This was written for the Hobbit Smut Hold Me, Heal Me Challenge
By Our Reckoning
The wind blew across the book, flipping back the pages and snuffing out the candle with a hiss. Frodo sat in the fire-lit dusk in Bilbo's old chair; the freshly penned ink smeared under his remaining fingers as he reached to flatten the curling page.
The sudden movement set his shoulder to aching and he cursed it, the wind and the candle, for startling him from what had been a prolific writing session. He set his pen into the inkpot and rose, leaning across the desk to swing the shutters closed with a bang.
The sound rattled through the smial and the shuffling in the kitchen stilled. Frodo sat and listened as soft footfalls left the kitchen and crossed the parlour through the main hall to his study door.
Frodo didn't answer and sat rubbing his eyes. The pungent scent of ink drifted from his hand, sore and cramped from many hours at the pen. He sat with his back to the door as Sam repeated the question.
"Frodo, are you...?"
"I'm fine, Sam," he said, knowing that the bitterness of the autumn gust had carried into his dry voice.
Behind, he could hear Sam set a hand against the door trim, waiting for Frodo to turn. Frodo pushed his fingers against his eyes until they sparked.
"I've got tea on," Sam said and waited another breath before walking away.
Sorry, Sam. The words wanted to jump from his throat, but Frodo felt there was little good left in it. He'd said it too much too often of late and now his silence and Sam's dutiful reply merely invited the seeping sting of regret.
Frodo wanted to blame the turn in the weather for his sullen mood, but he could not deny the passage of time, dragging him down like a cloak in heavy rain. As the book drew it its close, the days continued to mark him wound for wound each passing month. Soon it would be October, and the knife in the dark was making itself known as a growing ache that would soon flare into a constant burning no balm could cool.
The blithe days of summer had passed and now the leaves were turning and the winds changing, gathering breath. The smial hearths were lit again and the nights came sooner and would grow longer, deepening along with the dread growing in Frodo's heart. But on this eve, the real trouble was the quiet. Bag End had been silent all that long day. Aside from Sam's slow footfalls and knocking of crocks or the snapping of burning wood, there was little to fill the void left by the absence of a bairn's wailing and her mother's cooing.
Sam's young daughter was cutting her first tooth and nothing had been able to soothe the child for a week or more--no tincture or salve could stop the tender pain.
"Tis expected at this age," Rose had said, bundling Elanor up in her apron and hurrying her from the kitchen, a fauntling's rhyme on her lips. Frodo had moved to stand but Sam eased him down. "There's no need for you to fuss, Mr. Frodo. Rosie will see to her. You finish your supper now." And Frodo had tried to hide his relief as the piercing cries receded deeper into the Hill.
But even the sharp keen of Elanor's troubles was not nearly as painful to Frodo as the cheery news that Rose and the babe were expected up north for a week to visit Cotton cousins, or so the story was told to Frodo one night as Sam and he shared pipeweed in the study. It was a rare quiet moment for just the two of them, stolen during the scant hours when Elanor slept soundly at her mother's side.
"I'm sorry, Sam," he'd said in response to the announcement.
"There's no reason. Rosie's been wanting to visit her cousins. They've yet to see our Ellie. Old Gammer Brown is too frail for travel. They've been begging to send a trap by for months now."
For the sake of a smile for Sam, Frodo pretended that was true.
Sam had stood on the stoop for a quarter hour that morning, watching the fading dust left by the trap's wheels after he kissed his wife and child goodbye and sent them on. It was hard for Sam, this first parting, but he'd kept a good face on and set upon rolling out fresh dough for apple tarts he knew Frodo liked, all the while humming a tuneless rhyme.
Now they were at home alone for the first time in a year or more and the silence was seeping under Frodo's skin. All there was to do was write.
