Title - Awakenings

Author - Beruthiel

Email -

Rating - R for SLASH

Pairing - Frodo/Sam

Summary - Sam attempts to comfort an unhappy Frodo. When a kiss goes too far Frodo is sorry, but Sam realizes what he wants. Frodo is torn between desire, responsibility and fear.

Disclaimer - No copyright infringement intended. Characters belong to JRR Tolkien

It was a gentle ascent to the wooded glade at the hill's summit. Sam hummed a little as he made his way up the winding trail, enjoying the warmth of the late afternoon sun on his face and the sensation of fresh cool earth against the soles of his feet. Alyssum and red faced nasturtiums tumbled along the path's edge while a mild breeze blew the heady scent of wild lavender and rosemary to him. On occasion he stepped from the path to pick long stemmed larkspurs, salvias and hollyhocks. It was peaceful, except for the occasional bird chirp and an almost inaudible murmur of small insects in the bushes. This part of the Shire was surely the most beautiful, Sam mused. He felt relaxed and peaceful.

Sam hoped his master was in an equally contented state of mind, but he had his doubts. Presumably Frodo had made his way to this spot for the peace and solitude it offered. As if he needs any more of that Sam thought wryly. Frodo spent most of his time alone in his study, shunning company and cementing the wall he had made around himself. His moods swung between varying degrees of melancholy and introspection to distraction and irritability. Most of the time he was withdrawn or seemingly preoccupied. Sam didn't know with what.

Soon he could make out the diminutive figure of Frodo seated on the big tree which had been felled by last winter's heaviest storm. He was scribbling in a large note book which was balanced unevenly on his knees. Sam called out a greeting, breaking Frodo's reverie. He couldn't make out Frodo's expression, but was slightly relieved when Frodo raised his hand in greeting as he approached.

"Hullo, Sam. This is a surprise." Frodo said, but his tone didn't indicate whether the surprise was a welcome one or not.

"Well, here you are, Mr Frodo," Sam said in his cheeriest voice. "Good to see you enjoying the fresh air. Do you good." But he noted Frodo's complexion was as pale as ever, his skin stretched like dry parchment over angular cheekbones. His eyes were perpetually tired, lacking sparkle and his brow was drawn together in an unending frown. It pained Sam to see him so.

"Yes, here I am." replied Frodo. "But what are you doing up here, Sam?"

Quickly Sam lay the wicker basket he had been carrying on one arm on the ground next to Frodo. "Well, sir; Rosie wondered if you might need a break from your writing. She suggested I bring you a late lunch."

"Oh? How thoughtful of her." Frodo looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun behind Sam's head. "How did you know where I was?" he asked.

"You mentioned to Rosie that you were going to do some writing outside for a change and I just figured you'd come up here again." Frodo raised an eyebrow at that comment; he had never mentioned to Sam or Rose where his recent rambles had taken him. Sam saw the gesture and suddenly realized his mistake. It was obvious he was intruding on a private spot. But he was here now and Sam didn't want to waste his opportunity.

"Well, you'd better get started," he said briskly. "Rosie made them sandwiches especial for you." He lifted the chequered cloth which covered the top of the basket to reveal neatly trimmed sandwiches, a piece of cheese tart, some soft berries, boiled eggs, small cakes and a cool beer bottle wrapped in a damp flannel. Frodo gave an amused glance at the collection of flowers tucked in the corner of the basket and picked them up for closer examination.

"And flowers too! Flowers from Rosie."

"Well, not really, sir: I just picked them myself on my way up," said Sam awkwardly. "There's a lot about and they're too pretty to resist."

"Ah, of course," Frodo said, replacing the blooms. He hesitated a moment, then said, "As you've come all this way why don't you join me, Sam?"

"Oh no, I shouldn't, sir," said Sam automatically.

Frodo managed another faint smile at Sam's usual deferential tone. "Come on, there's more than enough, and Rose will be disappointed if this doesn't go. Don't want any leftovers, do we?"

"Well, if you're sure," said Sam cautiously. "I could set it up over there." He gestured to a grassy spot at the base of a nearby old elm tree. It was shady and the grass was cool and long. "But there's no mugs or plates to make it proper, I'm afraid," he said apologetically.

"Then we'll have it as a picnic, Sam," said Frodo. As he put down his quill Sam saw that Frodo had not been writing at all. He glimpsed an illustration of a graceful ship in full sail with the open sea before it. Then the book snapped shut and disappeared into Frodo's pack.

Sam spread out the small checked cloth on the grass as a tablecloth and they both started to set out the fare. Frodo reached in the basket at the same time as Sam, accidentally knocking their hands together. Almost imperceptibly Frodo flinched and quickly pulled his hand back, letting Sam finish the honours. Sam pretended not to notice and finished arranging the food and the flowers on the cloth. They sat opposite each other with Frodo resting his back against the tall stiff trunk of the elm. He had an air of tension about him, as if he were a coil ready to spring and he looked cold and brittle, even in the afternoon sunlight.

