efforts and mumbled apologies from the both of them before he was successful. Sam leaned heavily against him as they made their slow way to the bathroom.            
      "I'm afraid I boiled down all the hot water," Frodo said, "but I'll get a new kettle going as quickly as possible. Oh, but then I doused the kitchen logs with most of the well water. Oh, dear. Best we take you to the parlour then and sit you close to the fire until I can get things in order." 
      "What happened here?" Sam asked as they sloshed past the dripping entry hall and its proud mound of still-melting snow.      
      "A long tale, Sam. We'll enjoy it later. Your sleeves are damp. What happened to your cloak and gloves?"              
      "I took 'em off before heading down the chimney. Didn't want to get myself stuck."     
      "It's a very good thing you didn't," Frodo said, coaxing his reluctant friend onto a bench before the fire. "I would have had to spend the evening addressing your bottom." He fetched a blanket from a nearby chest and wrapped it around Sam's still-shivering shoulders. "Sit tight while I get some water going." 
      Now Samwise Gamgee, despite his name, was a hobbit of some sense. And not just for learning his letters early on, but for having a sixth sense about the nature of things, well, natural. Trees and herbs and flowers never failed to bloom and thrive whenever he set his hands to them. Wind and rain and sunshine had a habit of answering his unspoken call. At least it appeared so where Bag End's garden was concerned. Try as any envious neighbor might, none could grow a rose or cabbage to outshine the progeny of Mr. Frodo's doted croft. But on this particular day, Samwise felt he was more than living up to his birthname by the painful chill in his limbs and the grimy layer he now sported from his making like a chimney sweep. No telling how much of the filth he'd be tracking all over Mr. Frodo's fine home before the day was done. So far the wreckage included one rug, the blanket about his grateful shoulders and the fine cushion under his rump. Oh, yes, and the parlour rug beneath his numb feet.       
      To further encourage his embarrassment there was the matter of Mr. Frodo's clattering about in the kitchen for his sake. Not only had Sam misjudged the severity of the storm when he set out that morning to mend a fence, but he'd also gone back out when the wearisome task was done to see how his master was getting on. He'd trudged no more than half the distance from the Cottons' hole to The Hill when he'd found himself bewildered by a snowfall more thick and cold than the likes of any he'd ever seen. It confounded his view, turning him all about and getting him a bit lost. His distress grew all the more when he eventually came to find the whole of Bag End covered in a drift – the smoke from its chimneys the only clue that there was a hobbit dwelling beneath.               
      A loud bang of something heavy hitting the kitchen floor stunned Sam from his dazed musings. "Are you managing all right, Mr. Frodo?"
      "Yes, Sam," Frodo said, sounding somewhat out of breath, scurrying up the smial with a large cauldron nearly his own size. He set it next to the monolith in the hall, collecting large scoops of snow in his arms and dumping them into the pot. "We're sorely short on fresh water. My fault, I suppose. I had no idea the back door would be frozen shut. I can't reach the pump."  
      Sam made to stand to help, though his sore hands and feet protested loudly. Frodo turned about. "No, Sam! Please sit still. I don't want you to fall. You've had enough accidents today. Oh, but you do look in pain. How are your hands?"      
      Sam looked down at them and moved his fingers carefully, trying not to wince. The skin was red and sore and the joints stiff and swollen. "I imagine they'll be right enough once they warm up." He'd seen worse on the hands of his poor old dad a harsh winter or two in his past. He was probably no less brick-headed in his refusal to let a job slide even in a storm. Still, it appeared for all his wisdom in the ways of Nature, she'd given him a lick he wouldn't soon forget.         
      "Let me get this melting, and I suppose there's the bathwater still standing in the tub from my own earlier today. I can warm it up for you at least," Frodo said, dragging the snow-filled pot after him toward the kitchen. "This will keep for drinking water at any rate."             
      "I'm sure the bath will more than do for me, Mr. Frodo. Seeing as we're short."   
      It wasn't long before Frodo rushed back in with a cup of hot tea that he held to Sam's lips as he sipped. The warmth trickled through him and his shivering stilled. Frodo looked on him with such concern Sam was struck speechless and could only form a thick 'thanks' from his tongue. 
      A quarter of an hour later he watched Frodo haul two large, steaming kettles into the bathroom, and with a clang and a wipe of his brow, his master announced that things were ready.    
      The tea had warmed Sam enough that he felt he might be able to trust his legs. He rose stiffly as Frodo came about to help him along. Once inside the bathroom, Frodo set himself to the business of undoing Sam's braces and shirt buttons. Sam felt a flush rise and warm his face at least. "Mr. Frodo, you don't need to."        
      "Nonsense, Sam. Your hands. The tub will be cold again before you've got a sleeve off."          
      He had a point, but it didn't make Sam any more sure of himself as he was efficiently stripped to his trousers. Frodo showed only the slightest hesitation before undoing those as well, averting his eyes politely as he drew them to the floor, asking Sam to step out of them if he could. He could, but then the bigger problem arose of how to get up and in the water.    
      "How shall we go about this?" Frodo said, pondering the situation.              
      Sam tried to swallow his unavoidable shyness, but couldn't think of what else to do with himself in this case. He was, in every sense, at Mr. Frodo's mercy.   
      "I know! The kitchen stool!"    
      Frodo scampered out, and Sam waved his stiff arms about him helplessly. A fine fix you've got yourself into this time, Sam Gamgee. Here you are standing in the master's home, covered in soot with not a stitch on and chicken wings for hands besides.    
      Frodo was soon back with the stool and set it next to the tub, taking Sam's arm over his shoulders again and gripping his bare waist. "Come, Sam. Up and in!"
      It wasn't the most graceful move, one leg at a time, but it proved successful with only a few sloshes of heavenly warm water spilling over on the tiles. Sam gratefully sank all the way under, holding his breath so every inch of him could thaw. He came up rubbing the water from his eyes to find his master standing by handy with the scrub brush and soap, a smile playing on his lips.       
      "Sir?" Sam asked, certain he'd done something improper.              
      Frodo's smile turned into a chuckle. "You're quite a handful, Sam, you know that?"    
      Sam wasn't sure what to make of that, but at least Mr. Frodo seemed amused. 
      "Now sit back and let me wash you," Frodo said, stepping up to begin the job.      
      "Oh, you don't have to..."  
      "Yes, I do have to. Unless you plan to hold the soap in your teeth. I want your hands soaking in the water while the heat lasts, understand?"      