The words had come slowly at first, when he began the task of finishing Bilbo's book. Frodo's splintered memories of the quest had all fallen away like a shattered window. He picked them up one by one, though they cut him, and he wondered if the reassembly would bleed him dry. There were days when the pain in his hand would come on so hard he could scarcely hold the pen, but other days it was as if his mind had been freed like a dam in a spring storm. He would burn though a dozen candles, writing until his back ached and his eyes burned with wax smoke. He'd drop the pen, blinking into the darkness of the study, his mind still half-lost over distant rivers and valleys-- to find a platter of cold supper had been left by the door without a knock.
With Rose and Elanor gone, Frodo had written from the early morn until the wind closed his page and snuffed his candle. He sat in the glow of the hearth which Sam must have come in to light some hours past, though he had failed to notice until now. The drifting scent of cooling tarts and fresh cream lingered in the hall.
Frodo sucked the bitter ink from his thumb and rose to find Sam.
They took a small supper together at the kitchen table under the small window, which reflected the glow of the dying woodstove. Frodo ate slowly under Sam's wary yet casual glances, hidden under the guise of idle conversation. His friend spoke of harvest's end and the preparations he wanted to make for storing the bounty, and who needed supplies for trade and which fences should be rebuilt and which ewes should be sold at market.
"I trust you'll see to these things," Frodo answered around a bite of sweet apple and crisp crust. The flavours melted on his tongue and sunk into his stomach where they pooled in a knot. Frodo drank from his cup and pushed his half-finished plate away, earning him a quick look Sam could not hide.
"I'm sorry, Sam," Frodo said, not wanting to meet the worry in Sam's eyes. "But I need to finish my writing tonight."
Sam was on his feet, drawing back Frodo's chair. "I know it, Mr. Frodo. You've been needing with a bit of quiet."
Frodo took Sam's arm to stand. To his shame, he was weak getting to his feet, and held on longer than he'd wished. The quiet had been his undoing, blowing him apart like the pages of the book. He leaned into Sam as he regained his legs and moved his shoulder. Indeed, the first unmistakable twinges of the Morgul knife were awakening in his flesh.
"What's is it, Frodo?" Sam asked, laying a gentle hand over the wounded shoulder. "Is it coming on so soon?"
"I'll be all right in a moment or two, Sam," Frodo lied. "The writing will keep my mind off it. Would you mind bringing some tea in, in about an hour?"
Sam nodded and handed Frodo the candlestick from the mantle to help light his way back to the study. "See that you don't tire yourself too much," Sam said, trying to sound cheerful. "As my Gaffer used to say, 'There's only so's much work as...'"
Frodo left him hanging on his adage as he accepted the brass handle and quickly retreated to his post at the writing desk.
The moon eluded him. Frodo stared at his notes, drawn in slivers, quarter-circles and halves, trying to tease out the patterns and make sense of the dates he'd scratched along the timeline. His chapters were finished, copied and dusted, but somehow he'd gone wrong in the naming of days. He'd kept the moon at hand to guide him through each chapter start and finish and she'd never failed him until the climb through the Morgul Vale. The Red Book lay across the blotter, open and waiting to receive the final corrections, but the moon's phases blurred, refusing to show her rightful face.
Frodo raked his fingers through his curls and set the pen aside to lay his head upon his folded arms. He closed his eyes and tried to see far away and regain his steps along the broken stairs where Gollum had lead him, footsore and wretched, coated in soot and stooped under the burning weight of the Ring. Frodo heard the distant roaring of the mountain and felt the hardness of the rock. The old fears rose in his heart has he raised his head to look above and seek the moon shrouded in Mordor's black skies.
He must have dreamt of the army, of the endless marching line of orcs and the cadence of their iron-shod feet, for when his thoughts realigned, Frodo's heart was thumping hard and Sam stood at his elbow, reading over the notes lying scattered across the desk.
Sam did not know Frodo had awoken. He wore his sorrow and worry plainly upon his face as he read, the words moving soundless on his lips. Frodo watched with a half-opened eye as Sam reached to drag a sheet out from under the body of the book. The sparse candlelight lit the page--the phases of the moon and the dates that marked her dressing and undressing. Sam turned it about, shaking his head, and moved his hand as if to lift the pen from its niche. But he hesitated and his hand sank to his side.