Sam offered some sandwiches to Frodo and started up a stream of chatter about the day's doings; what was new in the garden, how the Gaffer's rheumatism was slowing him down, the gossip from the Green Dragon regarding Pansy Proudfoot's latest misdemeanour. Frodo listened and nodded, but he did not seem inclined to conversation and did not add any comments of his own.

Sam noticed Frodo had quickly discarded a barely nibbled sandwich and bit his lip. He knew most of the lunch would remain untouched. It was like that in the evenings when he had taken to staying with Mr Frodo over dinner to ensure his master actually ate something. Frodo would go through the motions of enjoying a hearty repast, but mostly he would push food around his plate as if in a vain attempt to hide it. At first Sam had watched him with disappointment. He had expected to get Frodo to fill back to normal Hobbit proportions, but it was evident, despite his efforts, that this would be slow in happening. Sam was able to hide his feelings; that too, was part of the ritual.

"It's a lovely spot, Mr Frodo," said Sam. "This must have been one of the few places that was never messed up by Sharky's men."

"Yes, I suppose they couldn't find a use for it - no water wheel to turn, no buildings to convert and too hilly to build anything useful on."

"I'm glad they couldn't," said Sam. "You can see the whole valley from up here. Looks like my mam's old patchwork shawl lying across all them fields. Very restful, isn't it?"

Frodo nodded, but didn't elaborate. He picked up a few blueberries and squashed them in his fingers, flicking the juice away.

"That's why you come up here, is it?" Sam asked.

Frodo raised an eyebrow at his companion's lack of subtleness. "I like it here for many reasons," he responded. Before Sam could rephrase his question, Frodo quickly said, "Here Sam, pass me that beer please."

Sam did so and Frodo took a long draught. Sam watched him toss back the brew, his throat stretched back, rippling as he swallowed. He'd never seen Frodo drink out of a beer bottle before and cursed himself for not checking that there was a mug in the hamper. But Frodo didn't seem to mind. He apparently enjoyed the beer, if not the food, occasionally passing it to Sam for a mouthful.

"Here, try one of these cakes, if you don't like the sandwiches; they've got caraway in them," Sam said hopefully.

Frodo waved the proffered item away. "Maybe later, Sam. My stomach's a bit queasy."

It was always 'maybe later' these days. Initially he hadn't been surprised that Frodo didn't have much appetite, considering how badly his body had been ravaged and undermined by their ordeal. He had endured so much, Sam told himself, so it was not unusual that he ate very little and took no enjoyment from it.

Sam decided to persist. "Aren't you hungry, sir?" he said. "You didn't have much of a breakfast. You haven't been eating much of anything lately, or so I'd noted."
Frodo sighed. "Sam, please don't start this."

"Start what, sir?" queried Sam, busying himself rearranging some of the food.

Frodo's fingers tapped against the beer bottle. "No need to play the innocent with me."

Sam responded with an injured look. "Can't you would just try...."

"I'm just not very hungry right now."

"But Rosie went to quite a bit of effort for you, sir."

"I'm sure she did, but I'm sorry - I won't force myself, Sam," Frodo said emphatically. "You know what happened last time." He gave Sam a look that said the matter was closed and drained the last of the beer.

Sam knew. One night he was so frustrated with Frodo's indifference Sam had pulled Frodo to the table, stood over him and cajoled him to eat all that he had prepared that evening. Frodo had protested and argued but eventually had to give in to Sam's stubborn insistence. Slowly, like a sullen child, he had sat there and finished all the dishes under Sam's scrutiny. But Sam's delight had changed to dismay when later in the evening Frodo had complained of stomach cramps. Later Sam had found him crouched in the washroom being very sick. When he emerged, pale and clammy, Frodo had given him a look which clearly said, 'this is your fault. I knew that would happen.'Sam knew never to try such a direct tactic again. Instead he resorted to creating lighter and daintier morsels to tempt his master's palate and pretended that everything was fine.

Sam's face was set resolutely; he was determined to have his say. "But you've been like that quite a bit, sir. Begging your pardon, but when a Hobbit don't eat, something's wrong."

Frodo glanced at him, barely concealing his annoyance. "Sam, did you trail me all this way just to badger me about my eating habits!"

"But I'm concerned..."

Frodo's voice was terse as he interrupted. "Sam, there's no need. Don't go on so!"
Sam was stung by Frodo's sharp tone, but he also detected a defensive note which further confirmed his fears. He sprang up and paced in front of Frodo. "I have to! I'm worried about you," he blurted out. "Have you seen yourself lately! You're hardly a picture of health. You look like you haven't slept for weeks with those bags under your eyes. And your clothes are hanging off you. You won't eat properly and when you do I know you're nearly always sick afterwards. You're not looking after yourself. It's as if...as if you don't want to be like you were before."

Frodo looked up at him, eyes flashing. "That's enough! You're being foolish now, Samwise."

"Not as foolish as wanting to ruin your health and waste away to nothing," Sam said with undisguised bitterness. "Do you want to end up like Gollum?"