      "Yes, sir. I suspect you're right," Sam said, blushing helplessly as Frodo began to scrub his arm. He chided himself to keep his head on straight and try to enjoy this. After all, it wasn't everyday a lad got bathed by the likes of Mr. Frodo. Well, at least he hoped not. Aye, Samwise, count your blessings and give thanks for what fate's done offered you this dismal day, Sam thought, offering the other arm in turn.          
      Sam did enjoy his fate, more than he would ever admit. He was buried under The Hill in the worst snowstorm the Shire had seen in a hundred years, sunk to his shoulders in warm, sudsy, lavender-scented water, while Mr. Frodo saw to scrubbing his stubborn head with soap. Those nimble scalp-rubbing fingers were sending the loveliest glow straight through every inch of him. He'd never want them to get dug out if it meant he could shut his eyes and absorb the dizzy pleasure while Frodo hummed a little tune to his busywork. Perhaps Sam should have considered using the chimney sooner. He'd all but forgotten the throb in his fingers and toes as he was washed clear through with happiness.  
      Oh, he knew he was a dreamer, had been in some form or another since his early days when Bag End's new heir first arrived in Hobbiton. Pure-bred Fallohide that lad is by the looks of 'im, or my granddaddy weren't no Stoor, his old dad had said. You don't see many of them fair-skinned this side of the Brandywine. Watch if the lasses don't go lining up with their bakin' come spring. But they didn't. Or at least when they tried, Mr. Frodo wasn't more for granting them a polite smile and a well-wishing before sending the poor love-struck dears on their way. Not a few were the tears shed over the unflappably elusive favour of Frodo Baggins. Not that young Sam had much notion of such things then. Only that a lad might grow fond of an older neighbour who'd make the most impossible riddles and rhymes come alive as he read aloud to him sitting on the floor by the fire, till supper-time grew nigh and his Gaffer would come in from the garden to lead him reluctantly home.    
      But Sam's fondness for Frodo did not fade with childhood and grew and branched into a fine lovelornness by the cusp of his tweens. Like a hound baying for the moon, he thought, yet never having a hope of getting no closer to it. That was the way of it. Sure, there were moments when his heart would skip at a sigh or a smile that he could hope was made but for him alone. Your dreamin's got no more sense to it than a canned eggplant, he'd told himself. And you're none the wiser for setting your hopes on a will-o-the-wisp. Keep your heart where it belongs with seed and sprout and see then what comes to bloom. This advice he heeded, and not for a blessing of Nature alone did Frodo's garden earn itself the envy of all Hobbiton. In fact, Sam had grown up quite thoroughly now. Though his official coming of age was still a decade off, he'd fashioned himself quite well into the role of Mr. Frodo's closest companion. And for all his duties of cooking and cleaning and seeing about the hole, he'd managed to get as far to the moon as he'd ever hoped, and never mind the occasional rise of senseless longing that would flutter up and fly away like dandelion tufts on the western wind.      
      "Lean forward, Sam. Let me get your back."   
      Sam drew up his knees and lay his giddy head on his folded arms while Mr. Frodo set the delirious scrub of the backbrush to his skin. His thawed toes curled under the water as the brush circled across his back ever so wonderfully and down his spine. Over, up and around it went, until the bristles dipped low below the water's surface and prickled (though that wasn't exactly the right word) a place far more sensitive, and he jumped, giving a little squeak in the effort to conceal a more telling sound.  
      "Oh! I'm sorry. I can't quite see what I'm doing through the soap. Are you hurt anywhere?" Frodo asked, trailing concerned fingertips down the tingling flesh of his back, searching for cuts or bruises that weren't there, but ever the more agonising for where his touch was heading below the water to inspect and...  
      "Mmfp," was all Sam could manage, pressing his lips to his arm.     
      "Oh, dear. You must have bruised yourself when you landed. Sit up and let's see."      
      Not for all the spoils of a dragon's hoard would Sam raise his hips above the water now.    
      "Um, Mr. Frodo, it's quite all right. I'm just a bit, well, ticklish, I suppose," he said, peering over his shoulder at Frodo to convey his certainty of his soundness. But the sight of his master soaked to his elbows in bathwater, suds clinging to his wrists, eyes all fixed with worry on his, well... it just wasn't helping the situation any, and he turned about fast, trying to get ahold of his breathing. See where wishing would get him now.      
      "Sam, it's just... I didn't mean to embarrass you. But if you're hurt I need you to tell me. I don't know how long before we'll be getting out of here and..." Frodo trailed off. 
      "Mr. Frodo?"
      "Sam, why did you come back up the Hill in this storm?" 
      "I was worried, knowing you were up here all alone and such," Sam said, wanting to ease the sadness he heard in Frodo's voice.    
      Frodo didn't speak, but he laid a hand on Sam's head for a moment, drawing his fingers once more through the wet curls. Sam could hear him sigh. "I see," he said softly, and Sam's pickled eggplant of a heart took no time in catching on it.

Sam's blessings were not all spent at the conclusion of his bath (which would surely go down in history as the best of his life, if hobbits kept count of such things). He managed to convince Frodo his hands were fit enough to lift himself out and dry off in grateful privacy, where the air in the bath would cool his skin enough to put on the clothes Mr. Frodo left on the chair. "A few items Bilbo left behind. I think they'll fit," Frodo had said before removing himself quickly from the room. Sam couldn't account for his sudden shift in mood, but it was plainer than boiled oats that Mr. Frodo was troubled.              
      Frodo had lit a fire in one of the guest rooms, and once Sam emerged, dressed and rubbing a towel through his curls, he asked Sam to go in and lie down until he could see about dinner.  
      "I'm feeling much better now, Mr. Frodo, if you'd like me to see to the cooking," Sam said, wiggling his fingers as proof. But Frodo would have none of it and pushed him gently into the room.     
      "I'll feel much better if you lie quiet for a while," he said, pulling the covers back for Sam to get in. Sam did, feeling only a few aches left in his legs and knuckles. Still, that fall was bound to come back on him by morning. Frodo pulled the coverlet up to Sam's chest and took his hands in his, rubbing his thumbs over them gently. "They look much better," he said with relief. "I'm glad you're all right, Sam."          
      "I'll be fine," Sam said, marvelling at the way the mattress was slowly moulding to his shape. He'd never lain in one of Mr. Frodo's fancy beds before. (In truth, he had as a child, but had plum forgotten it.) It was almost as delightful as the bath, especially if Mr. Frodo kept rubbing his hands like that.   