"Please," Frodo said, startling him. "If you know where I have erred in the reckoning of days, please correct me."
Sam stared at him openly, seemingly for the first time since the morning Rose Cotton moved into Bag End as Sam's new bride. In his gentle eyes there burned an unspoken question so desperate it made Frodo want to catch Sam's face between his hands and shout for him to say what his lips always held back. But instead Sam looked away, shaking his head, and the moment passed.
"Begging you pardon, Mr. Frodo, but the gibbous moon wasn't rising on the night we summited the Stair. I couldn't see much for certain, but I do know when the full of her was behind the clouds. You've got a day or two missing from that leg of the journey, if you'll not mind me saying."
Frodo straightened himself, stretching the dull pain in his shoulder, made worse by sleeping slumped in his Uncle's long-abandoned chair.
Frodo nodded to the pen. "Please, Sam."
Sam lifted the quill and tapped the nib on the lip of the inkpot. Then he set his hand flat on the page and in slow steady script, began to write the rune numbers and days by rote. A reckoning of time that had confounded Frodo for months swiftly came to light in a few short scratches of pen held firm in Sam's hand.
"There," Sam said, blowing on the page and passing it to Frodo. "You had missed two days and put another for when there was only a single eve. But if you read it now, you'll see: the moon is right again."
Frodo eyed the winking moon as redrawn by Sam, and saw indeed where he had gone wrong, but the note was unclear.
"Sam, you say here on March 13 that you fell...? At the base of the iron door to Cirith Ungol?"
Sam came close, his breath warming Frodo's cheek as he leaned in to point at the date in question. "Aye, it was more of a collision, to be honest. It knocked me right out of my sense for the better of an afternoon. I hit it full speed, I was in such a state, needing to get back to you."
"And I was in the Tower..." Frodo said slowly. They'd not spoken of this chapter in the quest, save only once, while hidden in the crags below Mount Doom, starved and plagued with thirst. Yet Frodo had been wounded even then to learn Sam had been forced to leave him behind and take up the quest on his own.
"I'm so sorry Sam," Frodo said, feeling the full of his heart behind the words. Sam turned to question him and their cheeks touched briefly in the pass.
"The Ring was my burden," Frodo said, whispering the name for the first time since the crack of fire. Even the name of It tasted black as the bitter ink in his throat. "It should never have come to you."
"There was nothing for it, Mr. Frodo. The job had to be done. But I was a fool of the worst kind to leave you . . . lying all alone like that. I'd have bit the rocks in two if it meant I could have laid you safe."
Sam's sincere face blurred in Frodo's eyes, and he had to turn away to rub them. "I should get to bed," he said, clearing his throat. "It's late and you've helped me a good deal."
Sam straightened slowly. "Yes, sir," he said, sadly. "I'll see to the fires."
The evening deepened and the quiet thickened with it. Frodo could hear Sam moving about Bag End, shutting windows and extinguishing candles--his nightly rituals. Frodo stood by his bedside, unbuttoning his waistcoat. He'd forgotten to set a cup of water at his bedside table, but thought better of going back into the kitchen for one. It seemed best to let the memories stirred by the reckoning of the timeline fade with the waning moon.
Sam was at the doorway.
Frodo knew this without turning or hearing the least sound. It was a knowledge they always had--an awareness of each other that had guided them through dark places. In this terrible quiet, it was as if he could feel Sam's heart beating right through him. Please, Sam. Do not linger. Let me sleep and forget.
"Is there anything I can get for you, Frodo?"
Sam's question was easily read, but the lack of title was not. Sam never spoke familiar to him when Rose was about. Frodo finished unbuttoning the embroidered cloth and let the garment slip off his arm. He didn't turn around. "No, Sam. I'll be fine. Thank you."