Frodo's mouth dropped open in astonishment and it took him a moment to recover himself. "Gollum?" he repeated quietly. "How can you say that? Is that what you think I want?"

Sam had overstepped their usual boundaries, but he didn't care. "I don't know what you want, Mr Frodo. I can't tell anymore. Not that I was ever any good at guessing your mind; you can be pretty close when you want to and that's been quite a bit lately."

"Oh," was all Frodo could say, dismayed.

Sam softened his tone. "I know you've not been yourself. Can't you tell me what's on your mind? Maybe I could help - if you'd let me."

Frodo felt himself relenting. Sam's accusation was accurate enough. But how could he say things that he couldn't even put into words himself. Nothing had felt right since his return to the Shire; he had felt adrift in the middle of the familiar scenes of Hobbiton, as if he were struggling out of a terrible nightmare. In contrast Sam had settled back into his surrounds quickly and without any doubts about his role. Any scars he may have had were hidden in the flurry of activity he immersed himself in, any lingering terror he may have felt was firmly under control. Sam was a paragon of energy and vitality and beside him Frodo felt frail and needy. He rose and stepped away from the log, staring into the distance clutching the white jewel at his neck.

Sam looked at him with pity, sensing his master's inner turmoil. "Don't turn away from me, Frodo," he pleaded quietly. "Please don't shut me out."

'What is wrong with me?' Frodo thought dismally. 'Why am I making him so miserable? He tries so hard for me and I keep pushing him away.' He looked back over his shoulder at Sam who was gazing at him sadly. Ruefully he said, "I'm sorry, dear friend. I know you worry, but you needn't. Everything is fine. The Shire is settled again, the Sun is shining and your trees are growing. The Shadow has passed."

"But it hasn't passed over you," Sam said. "And I can't help worrying - and it's not just over your health. You're always holed up in Bag End by yourself. You never go out and no one sees you. I never see you," he added despondently.

"That's hardly surprising, is it, Sam?" Frodo said. "You've been keeping yourself very busy lately working from morning to night around the countryside."

"Well, yes; I know I've been away a bit seeing to the replanting," interrupted Sam. "But I come and see you most evenings and I've taken time off work to see you today," he pointed out, hurt in his voice.

"But you still manage to find time to go courting, don't you," said Frodo abruptly.

"Courting?" Sam couldn't hide his surprise at the unexpected comment. "I haven't been spending that much time with Rosie, Mr Frodo. Have I?" He gazed at Frodo, with sudden understanding and stepped closer to him. "So that's it! You have been lonely, haven't you?" he exclaimed. "I'm sorry if I've been neglecting you. I try my best to look after you still, but I've had so much to do with the replanting and rebuilding and giving directions to others. I'd have to be split in two to get everything done!"

"No, Sam, stop!" Frodo instantly regretted his selfish comment. "You haven't been neglecting me! You are doing all the things you should be doing. I can take care of myself and I'm not lonely. You know I've been busy with my notes and writing." 'Why would Sam want to spend time with such a foolish old Hobbit like me,' he thought dismally. 'He needs happiness and joy, I seem only to be able to bring misery to him.' But he said, "Naturally your work for the Shire comes first. And now you have other priorities, other than me."

Sam wasn't so easily placated. "Frodo; you'd tell me if something were really wrong," he said urgently. Grasping Frodo's thin shoulders Sam turned his companion to face him. "I mean, that's what friends are for, isn't it? You know I'd do anything for you."

Frodo found he could not bring himself to look at Sam's earnest face. But he breathed deep and mustered an even voice to say, "I know you would - after all, you are my dearest friend above all others. But nothing is wrong."

Sam shook his head. "I know that's not so. You can't deny it."

'No, I can't. I owe him some explanation,' thought Frodo anxiously. 'Anything will do.' He turned back to Sam and said, "Well, maybe I have spent too much time by myself. And I have been thinking how much I'll miss you when you move on with Rosie."

"I haven't made any definite plans, Mr Frodo," said Sam cautiously.

"You will," Frodo replied with certainty. "I know you want your own family and that's as it should be. But we've spend so much time together it will seem strange not having you around."

Sam put his left arm over Frodo's shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. "Come what may," he said. "But don't you know that I'll always be here for you, Frodo. Always."

'Always? There's no such thing as always,' Frodo almost said out loud. Unaccountably he felt his eyes mist over and his chest tighten. He lay his hand on Sam's forearm, overcome with a sudden rush of emotion. "Dear Sam, I can't begin to tell you..." he started to say.

"Yes?" asked Sam, hopefully. "Tell me what?"

"Nothing, it's nothing," Frodo said sharply. He abruptly pulled back from Sam, but did not move away. Sam scrutinised his face; Frodo's eyes were impossibly wide, his angular features tense and pinched. Sam recognized his expression as one of fear.

"What were you going to say?" prompted Sam gently.