      Frodo had a far-away look in his eyes. Then he released Sam's hands with a gentle pat. "Well, I'm off to the larders. Let's hope I can fix us something we won't live to regret," he said with a wry grin and left the room. Sam rolled his head comfortably on the pillows and let the down soothe the remains of his pains. Sooner than not he felt himself falling into a sound sleep, his mind drifting on the scent of lavender.

Frodo shivered over a basket of sawdust-sprinkled vegetables plucked from the winter storage bins as he came out of the stone cellar, kicking the door closed behind him. It was cold as a spinster's bed back there now, and aside from an ample supply of onions, beets, turnips, carrots and apples, the last of the potatoes and squash would have to serve them for supper. He'd been meaning to ask Sam about going to market, but somehow groceries had slipped his mind this week.             
      He set the basket down in the kitchen and turned the new logs, encouraging a higher blaze. Groceries weren't the only thing his mind had been slipping on lately.     
      You're a handful, Sam? Where was his mind then? Well, he knew where his mind had been. And it had hardly been the proper time to reflect on... No, no. He wasn't going to think on it right now. There was food to prepare, and for once Frodo was going to see that something edible came of his effort. He scooped a pot-full of melting snow from the cauldron and set it on the hook to boil. He watched the pot swing over the flames and the heat rose to his cheeks in sympathy.            
      At what point had he decided he was going to bathe Sam? Was Sam really in such a helpless state or had he taken more charge of the situation than was necessary or proper? Sam was, after all, his servant. Certainly he wouldn't object, and he was in need of a good scrub. He probably got more of a thorough cleansing than was bargained for; not that Sam seemed to mind. There were more than a few times Frodo thought he'd felt stifled shudders pass under his soapy hands. Had he really spent that much time washing Sam's hair? Oh, but how he'd longed to touch... Enough. Enough. Where were the peelers?
      Frodo opened his drawers, digging through the flatware. A good round of vegetable peeling would set his thoughts back to rights. He found the blades and planted himself on a stool, blowing the dust and dirt off a nice round potato. His thumb stroked the brown skin. You have no business entertaining ideas of this sort, he told himself once again. None whatsoever. Not that there was anything wrong with thoughts, nameless and faceless as they had necessarily been for as long as he could recall – it was putting a name to them that was the problem. And he hadn't thought to until... well, until after Bilbo left and Sam took over the cooking and cleaning and any other excuse Frodo could find for having him about the hole.    
      Sam. Somehow it had become Sam. And it was because of that naming there was now pain in it. Frodo let the potato slip from his fingers as he drew a sleeve across his tearing eyes. Well, this is unexpected, he thought, stifling a startled sob against his arm. You'd think he'd been chopping onions by the way he was getting on. But feeling sorry for himself and the life he chose was no excuse. Frodo blew his nose on a dish towel and retrieved the potato and peelers. He got to work, taking that senseless wayward passion of his and, folding it neatly, packed it away and shut his chest on it.

Sam woke some time later to the scent of chopped onion and sage. He blinked a moment, confused, thinking he had to be back home at Number Three for someone to be preparing food and it wasn't him. But the familiar inlaid ceiling curving over his head, that he had polished countless times before, brought him back to the present. He was snowbound in Bag End and at last count there was only one other hobbit in the hole. And that hobbit was cooking; from the smell of it, not badly. Sam's stomach gurgled in agreement. He'd not had a meal since noontime. He thought he'd best go see what was in the pot.            
      Sam's curiosity was such that he made his way down the smial quietly, not wanting to disturb Mr. Frodo's best efforts. For it was a rare sight indeed to catch his master in the kitchen occupying himself with its true purpose, and not just boiling water for tea. Sam peered around the turn to find him idly stirring a big pot of soup, thick and yellowish in colour. Squash and potatoes by the smell of it, with lots of butter and surprisingly compatible herbs. His master looked glum, sitting with his head resting on his hand as he turned the spoon. His eyes were lost in the fire.     
      "Something smells good," Sam said brightly and soon regretted it, for Mr. Frodo jumped near out of his skin, dropping the spoon and knocking over his stool. The soup pot swung, but stayed suspended over the fire, fortunately.          
      "Sam! You startled me," Frodo said, brushing a hot soup dribble from his waistcoat. "You were out cold last I looked in on you."          
      Sam flushed at the thought of Mr. Frodo watching him sleep. He hoped he hadn't been snoring.
      "Well, I guess you're ready for something to eat," Frodo said, indicating Sam should take a seat at the table.          
      "Begging your pardon, sir, but you've been doing all the serving tonight. Seeing as my hands are back in order, let me get the table ready," Sam suggested, for truly he was at a loss when he wasn't doing something for Mr. Frodo's sake.       
      "But..."           
      "I insist."       
      "If you insist," Frodo said with an easy shrug, stepping away from the fire and collecting some candles for the table. "It's your kitchen, Sam."    
      Sam got the bowls down and the spoons and napkins, careful with the crockery in that he really could trust his grip again. He ladled up the soup and brought out a square of sharp cheese and a bundle of biscuits he'd baked and salted the week before. It was a meal fit enough for two hobbits held-up in a storm. Sam poured from the bottle of wine Frodo had uncorked earlier and seated himself at the table across from him. Taking up his cup, Sam decided this occasion granted a toast.  
      "Here's to winter's glory, even if it means getting stuck in your own hole for most of it."           
      Frodo grinned and reached to click Sam's cup. "Hear, hear."       
      Sam dipped his spoon into the soup, not thinking much about it other than it was warm and thick and he was famished. He scooped it in his mouth only then to notice that his master was watching him with large, nervous eyes. Sam swallowed and made for another mouthful. "Sir?" he said as the potatoeyness went down smoothly, warming his belly.     
      Frodo kept two hands gripped on his cup. "Is it... all right?"  
      "Mmmhm," Sam mumbled, swallowing his third mouthful and reaching for a biscuit. "Try it yourself."             
      Frodo looked suspiciously at his spoon lying next to his bowl. "It's just, I've never had much luck in the kitchen. I didn't want to disappoint you."
      Sam felt the warmth in his belly spread to his heart as he took a big bite of dipped biscuit. "Mr. Frodo, it's quite good if I do say so," he said, mouth full. "And what with you not having much to work with and all."        
      Frodo still looked worried, but tried a taste of it anyway. He held it on his tongue a while, before giving it a swallow.               
      "There you go, see?"              