Sam stayed at his post as Frodo busied himself with the buttons of his cuffs. The right came undone easily enough, but the left... his trio of fingers fumbled it again and again until he sighed, "Sam, if you're going to just stand there, would you please...?"
Sam came up behind him and took his arm, freeing his hand in a simple move of thumb and forefinger. He stood close, fingers still clinging, the brush of his thumb gentle against the inside of Frodo's wrist. He stood so close, Frodo could feel Sam's breathing stir his curls against his shoulder, bared by the loosened sleeve.
Sam turned Frodo's hand over to caress his palm. "I miss you," he said.
Frodo's gaze dropped to the slow circling brush of Sam's thumb. The simple touch sent a tingling branching into every end of him. Frodo let his hand close about Sam's and he began to speak, but Sam turned his lips to Frodo's cheek to kiss him softly. "Hush," he said in his ear. "No words."
Sam's arms circled Frodo as he continued to undo the buttons of his shirt, allowing it to fall off Frodo's shoulders to the floor. Sam's warm hands rested at Frodo's neck a moment before they passed over his skin to stroke his arms. Frodo's breath quickened as Sam's lips touched the back of his neck softly, then travelled to his shoulder, bringing warmth to scarred flesh and muscle that had been slowly going cold.
Desire melted deep in Frodo, coursing low and lifting him into arousal. There had been times, during their journey, when they'd reach for one another in the dark: in the shadows of Moria, in the roots of Lothl—rien's mallorns, the privacy of Faramir's cave, or during those moonlit nights spent in their little tent on the edge of the emptied battlefield. They'd hold each other close and share the comfort of caressing hands and soft kisses before dropping off to sleep.
But those innocent kisses, born of fear, despair and relief, were nothing like this. Sam turned Frodo's chin to take his face in his hands, his eyes wet with love, as he sought Frodo's mouth with a quiet hunger. At last, it's come to this, Frodo thought, surrendering. And I will not regret.
They fell back on the bed together, kissing. Frodo pulled Sam's shirttails free that he might revel in the feel of Sam's back and shoulders, warm and powerful under his hands. Their arousals met hard between them, still hidden in their trousers, as they lay side by side, legs locked and arms caressing skin and fingers burying in curls. They pressed and rocked together, voicing their want in soft moans between bruising kisses that swallowed their sounds.
Frodo knew these muffled sounds; he'd heard them late in the night when sleep would not come, issuing from the bedchamber Sam shared with his Rose. The couple were quiet, as they both knew sleep was precious to Frodo and now to little Elanor, but still their loving reached him through the open smial, bringing peace and hope to his heart, as well as a secret flush of warmth, to hear his Sam so satisfied.
If he lay dead still sometimes, Frodo could hear other sounds in the dark, close wet sounds that made Rose moan in delight, which would often be tempered by Sam's gentle shush. He had often lain awake, aroused, wondering what Sam could be doing to pleasure her without the tell-tale creaking of thrusts.
"Sam," he whispered between kisses. "I want you to please me like you do Rose."
Sam smiled, and his eyes sparkled even in the dark. "Aye, Frodo, I will," he said, and moved to drag Frodo's trousers half-unbuttoned from his hips and legs. Sam sat up to remove his own and then lay down next to Frodo to press the tense heat of their bodies together. "You're not made like a lass, but I can please you all the same," Sam said, and kissed Frodo deeply as his hands moved to knead the flesh of Frodo's bottom. Sam's fingers slid along the cleft and under to cup Frodo's balls, and he moaned, kissing Sam hard, begging him to do what he would.
Sam shifted down the bed and eased Frodo's thighs apart with a nudge of his nose. Frodo turned his face to the pillow to hide the hot flush that took him as Sam draped Frodo's leg over his shoulder to allow him to taste the inner flesh of his thighs. Frodo quivered as Sam began to kiss along the full hard heat of him, and cried out when at last, Sam worked his lips and tongue together to draw him in slow.