Frodo choked, "Nothing. I can't...it's nothing. There's nothing...I'm nothing..." Then he suddenly pitched forward into Sam's arms, stifling a moan. Sam felt a wave of panic as Frodo began to weep loudly against his shoulder. Instinctively his arms folded around Frodo's shaking frame to pull him close. After a moment he whispered, "What is it? Can't I help you?"

The sobs subsided a little. "You can't, dear Sam," said Frodo in a muffled voice. "But you've done so much for me already. I'm sorry I've been so awful to you lately. I don't deserve you."

Sam smiled wanly and patted his back. "Don't be silly, Mr Frodo."

Frodo looked up at Sam, shaking his head. "I'm not being silly. I have so much to thank you for. For always helping me, for looking after me, for saving me. Just for being here, for being you." His voice dropped to a whisper. "Keep your arms around me, Sam - don't let me go."

Sam hugged him tighter. "I won't let you go, ever. Remember, I made a promise not to lose you, Frodo. I still hold to that."

"You don't know what that means to me," Frodo murmured, feeling relieved. His eyes shut and he settled his weight against the other. It was the first time since their return to the Shire that Sam had touched him like this. He felt the steady rise and fall of Sam's chest against his, and savoured an all too infrequent feeling of comfort and peace. When Frodo lifted his head their eyes locked, Frodo's glistening with misery and unshed tears, Sam's concerned and earnest. Sam stroked his hair and after a while lifted his hand to tentatively cup the curve of Frodo's cheek, trying to divine some way to help his companion. Frodo pressed his lips into Sam's palm, kissing the calloused skin gently.

They stood still in each other's embrace and the moment stretched between them like a finely drawn thread. After a few moments Sam pulled his head back to break the embrace, but to his surprise Frodo did not release him. Instead he gave a sudden shove, pushing Sam back against the trunk of the elm and with a sobbing cry began to cover Sam's face with a series of desperate kisses. He pressed himself with unexpected strength against Sam's chest and hips, hands roaming over him wildly. When he came back to Sam's mouth his tongue forced it's way between the parted, gasping lips and roughly drew the soft pliant tongue into his mouth, sucking determinedly as if trying to dislodge it. Only as he felt Sam squirm in his embrace, did Frodo snap back to reality, shocked. He flung himself away from Sam as he were on fire and staggered a few feet away.

"Oh no, what am I doing?" he panted. Sam leant back on the tree trunk. Frodo could hear his laboured breathing but was unable to look at him. "Sam, I'm so sorry - I don't know what I was thinking. I'm sorry, so sorry..." he said in a strangled voice.

Sam stared at him, eyes wide, then he straightened and took a tentative step forward. "Frodo," he started to say.

Frodo didn't let him finish. He rubbed his mouth frantically as if trying to erase his actions. "It must have been the beer and the Sun. Forgive me, Sam." He grabbed his pack and mustering all his remaining strength, stumbled to the path.

"No, please wait!" cried Sam. He ran a few steps forward. "Don't go!"

Frodo did not heed him. With a wild look at Sam over his shoulder, he uttered a moan of despair and fled.

He ran blindly back towards Hobbiton as fast as he could, feeling as if he would collapse under the weight of his shame. Only when he neared the village did he slow down, conscious of drawing attention to himself. That would be the final straw, people looking and pointing at mad Baggins making a fool of himself. He tried to walk a measured pace but his heart was thumping wildly. Fortunately he encountered no one on the road and finally reached the familiar round door of Bag- End.

Frodo let himself in and slumped against the wall, panting. What a total fool he had been! What in Middle-Earth had possessed him to do that to Sam? Surely it was the combination of strong drink and warm weather, he told himself as he stumbled into the kitchen. He could never hold his ale well. He'd carelessly drank almost the whole bottle without food and it had gone straight to his head.

Frodo started to prepare some tea at the hearth in an attempt to calm himself down, but he felt quite sick. He sat by the fireplace with a mug of tea, thoughts flying wildly in his head. Maybe he was as desperately lonely since returning to the Shire as Sam seemed to think. He had all but retired from public life, not because his duties were onerous, but because he had found it increasingly difficult to deal with the trivialities of everyday Hobbit life. Not many could appreciate what the Fellowship had done from them, and not many were actually interested. Folk had always looked on the Bagginses as eccentric but since his return they seemed to keep their distance from him even more. People were polite to him, of course, but it was all superficial. Only his old friends remained and no one tried to intrude upon their close knit circle, happier to gossip about them at a distance. And since Merry and Pippin had moved to Crickhollow to set up house together only Sam remained as his lifeline to the outside world.

It was Sam who still attended to him, despite all the other work he was undertaking. Frodo had felt guilty as he didn't require Sam's presence for all the daily jobs he did for him. He could easily fix his own breakfast, organize his own laundry and do his own marketing. It wasn't necessary for Sam to turn down his blanket at night, or boil water for his bath or listen to him reading Elvish poetry out loud in the evenings.