      "Not as good as when Bilbo used to make it, but I suppose I couldn't have hoped for better."     
      "You done fine, sir, and mind the ladle as I don't mean to stop at one bowl, neither."               
      Sam noted that Frodo barely finished his first bowl and a biscuit before resigning himself to the wine. What, you not been feedin' that Master Baggins of yours? Ted Sandyman had once snickered to Sam over a half-pint at the Dragon. He's got less flesh on 'im than a Frogmorton peach. It was well known the Gaffer wasn't terribly fond of the Miller, and his son's opinion wasn't far behind. But it wasn't for lack of offerings. that Mr. Frodo had been a light eater since Sam could remember. Bilbo was always fussing over his half-finished plate. However, it wasn't his fastidiousness at play tonight Sam sensed, but something deeper was gnawing at his master, and Sam wasn't any closer to guessing the cause.   
      "Are you feeling all right, Mr. Frodo?" Sam asked as he set his thrice emptied bowl aside and poured them both more wine.           
      Frodo was quiet, his fingers playing with the rim of his cup. "Aside from being buried alive, yes, I'm all right. But I suppose we should consider our survival plan if we prove to be in for a time."       
      Sam pushed back his chair and wiped his lips on his napkin, feeling quite full and happy about it. "You've seen to the drinking water," he said, taking a sip of wine and pointing a finger at the cauldron. "There's plenty of onions and carrots and other roots to feed us. And I know I stocked the cellar with a sack or two of lentils and ground wheat. I'll see to the baking in the morning."  
      "If we'll know when it's morning," Frodo said tiredly, eyeing his snow-packed window.  
      "I was thinking, sir," said Sam, now that his hunger had abated and his old hobbit sense was coming back into play. "We need to be going easy on the firewood. I laid a good cord about the hole late last week, but we've been going through it pretty fast. No telling how much longer we've got in here before I can get to the woodshed out back."            
      "You're right, Sam. I suppose I should have thought of that," Frodo said, looking at the kitchen blaze. "I could try to snuff this out with some pans." He got to his feet and reached for the skillet. But something down the smial caught his attention first. A quite serious something. "Sam! There's a river coming down my hall!"     
      Sam leapt to his feet. Indeed there was. A meandering snake of water was oozing its way along the fine wood floor.          
      Frodo groaned. "The snow in the entry, Sam. I fear it's melted."
      "I was wondering about that," Sam said, keeping his eye on the advancing flow. "I'll get the mop and buckets. See if you can't find some more pots and tubs, and we'll set up as much of what's left as we can."   
      An hour or so later, Frodo's kitchen was cluttered with pots, pans, and basins filled with mounds of snow. Sam bent over the mop, sleeves rolled, wringing out the final sweep of the hall now cleared of slush and water – the rest having found a short trip out of Bag End by way of the privy. Frodo brought another armful of sodden blankets and towels into the bathroom and stacked them up near the floor drain. Sam came in soon after and turned the last bucket of mop-water over the hole and shut the lid.
      Frodo sank to the lip of the tub, crossing his wet sleeves over the rest of his half soaked shirt. They'd been working hard enough to keep warm, but now the absence of fire in any of the rooms was quickly cooling down the whole of Bag End. It had grown utterly dark now, well past nightfall by their feel of it, and a few well-placed lanterns and candles were chasing shadows along the curved walls. Sam wrung out a clean cloth and wiped his face and hands with it, leaning heavily against a cabinet. 
      "All that snow come falling in just from opening the door?"  
      "It did."          
      "I imagine that was quite a sight," Sam said, a silly smile spreading across his face.
      Frodo felt his own match it. "See what happens when you leave a Baggins alone for the afternoon? I had a terrible time trying to beat it back with the hoe. I called for you Sam, hoping you'd show up and somehow remedy the situation."            
      Sam's hold on a growing laugh began to slip. "You forgot I was chasing sheep down in Bywater, today?"
      Frodo shook his head, trying to look indignant. "It wasn't entirely unreasonable to hope you'd be along to rescue me, because that's precisely what you did."    
      "Aye, some rescue I cooked up. My Gaffer'll wring my neck when he hears how I dropped in," Sam said, laughing. "Your face... when you saw that river coming for us. Trust me, Mr. Frodo, this has been the least ordinary of days to be certain. But if I wanted ordinary, I'd go work for that old Mr. Boffin up in Hardbottle."        
      Frodo's laugh had joined Sam's. "What's he paying nowadays, for after today I might have to see about offering you a raise."        
      "And for what?" Sam smiled. "I'll have you know, Mr. Frodo, there's more reward in tending Bag End than a sack of coin come Meresday."         
      Now despite Frodo's better understanding of his oldest and dearest friend, something about the way he was feeling tonight led his mind down a path of worry and doubt where his heart began to rush beyond its proper pace. The laughter dimmed on his lips. Yes, Sam did enjoy his work. And truthfully Frodo knew there was no better cared-for gentlehobbit in all the Shire than himself. He paid Sam well, but that unavoidable fact drove a wedge in the stirrings of what he perceived was impropriety rising in his chest at the sight of Sam in his damp shirt, smiling and laughing so beautifully among the dregs of this disaster.
      "Mr. Frodo?" Sam moved closer, quieted by Frodo's shift in mood, cloth still gripped in his hands.   
      Frodo put a reassuring hand to his arm. "Don't mind me, Sam. I'm just tired, is all. It's been a long day and we're both in need of dry clothes and warm beds."        
      Sam nodded, but his eyes were questioning. Frodo knew Sam wouldn't think twice about jumping into a pit of weasels after him, should ever his whimsy prove so reckless. What wouldn't you do for me if I but asked? But that was not what Frodo said, instead these words rose to his lips: "If there is anything I have said or done that's ever made you... uncomfortable, Sam. I..." Frodo couldn't believe what he was saying, but felt the need to finish. "I don't want there to ever be anything unpleasant between us."       
      Sam took his hand where it still clung to his arm and squeezed it. "No, Mr. Frodo. There's never been nothing like that."     
      When Frodo didn't answer Sam continued softly. "There's aught you could say to me, Mr. Frodo, that I wouldn't understand."       
      Frodo found a smile and coaxed it to his lips. "I know, Sam," he said, and squeezed Sam's hand in return.