Enveloped in wetness and heat, Frodo forgot the pain and dread of September and burned in the heaven of his beloved's mouth. He moaned, pleading for more with each nudge of his hip and was rewarded with Sam's sure licks and suckles, building steadily until the tension became unbearable and Frodo curled his fingers into Sam's hair, and thrust and thrust until the hot rush of want was all spilled out of him.
Sam took him, then. Moving up, he kissed Frodo hard, his hands everywhere, and turned him on his belly to lay over him, the heat of his shaft seeking entry between Frodo's legs. Sam held Frodo's hip until he found a way through, slickened with saliva, that sent him thrusting against Frodo's backside, gaining the heated crevice he needed between Frodo's closed thighs. Frodo reached down past his own sated member, his face to the sheets, to touch the hot knob of flesh as it emerged and retreated through his damp curls. Sam groaned in pleasure as Frodo began to rub the bared head with his thumb until Sam shook all over and came hard into Frodo's palm, bathing the linens in hot wet release.
They lay together like that for a while, groins sticky and warm, each too weakened by the fading rush of pleasure to move or speak. Frodo drifted into sleep, and this time as he stood on the pass, he could see the moon shining down on him and the light gave him the strength to move on toward the red glow of the Tower, Sam at his side. But even so, the Ring was heavy upon him and he walked with head bowed.
Sam stirred, and with a sleepy kiss, left to find a washing cloth. The bed felt cold next to him in his absence and Frodo wondered if he might laugh or weep, but felt too peaceful to summon either.
San returned with a bowl of warm water and bathed them both before asking Frodo to move over in the wide bed to where the sheets were clean and dry. Sam's touches were gentle and sweet, but there was a comfortable quiet that had settled around them as they washed. What had needed to be said, for so many years, was cooling on the sheets next to them and it wasn't so bad not to speak of it.
Sam pulled up the quilts and settled down behind Frodo as he lay on his side, and was held tenderly in Sam's arms.
"I wish..." Sam began and fell silent.
I wish for many things, too, Sam. Frodo wanted to say. I wish the Ring had never come to me; I wish you had not listened at the window; I wish that we had never lost each other in the dark; I wish I could have been healed; I wish you all the happiness this world can give; but most of all, I wish we did not love each other so.
But even as these thoughts passed through his mind as the last glow of their loving languished and died in his scarred flesh, Frodo spoke only of what needed to be said.
"You shouldn't have sent your family away for my sake, Sam."
Sam did not answer at first, but his arm wound about him tighter. "You are my family, Frodo. My master, my friend, my heart."
"You should be your own master, Sam. This is your home and your life that you have earned. You do not owe me your service anymore."
Sam shifted so his nose brushed the tip of Frodo's ear. "You are my life, if I ever earned one, as you say. I did not walk through Mordor for the sake of the trees and green grass alone. I would not have, but only to be at your side. Because you needed me to. And I kept on because I needed to see it through."
"You did see it to the end. It is all over now, Sam. The world has changed--it darkens."
"No," Sam said, stroking Frodo's scarred shoulder, easing the returning ache with each touch. "It just seems dark when you see it through the study window. Come with me, now that you've finished the book, and I'll show you how all the Shire is coming back, every bough and field."
Frodo reached for Sam's hand and held it against his chest. "Very well, then," he said, swallowing the tears that threatened his resolve, a resolve he'd come to name as far back as the first glimpse of the sea he'd beheld in Galadriel's mirror. Frodo closed his eyes and the hundreds of leagues they'd walked side by side could be seen through his mind's mended window stretching far beyond the Shire, joining lands and linking kingdoms. The knowledge that he and Sam had crossed the length of this world together brought him comfort as well as the strength to close this book and begin the next. Some roads must end Sam, so that others can begin.
"Sam, I want you to see Rose and find out if she can spare you," he said, his voice steady, yet wistful. "So that you and I can go off together..."