But Frodo had always enjoyed having him close and Sam insisted on doing these things for him. When Sam started his forestry projects and was gone for extended periods of time Frodo felt isolated and alone. For such a long time it was always Sam's face he saw last thing at night and first thing in the morning. It was Sam who had lain next to him whilst he slept and who had comforted him when he was distressed by dark dreams. It was Sam's gentle hands which had embraced him and stroked his hair to soothe him as they lay wrapped up in blankets on the unrelenting ground.

Frodo had always recognized that he had found much comfort with Sam. But now, when nightmares woke him and he sat bolt upright in the darkness sweating with fear, he would clutch his pillow tight and try to reign in the terror, wishing for Sam to be there. Sam's arms had been his sanctuary.

"Am I really that helpless?' thought Frodo. 'Do I need him that much? Does he need me? He looks after me like a mother looks after her child. Or as a husband cares for his wife'

Frodo sat upright in his chair, alarmed. No, it wasn't right to think along those lines! He knew Sam loved him; he expressed it all through everything he did, and that was just Sam.

But Frodo realized that he wanted Sam to love him in other ways. He had wanted to kiss Sam under the elm tree and to bind his body to his own. Sam had kissed him before, of course; he was a naturally affectionate Hobbit, but now Frodo had gone and made it a perverse and twisted thing. He had sullied a sacred moment between them. He saw a picture of them together in his mind, his stark ugliness contrasting with Sam's wholesome innocence. Sam is right,' he thought. 'I am like Gollum; not just the bones and scars, but just as full of bitterness and jealousy. I even grudge him the happiness he has with Rose because it's something I'll never have.'

Poor Sam, he was probably back at home, scrubbing himself clean in disgust. Sam had been governed by his father's strict rules and probably never had a corrupt thought cross his mind. Now Frodo has gone and ruined everything. Sam's precious friendship would be withdrawn, his own perverse nature would be exposed and he would be an object of ridicule and derision to other Hobbits. Sam would marry Rose Cotton and disappear from his life. He would be by himself, enduring isolation and loneliness forever with no hope of reprieve. Frodo felt his hand tremble and looked down at the cup he held in his hand. It was the disfigured one, the constant reminder of his trial and torment. Frodo groaned and put his head in his hands, overcome by tears.

Sam fell on the narrow cot in his bedroom, head still spinning. After Frodo had run off so abruptly Sam had sat on the ground to quieten himself, then he'd gathered up the remains of the lunch with a view to heading home. But he didn't want to go home; instead Sam wandered aimlessly for some time, kicking at tufts of grass in his frustration as he tried to make sense of things. He had wanted to run after Frodo, knowing he could easily overtake him, but if he did, Sam knew he wouldn't know what to say and he knew Frodo wouldn't want to speak to him in his state of mind. He eventually made his way home, only to be questioned by the Gaffer as to why he had taken so long to drop off a bit of lunch. Sam, thoughts still in disarray, muttered some excuse to avoid further scrutiny. He said something about needing to have a lie down and ran to his room, ignoring the Gaffer's derisive snort behind him.

He lay still on the bed covers, trying to remember Frodo's long fingers in his hair, the feel of their cheeks pressed together. Before Mr Frodo had given him that kiss. Sam went over that moment in wonder. Frodo had kissed him the way you kissed a lover, not a friend. Did he mean to, or was he tipsy? Even if he was, surely Frodo had wanted to do that to him anyway? Maybe they would still be under the elm tree, kissing and touching each other, if he hadn't gone and jumped a mile at Frodo's unexpected embrace and spoiled everything.

Sam had realized that Frodo was been watching him a lot recently. When he worked in the garden or did some jobs inside he had been aware of Frodo's eyes trailing him. He had assumed Frodo had been mulling over some thought, or reflecting on some past event he was going to write about in the Red Book or even just day dreaming. Sam never considered that Frodo's introspection or preoccupation was related to him in any way. He was sure that Frodo didn't have thoughts along those lines about him. He had always seemed indifferent to such matters and had always been preoccupied with scholarly pursuits.

But Frodo had always had a rather sheltered life, Sam thought, living alone with old Mr Bilbo in such a big rambling place. Bilbo had never encouraged Frodo to do much else but study and disappear on solitary rambles so Frodo's socializing had been limited to a the occasional night at the taverns, the odd dance or party. No-one special had ever caught Frodo's fancy as far as Sam knew; he had always found his master was always alone in his bed each morning. Everyone assumed Frodo was contented with a bachelor's life, like Mr Bilbo before him.

Sam shivered suddenly at the thought; except on their journey, he had rarely been alone. He liked company at home, in the village, at the taverns, and with the Cotton brothers - and their sister. But Sam also enjoyed it when he was simply with Mr Frodo, though he had often wondered why Frodo liked being with him when he wasn't as articulate or learned as his master, or when he couldn't match the boisterous enthusiasm of Frodo's favourite cousins. But maybe Frodo had really wanted to kiss him; maybe he thought about him in other ways, other than companion and gardener. There had been longing and yearning in that kiss. Maybe he was reaching out in his loneliness. 'I should have been spending more time with him,' thought Sam. 'He's alone in that great big smial since we returned with no company, no family to look after him.'