They'd turned in soon after, Frodo to his freshly mopped bedchamber (Sam had insisted upon wiping down the soot) and Sam happily to his own room. Having already gotten a sampling of the bed, he was looking forward to taking a long rest in it, seeing as there was not likely to be a noisome Gamgee nor cock in the garden to come rattle him awake before dawn. After a quick clean-up and a fresh shirt (he was on his second now, thanks to Mr. Bilbo), he flopped down in the bed, pulling the blankets about him and was dreaming before his eyes closed.  
      Frodo was another matter. Not one for counting his blessings today half as well as Sam, he lay rolled in what few extra blankets he could scrounge from the bottoms of trunks and backs of chairs that had not been sacrificed for the hall damming. He lay curled on his stomach, spending the better part of the hour listening to the growing winds howling across the tops of his cold chimneys. They'd figured once huddled in their beds the need for a fire would go unnoticed. But Frodo, who was somewhat less padded than the average hobbit, was starting to shiver in his wrappings, his nose and eartips long gone cold. His mind drifted in his misery to Sam, asleep down the hall, warm and snug (which was making falling asleep all the more difficult).     
      He managed it though, but for only a few hours before a crashing sound woke him with a start. He sat up in the darkness and fumbled for the lantern. He lifted the shield and let the light beam across his room. The door stood open as he'd left it and all seemed quiet now unless the wind took to blowing again. Frodo thought of calling for Sam, but instead got out of bed and peered out his door. His home was dark and still, and the floor under his feet felt more like ice than polished wood. He passed down the smial, turning the lantern into every room until he came to the bathroom and found the source of the crash. The new window glass had given way, proving old Uncle Bilbo right again. The pane had separated under the pressure, shattering to the floor. Snow had fallen in one big wedge after it behind the tub and over the mountain of blankets. Now he had to wake Sam.
      Frodo hesitated at Sam's door and shielded the lantern, letting only a sliver of light help him through the room to the side of the bed. Sam lay on his back with an arm behind his head, sleeping peacefully. Frodo moved a hand to wake him, but paused over Sam's face and looked on him like he hadn't in so long, for fear of betraying himself.     
      Sam hadn't spent the night at Bag End since he was a wee thing. Bilbo would sometimes cart him off to sleep when he and the Gaffer had a mind to stay up half the night talking about the finer points of barley brewing. But this was not that Sam, hadn't been for quite some time. Sam was his own hobbit in mind and body, if not yet by law, and had assumed all the duties fitting a lad of some twenty-two years. His fond face had grown older and his eyes held all the knowing that comes from having the years to understand the choices life could offer. But of all those many splendid paths he could have taken, Sam had chosen him. When had that little Sam-lad with the skinned knees and high voice, who used to dote on his every word, become the very heart that beat inside him? When did you become my love, Sam? For I cannot remember there ever being another.               
      Frodo's fingers fell and stirred Sam's curls where they gathered at his forehead. Sam sighed in his sleep and smiled. Frodo's lips curved in answer and he knew it was hopeless for his longing to remain in the darkness any longer. He set the lantern on the bedside table, shut it, and gently slipped into the bed.

Sam, who by all his reckoning, was still having one of the best days of his life (if you didn't count the sheep chasing or chimney dropping parts of it), was not yet aware of how much better his evening had suddenly become. In his dreaming he was lying in a meadow on the softest grass next to the warmest pillow he'd ever put his arms around. It was somewhat difficult to hold onto, as the pillow was moving about slowly as if it were alive, and it had a scent to it that was wonderfully familiar. Well, if he had to guess, he'd say it smelled a lot like...     
      Mr. Frodo?   
      Sam was suddenly awake. Very awake, for his arms were indeed full of something alive. Something that was breathing and clinging to him just as pleasantly. It may have been darker than the bottom of an ink well in the room, but it wasn't hard to guess. Sam's heart took a lumbering leap, soaring in the realisation that at some point in the night his beloved master had come to bed with him. Frodo was lying against him with an arm limp over his chest, his cold nose tickling his collarbone. Sam's arms had gone off on their own in his sleep to wrap around Frodo's waist, which was where he now found them. Samwise, keep your wits about you. From the feel of his poor nose, Mr. Frodo's most likely come in to warm up – you being so worried over the firewood and all. So don't go getting all sorts of wild ideas in your head.           
      Frodo moved in his sleep, nestling even closer and pressing that cold nose into the nape of Sam's neck, making him twitch. Frodo answered with a sleepy sigh and 'wild' ideas were just about the only coherent thoughts Sam could form right then; that, and the notion that the arm lying under his master had long gone to sleep. And as much as Sam tried to fold himself in the remarkable knowledge he was at last holding Frodo, his mind kept returning to the stabbing ache in his arm. He had to move it soon or else utter a yelp – either of which would wake Frodo most assuredly. Sam shifted a little to his side and began to gently lift Frodo's head, unintentionally bringing his curls closer to his face until they teased his nose and his trapped arm slipped free before he...           
      "'choo!"         
      ...sneezed.      
      Frodo was awake now.          
      Sam froze stock still. Frodo was gripping the front of his shirt, startled, his forehead still pressed to Sam's chest.    
      Say something to him!       
      "Um... sorry, sir. M' arm fell asleep."
      "Did I...?" Mr. Frodo sounded just as confused as he was, but in the darkness Sam couldn't be sure. Not when his tingling arm was flopping of its own accord between them. "Oh, Sam. I'm sorry. I was cold."    
      "That's all right. Just gave me a start, is all."
      "Oh," Frodo said, lifting his head and beginning to untangle himself. "Well, I... I guess I'm not that cold anymore. Maybe I should..."           
      "Stay?" Sam pleaded, grasping his master's hand blindly, as if the mere thought of losing what had been so precious to him not a minute ago (to a nagging arm no less) was going to tear him apart. He blinked into the darkness, wishing he could see Frodo.            
      "I suppose I could," Frodo said softly, lying beside him again, though not as close. Sam wanted close, and shifted on his side so he could curl an arm around him. "You're so warm," Frodo murmured, as Sam guided his head back to his shoulder.              
      "I'm thinking it'd be a shame to waste it," Sam said, dropping his nose into the top of Frodo's whorly hair, nuzzling him. If he'd learned anything today it was not to pass on a good thing. That advice hadn't steered him wrong yet, and my, if this here cuddle wasn't a pint-and-a-half fuller than the bathing even.     
      "Your nose is cold," Sam said as he threaded his fingers into Frodo's rich tangle – so much softer than he'd dreamed. "And your poor ears," he said, cupping one in his palm to warm it. Frodo shivered and hugged Sam closer until they lay all against each other, toes brushing.             
      "I like this," Frodo whispered. "Would you just hold me for a while?" 
      Would he? Sam was very aware he'd waited half his life to hold his master like this and if Mr. Frodo couldn't feel that hammering in his chest... "All night, if you'd let me."       
      "I'd hope for even longer," Frodo answered, and they lay together, contented as only two hobbits could be on a cold snowbound night.

Longer than the days in a lifetime and closer than the morning dew on the leaves was what Frodo could wish for right now, lying in the arms of his warm, loving Sam. How many nights had he wrapped himself around his pillow, weakening against his better judgements to dare to dream? All you had to do was ask.               
      Frodo lay in deep contentment moving only to the rise and fall of Sam's breath, slow and deep. The thud of his strong heart beating against his own was a delight beyond his own imaginings. (Pillows, after all, don't have heartbeats.) But in time – was it minutes? hours? – even this was not enough to calm the smouldering within that keepsake box of Frodo's heart, threatening to ignite and burn it all to ashes. It became impossible for him to hold still when there was so much... Sam... to explore. His hand began to wander up Sam's arm to his back and down his side in slow, comforting strokes. His fingers missed Sam's curls and found a way to wind themselves in them, his thumb brushing Sam's eartip, making him shiver. Sam's restless fingers were soon joining his in the same curious wanderings, rubbing circles over his shoulders and back until light fingertips traced up the back of his neck, stirring goose prickles on his skin.
      Frodo could hear Sam's breathing deepen and hasten along with his own. It wasn't just hands that wouldn't lie still anymore, but the whole of their bodies wanted to move and share in their close, quiet dance. Frodo could feel the buttons of Sam's shirt tickling his breast bone. The scent of the old cedar chest was caught in the thick weave mingled with Sam's skin and the essence of lavender. He ran his nose along the inner edge of the collar to savour it, feeling Sam tense at his sniffing.
      Sam made a noise in his throat that tugged at Frodo's heart as Sam rolled him to his back, his arms gliding under Frodo's shoulders to reach up and hold his head. Sam's thumbs brushed his temples as their foreheads touched before his nose descended to trace the curves of his ear. This was too much and Frodo let a sound escape his throat. It was not a moan, exactly, though one or several were likely to follow shortly if Sam didn't stop blowing in his ear like that. He reached for Sam in the dark, gripping his shoulders as Sam's hand slid down his side, past the hem of his nightshirt to graze around his bare hip and...     
      "Sam!"           
      His master's urgent voice broke the silence and a very startled Sam pushed off him, sitting up so fast his ears were ringing; though he supposed they would be ringing anyway for all the blood that had left his head and settled elsewhere. "I'm sorry, Mr. Frodo. It's just, you felt so good and I thought..." 
      "I'm sorry," Frodo said, breathing rapidly. "I didn't mean for you to stop, I just..." Sam could hear him scramble to sit up, clanking something in the dark until a slip of golden light burst from around the lantern shield causing them to squint. "Sorry," he said, turning the beam until it lit the wall behind them, casting the room in an easy glow. "I just wanted... no, I needed, to see you, your face."  
      Sam's startle soon eased into delight as his eyes adjusted to the sight of his master sitting before him in the bed, hair mussed and sweet mouth parted with quickened breaths. He hoped his face was half as welcome a vision to Frodo who indeed seemed to be just as captivated; his wistful gaze falling over Sam's half-untucked shirt and skewed collar.    
      "I needed to know you weren't just another dream I'd have to wake from alone."     
      As overcome with love as Sam was at that moment, it bruised his giving heart to know that Frodo had been lonely, for even a day. "I reckon it ain't a dream, Mr. Frodo. Unless it's mine, but they'd never turned out this good before."      
      The adoring smile that spread over Frodo's face then nearly turned all Sam's limbs to pudding. Nearly was fortunate because what Frodo said next would require some of them.     
      "Sam?" Frodo asked, nervously. "Would you mind if I asked you to kiss me now?"     
      "No..." Sam squeaked before his throat closed on him. Ask me? 
      Frodo's glance dropped to the coverlet. "Because I'd really like you to, and... oh!"            
      In one scrambled move, Sam had leaned forward over Frodo's lap to do just what he'd been wishing about for years. Nose bumped nose in his eagerness, and a small apology and adjustment were made before Sam could at last feel the soft curve of Frodo's lips against his own. Sam didn't have a great deal of knowledge in this, other than what most young hobbits learn from playing party games in the bushes on Lithedays. But he couldn't be doing too badly if he was making Frodo breathe like that as their shy lips brushed and meshed, learning the shape of one another. Sam's heart let loose a palmful of butterflies at the small sounds Frodo made as they turned their heads to find what fit and what this or that would feel like if they moved a tiny bit or suckled just here? Sam wondered if it was better to try and watch (for Frodo's eyelashes were quite a sight when closed) or to shut his eyes and just feel. Closed was better and the feel, well, it felt like nothing he'd ever known, or maybe it was a little like drinking too much wine on a warm summer day, but without the bellyache and told 'ee so from his Gaffer.            
      Kissing Frodo was all so new, so dear, Sam's head was spinning with it. His arms were uncertain of their balance as he leaned in for more, and more, and another, almost tipping. Frodo spared him his reach by sinking back on the pillows, drawing Sam down with him. Once settled with arms about each other, the kissing continued in earnest when the unexpected flick of Frodo's tongue across his lips sent Sam reeling. He hadn't expected that, having not kissed anyone quite like this before (not even close, by all reckoning). But oh, how he'd wanted to know what it was like to taste Frodo. And for Frodo to taste him, too; like sharing a bowl of berries and cream together, but that was giving him even wilder ideas that were best kept under wraps until he got this right.     
      Frodo's lips parted, inviting, and Sam's tongue seemed to need no instruction as he took his first tentative sweep. Mmm. Frodo drew him in, meeting him, savouring, and this was better, warmer, closer than anything else. Frodo's sweet mouth was feeding a hunger in him so strong Sam thought he might weep for all the wanting that was curling up inside him and plunging. Frodo's arms circled his back, clenching his shirt, pulling him closer so Sam lay half over him, his fingers in his curls, kissing him deeply, holding on like his heart would shatter if they ever had to stop.

Frodo was lost in the feel of Sam pressed against him, his arms around him, his tongue gliding against his own. Those deep, wet strokings were harvesting notes of delight that rose and flew out of him unheeded. He wanted to catch them all and hold them, take their time with this, but he wanted, he wanted... And here was Sam all along so ready to give. He couldn't help but take as much as he could hold; which Frodo suspected, after years of not kissing Sam, was a great deal.         