Frodo had thanked him for just being there, for just being himself. 'Maybe he does loves me,' considered Sam, 'Maybe no other reason is needed. And if he loves me, maybe he wants me too'

The thought did not disquiet him. Sam hardly dared admit that he entertained those types of thoughts before. In the past he had allowed himself to dwell on them when he was alone in bed. Then he had often thought of Frodo as his hand strayed beneath his nightshirt to stroke himself. It was an unlikely fantasy, seeing Frodo's apparent indifference to such pleasures, but he indulged it anyway.

Sam pushed his face into his lumpy pillow, sighing at an imaginary touch, then sat up abruptly. There was nothing else for it - he would have to go and see Frodo. He rose to wash his face and straighten his shirt, then crept out of the house, careful to avoid the Gaffer.

Soon Sam stood at the front door of Bag End, stomach fluttering. He took a deep breath and rapped on the door. There was no answer. He yanked on the door handle, expecting it to be locked tight, but it swung open for him. He called Frodo's name again, blinking to allow his eyes to adjust to the dim light.

"Mr Frodo? Frodo, are you there?" he called. But there was no answer and the house was silent. He gathered up the lamp and searched the bedrooms, kitchen, pantries, washroom, finally stopping in Frodo's study. "I know you're here. Please, where are you?" he whispered hopefully. His eyes roamed around the room expecting Frodo to materialize from some dark corner. It was in it's usual state of organized chaos; shelves groaning with books, maps rolled up and pushed into corners, towers of papers rising from a thin film of dust. Then he noticed a pile of crumpled papers on the desk and recognized Frodo's flowing script on them. Cautiously Sam straightened one of the pieces. It was addressed to him.

"I am very sorry for embarrassing you that way," Sam read aloud. "I've got no excuse for doing that to you... if you never wanted to speak to me again I understand perfectly..." Some bits were scratched out or scribbled over. He picked up another sheet where Frodo had written in a more distractedly hand. "I don't need for you to return to work at Bag End....you won't need to see me any more after this..." The rest rambled on, it's content unclear.

Sam blinked unhappily, unsure what to make of it. He thought of going out to search for Mr Frodo, but he had no idea where to start looking. He decided to wait. He stoked up the fire and settled down on an overstuffed chair with the unfinished letter in his hand. Sam closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind of unformed thoughts, but soon he was dozing curled up in the chair.

It was the creaking of the study door which bought Sam back to wakefulness. He rubbed his eyes and saw the dark form of his master outlined in the doorway. Sam had no idea how long he had slept or how long Frodo had been scrutinizing him.

"Sam?" he heard Frodo saying.

Sam stood up quickly. "Yes, it's me, sir. I, I..." Suddenly he found the words had frozen on his tongue and he felt a little afraid.

Frodo stepped towards him. "What are you doing here?" he asked sharply.

"I let myself in, sir," said Sam.

"Who told you to do that, Sam?"

Sam felt suddenly awkward at Frodo's stern tone. "Well, no one. But I wanted to see you Mr Frodo, to talk about...things," he said gingerly.

"You should go home, Sam," Frodo responded in a flat tone.

"But I need to talk to you," Sam repeated. "About this afternoon."

"No, not now."

Sam held out the crumpled sheets in front of him. "But you've been trying to say something in this, Mr Frodo."

Frodo started and quickly moved to grab the letter from Sam. "You've been spying at my desk!" he exclaimed.

"No, I just saw it by accident!"

"And you read it?"

"Yes," confessed Sam. "But it's addressed to me, so I didn't think - "

Frodo collapsed on the fireside sofa in sudden exasperation. "You never do!"

"That's not fair," said Sam, hurt. "I just want to know what you were thinking. Don't I deserve that, at least? I read some but I couldn't make it all out."

Frodo looked down at the rug, shamefaced. "Yes, you deserve that." He held out the crumpled draft. "Surely you can see I was trying to apologize for my appalling behaviour."

"Yes, but..." said Sam. He hesitated a moment. "But I wondered what...what your intentions were."

"Intentions?"

Sam saw the puzzled look on Frodo's face. He took a deep breath, ready for the worst. He blurted out, "You wrote I didn't need to come back. Are you going to sack me, sir? Am I dismissed?"

"Sack you?" exclaimed Frodo. "No. I have no intentions of deliberately taking away your livelihood. But, as I tried to say in that poor excuse of a letter, you can leave if you wish without need for further discussion. I'll make sure you and your family are looked after properly and that'll be the end of the matter."

"Leave?" The thought bought Sam's barely concealed panic to the surface. "Then you really don't want me around no more? You want me to leave? Oh, the Gaffer'll tan my hide! Mr Frodo, I'm sorry upset you so. I didn't mean to anything wrong! Please don't send me away!"