      This was what all the poems were about, even those obtuse Second Age verses. He'd suspected the elves knew what they were rhyming about, but never knew himself, never had the chance. He'd never been so completely in love before. In love? Of course you're in love; why do you think you've been so miserable? He wanted to sing with the splendour of it, but his mouth was very busy at the moment. So moaning would have to do. And yes, Frodo had indeed found a useful purpose for the expression, growing even more expressive whenever Sam's throaty gasps answered him back.     
      Frodo panted for breath as Sam's kisses found their way to his neck, tasting the sensitive flesh with small licks. He whimpered and tugged at Sam's collar, urging him closer, if closer were possible with half Sam's body sprawled over him. But there was so much more to his desire than what lips could tell, and he wanted Sam to know it and soon. "Sam," he whispered, kissing his cheek. "Come lie over me."       
      "I am, aren't I?" Sam gasped, confused, looking down on his master through a blurring of love and desire.           
      "All of you, Sam," Frodo said, as urgent fingers latched to his trouser pocket, tugging. Sam lifted up and Frodo slid a leg under him, so when they lay back down they fit in a manner Sam had never heard anyone mention in party games before. His air rushed all out of him at what lying with someone like this felt like. And even more overwhelming was to feel and know his master had been aching in all the same places, too. He wanted to lie there pressed to that maddening pulse and never let go, but Frodo was kissing him again, hungrily, his fingers beginning to undo his shirt buttons one after another until he was able to pull it up over his head and toss it aside. Sam's fingers tangled in the hem of Frodo's nightshirt and with a struggle of arms, shirt strings, and a trapped head, Sam managed to get the fool thing off. And what he saw before him drew his mouth open into a helpless 'O' of wonder.
      Though he would have been the last to describe himself as such, Frodo Baggins was a hobbit blessed with a rather striking physical beauty more akin to the likes of elves than your average, average-looking hobbit. Not to say that hobbits don't find button noses, round bellies and woolly toes charming, if not downright attractive, but Frodo was not a hobbit destined for an average life and had a set of eyes on him that could melt snowpeaks – not least of all poor Sam Gamgee's wits as he got his first good look on him: all cream skin, graceful limbs, and smooth narrow waist. It was the waist and what was waiting there for him that caught Sam in a spell. Frodo's fingers traced up Sam's bare arm where he leaned over him. "Sam? Are you still with me?"      
      Sam's eyes shot right back up to his master's face. A terrible dizziness was threatening to knock him flat.     
      "Sam...? Sam!"    
      "I think I ought to lie down," Sam said and slid to the side, flopping into the pillows. Stars prickled his sight as the room spun and... nothing.

When Sam came back, his cheek was buried in the pillow and Frodo was nestled next to him under the covers, stroking his hair whilst humming a tune in his ear.             
      "Mmpf?" Sam asked.   
      Frodo smiled, touching his cheek. "My dearest Sam, what a day you've had."     
      "What? Where'd I go?" Sam asked, looking around to get his bearings. It was cold in the room, but the bed was warm and Frodo's bare skin even warmer.       
      "I don't know, but you didn't go for long, and I'm glad you're back."     
      You done fainted on him is what you did! "Did I?" Sam was mortified.              
      Frodo looked on him with frank adoration and kissed his lips. "No worries, dear Sam. None. Just lie back and let me do the rest."  
      The rest? Did I miss any of it? He hoped not, because Frodo was climbing on top of him and kissing his bared chest with soft lips.       
      "You're so beautiful to me," he whispered, his now warmed nose playing in the curls across Sam's chest. "My golden-haired Sam. How I've watched you and wondered..." Frodo's tongue teased his nipple a moment, drawing its full attention before he shifted lower to lap at his belly fur. Nimble fingers were working the buttons of his borrowed trousers free. And for this Sam was grateful to be lying flat, because in a moment a warm palm slipped in and closed over what had been demanding all the attention from the beginning, ahh.  
      "I think I've found the problem," Frodo murmured against his navel, dipping his tongue in and out as he began to stroke Sam deftly under the loosened cloth. Sam clamped a hand over his mouth to keep from shouting. If he thought he'd been seeing stars before...
      As much as Sam was drowning in the touch, the glide, the thudding ache, he knew he shouldn't be letting Mr. Frodo do this, not yet, not for long... oh, but maybe a bit more wouldn't... Sam shut his eyes tight, trying not to think about what was happening too closely since it seemed to be pleasing his master so much... but there was no not thinking about it when Frodo's tongue left his belly and dipped to circle once around that most sensitive...  
      "Aie!" Sam yelped, turning to his side and tossing Frodo off. Frodo caught himself in the coverings, staring startled up at Sam. "Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo, but that can't happen right now."    
      Frodo's lips curled into a knowing grin that might just make 'that' happen anyway. "I know what happens, Sam. I want it to happen. If you'll let me." 
      Sam gathered him up in his arms and held him tightly, kissing his forehead – all his soft, smooth skin lying flushed against his. "Not like that, it ain't," he said, kissing Frodo's lips, his nose, hands wandering all over what was so fine and fair. "Not this time. Not if I have anything to say about it. We're both in this together, if you follow." 
      "I follow," Frodo breathed, and they both reached down to divest Sam of the remains of his garments.

Sam's full nakedness against his own was quickly overbearing all Frodo's senses. Sam was an endless discovery all under his immediate reach as he writhed, caressing all those wonderful places where Sam was roughened and strong or soft and curly or slick and warm beyond belief. He wanted Sam so desperately he couldn't think straight. Cobwebs of desire were tangling in his mind as Sam kissed him and kissed him, rolling him over to slide between his willing thighs and fit. The peak of Sam's wanting lay against his own, and Frodo did his best to remember to breathe and hold on as they began to move together in long undulations of pleasure.              
      "So good..." he breathed in Sam's ear where he'd broken away from their kissing to nip and lick at the beads of sweat gathering at his neck. He hadn't tasted Sam here yet, and somehow knew he'd be missing plenty more places as well, because this just wasn't going to last much longer. It couldn't, not when the pressure was tightening so unbearably around them, so close, so close and... sudden heat, liquid and smooth, was spreading over his belly. Frodo's eyes shot open. Is that me? It couldn't be because he was still so, so...         
      oh... 