"Sam, calm down!" ordered Frodo. "You haven't done anything wrong, you silly ass." He paused a moment, then said more quietly, "It's me who has done something very, very wrong."

"Just by kissing me?" asked Sam dismally. "You've kissed me before."

"It was more than a kiss. You know that." Frodo dropped his gaze again and added in a resigned whisper, "You must be disgusted by me."

Sam shook his head and sat next to Frodo on the couch. "If I was, I wouldn't be here," he said. "I would have run away and never come back." He took Frodo's cold hands between his own and pressed them to his lips. "Don't you see there's nothing to be ashamed of. If you needed me you only had to ask."

"Ask!" Frodo cried in alarm. "Sam, you don't know what you are saying!"

"Yes, I do know. I only want for you to be happy," Sam said. "In whatever way you want."

"No, it doesn't matter whatI want!" choked Frodo. "I'll not lead you down this path! It would be wrong of me to ruin your chances of happiness. Your future is here in the Shire and you deserve a normal, decent life. You should marry and have a family of your own; that will preserve your happiness in the best possible way."

"That'll come in time, Mr Frodo; but how can I be happy without you?" Sam said in an earnest tone. "We've been with each other for so long. I can't bear the thought of leaving you. Don't you want me to be here with you?"

"I don't want you tainted by scandal, Sam," replied Frodo, quickly disengaging his hands. He moved to the far end of the couch to put some distance between them and assumed a more measured tone. "I want people to respect you, to look up to you, Sam," he said. "You're going to be an important person in the community and I won't be responsible for holding you back. As for my own happiness; well, seeing you settled and content with your own family will be enough for me."

"Scandal?" cut in Sam, indignantly. "Holding me back? What are you talking about?"

Frodo sighed. "You know very well, dear Sam. If people found out about how I've acted towards you, rumours and gossip would inevitably follow. I've always known what folk have said about me, and most of it doesn't it bear repeating. You know it well enough yourself, even though you'd never admit it to me. Don't you see? Your good name would be ruined, even if...if nothing ever happened between us."

Sam was contemptuous of that. "Who cares what folk say?" he said angrily. "They know I do for you, as I always have done. I don't care when they say that I'm too familiar with you or that my head's too big for me hat! You shouldn't care either!"

Frodo looked at him, astonished that his lecture had collapsed in disarray beneath Sam's volatile emotions. "See, that's my point, Sam," he said. "We have to care about what people think. Your family has always been a pillar of respectability in Hobbiton. Mine has not and because of that I have a responsibility towards you. I'm your employer and you're still very young, Sam. That makes it my duty to protect your reputation, even if you seem so careless of it."

"Bugger it! I don't care about my reputation!" cried Sam, leaning forward to pull Frodo closer to him. "It's you I care about, Frodo, just you."

Frodo resisted his embrace. "No, Sam; you shouldn't do that. It's too much for me too bear. I might, I might want to - "

" - to kiss me again?" finished Sam quickly. He slipped off the sofa and kneeling before Frodo nuzzled his face against Frodo's shirt front, then slipped his arms around the narrow waist. Sam was shocked by his own boldness and realized there was no going back now. "Would that be so horrible?" he asked softly. "If you wanted to, that would be all right."

"Stop!" Frodo repeated, shrinking back. "It's not that clear cut! You don't even realize that I've put you in such an awful position. You're so loyal you would go along with anything you thought I wanted. It's not right!"

"Who says so, Mr Frodo?" Sam lifted his eyes to meet Frodo's. They shone in the semi- darkness, full of love, trust and hope. At that moment Frodo knew Sam was never more beautiful, kneeling before him, a picture of an unconditional and unselfish love which asked nothing in return. The thought of Sam freely offering himself to his unworthy master, both touched and shamed him. It was a gift he didn't deserve to accept and he had no right to take advantage of such a generous and trusting nature. Sam needed to be more than the object of his unnatural cravings. He deserved the wholesome love of a wife and family who would appreciate his devotion, not the unwanted attention of an ailing Hobbit who had nothing left of himself to give. Frodo tried to compose himself.

"No, this can't be. It's wrong for me to want to kiss you."

"Then I'll kiss you," Sam said, with devastating simplicity. "I love you, Frodo. I thought after this afternoon that you wanted me. Don't you?"

'You know I do,' Frodo thought despairingly. But he blurted out, "You're just trying to please me, saying what you think I want to hear. But you can't love me, not like that. You're in love with Rose Cotton. Besides, I'm too old and I'm ugly. It's impossible!" He leapt up, ready to flee, but Sam was also on his feet. As quick as a cat he caught Frodo by the arm as he bolted for the door and swung him around. Panic flooded Frodo as he struggled ineffectually against an unintentionally vice like grip.

"Let me go, please!" he cried.

"No, I'm not letting you go!" Sam replied, desperation in his voice. "Don't pull away from me! You must know how I love you," Sam whispered almost angrily into his ear. "You must know! And I know you've been watching me lately, looking at me for no reason. Don't you love me back, even a little? Why don't you answer?"