      Sam was moaning in his ear, clenching his arm, eyes screwed shut. His body shook, slackened, slowed, and stopped.               
      no... 
      "Sam...?" Frodo whimpered, touching his damp curls, fearful he'd gone right out on him again.    
      Sam lifted his head, befuddled and bewildered, but the tender glow in his eyes when they managed to focus on Frodo's made it all worth it. Well, almost.       
      Sam's eyes grew huge. "Oh! I thought...! You... you didn't..."       
      "On... your back," Frodo said, unable to make himself any more articulate, as he pushed a dazed Sam over, reversing their joining, and slid himself into all that wonderful wetness. Yes. Oh, he wasn't going to need much... Frodo kissed Sam sharply as he moved over him. "Hold me, hold me."       
      Sam's strong hands smoothed down his back to his hips, pulling along with his pushing, as Frodo shifted about for just the right... there. Sam had a look of amazement on him that Frodo had to shut his eyes against because right now he was going to burst apart if he didn't... if he couldn't feel, and feel... One of Sam's hands left his back and slipped down between them to trap and squeeze while the other continued its earlier attempt to journey over Frodo's hip to cup his bottom and...     
      "Sam!"           
      But this time the shout was for a good reason as the pleasure peaked and washed through Frodo at last, releasing him, filling him with wave on wave of love and elation. He fell against Sam, spent and shaking, lost in the following glow that rippled up from his belly and spread to every limb, mollifying his mind, lulling it helplessly toward sleep... only marginally aware of Sam who was hugging him tight, kissing his cheek... telling him how beautiful he was, how perfect... how his he was now and always... always.

Morning broke cold and sparkling on all the new fallen snow heaped like great white sea crests over the Western hills as Hobbiton's residents dug and poked their way out of their buried holes and homes, scratching their heads at the sky as if to ask, "Who ordered all this?" Quite possibly, it had been the two happy hobbits sleeping wrapped up together in a spare room in Bag End, not bothered by the sunlight which only reached them in their snug snow-burrow as a dim filtered glow on their peaceful faces.    
      Sam woke first, thinking he heard someone calling his name. But it wasn't his master, who'd slept deeply in his arms the whole of the night, lost in pleasant dreams that left a trace of a smile on his lips. Frodo had fallen fast asleep at the conclusion of their loving, and Sam had kissed him and cleaned him, taking him into his grateful arms, watching his quiet face until the lantern finally sputtered and went out. Not wanting to wake him now, Sam tucked his nose in Frodo's curls, breathing deeply, as pleased as a hobbit can be waking to find his arms full of his heart's every delight. 
      "Samwise! Are you in there?"  
      Noodles! His old dad was calling to him from somewhere in Bag End.          
      "Mr. Frodo, Mr. Frodo, wake up!"       
      Frodo stirred, trying to bat at Sam's hand. "No, Sam. It's early."   
      "My dad!"     
      Frodo opened an eye. "Your what?"  
      "He's in the hole!"    
      Frodo sat bolt upright, gathering the sheets to his bare chest, as Sam did likewise.
      "Are you sure?" he whispered. "I don't hear anything."           
      "Mr. Frodo, can you hear us?" They both jumped. The muffled call came from up the smial. It sounded like Nick Cotton.        
      Frodo relaxed and fell back into the pillows, groaning. "It's just the chimneys, Sam. Sound carries. Tell them to come back later; we don't want to be rescued."             
      "But, Mr. Frodo, my dad's up there," Sam whispered, leaning over Frodo who was stretching into a lazy yawn. He pulled Sam down on him and wrapped his leg around him, nuzzling his ear, nibbling the tip invitingly. "But..." Sam tried to protest.            
      "Hullo! Can you hear us?" "Hullo!" Calls were coming down several chimneys at once now, including the one in their room. But Sam couldn't tell rightly as Frodo was kissing him, hard.      
      Frodo grumbled and tore his lips from Sam's long enough to sit up and shout, "Go away! We don't wish to be rescued today. Come back tom–" Sam clamped a hand over his mouth, but Frodo only laughed, grasping his palm and licking...        
      "Mr. Frodo, was that you? Aye! He's down here, Gaffer! Have you seen Sam, Mr. Frodo? We found his cloak and gloves up here."    
      Sam took Frodo's chin in his hands, shaking his head at the devilish look gathering in Frodo's eyes. "Don't you dare."     
      "Sam, you're no fun," Frodo said with a pout, crawling around him over the bedsheets to shout at the fireplace. "Yes! I have! He's in good hands! Very good... ouch!"     
      "What was that, Mr. Frodo? You say Sam's down there with you?"    
      Frodo turned to give Sam a wicked look, rubbing the spot on his backside where Sam had pinched him. "You'll regret that," he said quietly, giving Sam a look that made him consider sending the rescue party packing after all. 
      But there wasn't much choice in the matter a second later when a burst of light streaked down the smial from the parlour, accompanied by a rapping on the glass. They'd dug out the front window. That got them moving, up and dressed – Frodo dashing off to his bedroom for a robe. Sam had his buttons buttoned in most the right places and one brace clipped by the time old Tom, Jolly and Nick and Sam's Gaffer crawled in the front window, which Frodo regrettably had left unlatched the night before.        
      "I see yer all right then," said the Gaffer, eyeing Sam's borrowed clothing with suspicion. "But tell me Samwise, how'd you get in here, the first place?"

Now here's as good as any place to end this tale as Bag End's numerous residents will be streaming back in the smials soon enough. But leave it to say, after that day Frodo Baggins didn't think so carelessly about the weather, and Sam Gamgee thought twice about walking out into snowstorms. Both had a good laugh and many more stolen evenings together in a shared bed with a lit fireplace before they got themselves all tied up in some nasty business with a wizard and Bilbo's old magic ring, which sent them both over the sea after a time never to be heard from again. But that's another tale from a long time ago, and one would probably rather hear what happened later on that day of the rescue, so we'll leave with that.   
      After tea and some fresh-baked scones (courtesy of Sam), Frodo Baggins saw his guests on their way back out the window to continue their digging efforts further up the Row. To his disappointment, Sam went with them.     
      "There's a job to see to, Mr. Frodo," he said with a regretful shrug as he stepped out into the snow.             
      So Frodo went back to bed and slept half the day away until Sam returned in the afternoon, dressed and washed, to draw the curtains back on the cleared window in Frodo's bedchamber. He whistled a pleasant tune before he bent to his master's ear and whispered, "Wake up. Mr. Frodo, wake up. Your bath is ready!"