"Sam, please; don't make me answer. It's better if I don't," Frodo said in a hoarse whisper.

Sam pushed Frodo none to gently onto the couch, and fell on top of him, effectively blocking Frodo's escape. "No, Sam, don't..." he said weakly, but Sam's mouth smothered his with fierce kisses. But his attempts to push Sam off were futile; his determined gardener was as immovable as a boulder. Quickly exhausted, Frodo gave up and lay passive and unresisting as Sam lavished pent up affection on him. He soon felt his composure melting as he noticed a tingling, almost forgotten sensation, spreading inside him. 'No,' Frodo's mind told him, 'you're a beast to allow this. Don't let him do this! It's gone too far.' He knew he had to stop before his resolve completely disappeared and he allowed himself to respond to Sam.

"Please, for pity's sake, stop!" Frodo's cry sounded strangled and hoarse to his own ears, but he managed to get the words out. "It doesn't matter whether I love you. I don't want to ruin things. Please, Sam!"

The anguish in Frodo's voice caused Sam to quickly come to himself. He sat up, looking a little dazed. Frodo was on his feet again, vainly attempting to straighten his shirt.

"Ruin things?" Sam echoed in confusion. "Don't you want to?"

"Sam...please. It doesn't matter what I want. This is wrong," Frodo said faintly.

"Wrong? Oh, Frodo..." Sam's face screwed up as he choked back tears of frustration. "How can you go saying it's wrong! How can it be if I love you?"

"I've tried to explain, Sam," Frodo said wearily. "Can't we leave it at that?"

"I want to know what you are playing at!" cried Sam. "You wanted to kiss me before, but now you don't. I don't follow!" He crumpled back against the cushions, misery clearly etched on his features, then put his face in his hands, stifling a sob. Frodo stood still in the middle of the room, hands hanging limply at his sides, unable to act. Just as he summoned the strength to move Sam looked up sharply.

"Unless...that's it, then!" he said tensely. "I just realized what you're really thinking. I'm a fool not to have thought of it before."

"Of what, Sam?"

Sam gave him a knowing glance. "That you're ashamed of me. Me just being the hired help and all. I'm right, aren't I, Frodo? "

"Sam, what are you saying?" exclaimed Frodo, startled. "How could I ever be ashamed of you?"

"It's like you said before, Mr Frodo, sir," said Sam with a bitter edge in his voice. "I work for you and you pay my wages. It's my job to look after you, no more, no less."

"As if that was ever the case! After all we've been through you come out with such rot!" said Frodo hotly.

"It's not rot! I'm still just a pack horse to you, something useful for lugging your stuff and you around. I've done it without question for years because I love you and you just accept it because you're the Master here and my devotion is your due. It's what you expect from me and you would never think to consider my feelings!"

Frodo was stunned. "Sam, that's not so," he said shakily. "I have been trying to consider them - by doing what's right for you."

Sam shook his head. "Frodo, we both know that I went with you to carry your bags and cook your meals and to look after you." He waved his hand impatiently as Frodo started to protest. "Now just listen, will you," he said. His tone changed to a serious one. "I'm not just a pack horse any more. You're not the only one who has changed, Frodo. I'm doing important things here in the Shire, I'm trying to make a difference. I've got responsibilities to discharge and decisions to make. Yet here you are telling me what to think and how to feel. You just can't do that anymore."

"But I've been trying to do what's best for you," said Frodo in dismay. "I just wanted to steer you on the right path. I don't want to take advantage of you."

"I'm not a child and I'm not a fool, y'know," said Sam. "I know what's best for me better than anyone, even you, Frodo. I can make my own mind up. Surely I've proved that by now?"

"Yes, you have," Frodo admitted. "You are quite a different Hobbit to the lad who set out with me."

"Yes, I am. This Hobbit knows his own mind - and his own heart."

Frodo looked at him for some moments, realizing a transformation had just taken place in Sam which he had been completely unaware of. He found himself unable to speak for several moments. Sam held his gaze with clear unwavering eyes, patiently waiting Frodo's decision.

"Do you really know your own heart, Sam?" Frodo asked in a quiet voice. "Could you really love a foolish old Hobbit like me?"

Sam rose from the sofa and stood in front of Frodo, a hint of a smile on his lips as if the superfluous question amused him. He slipped on arm around Frodo's narrow waist and the other crept across his shoulders, drawing Frodo into his orbit. This kiss was warm and tender, almost reverential. Frodo responded tentatively, almost shyly, following Sam's movements. Slowly Sam used the tip of his tongue to run over Frodo's lips and then move languidly in between the barest part in his teeth. Almost by accident did it meet the tip of Frodo's tongue, briefly tickling it, encouraging him to open up. Slowly Frodo acquiesced, allowing Sam's curious tongue was finding it's way inside his mouth, sliding over his teeth, tasting the sweet flavour of him. Instinctively Frodo's mouth opened to allow Sam to probe him deeper and more intensely. His tongue swirled against Frodo's own in languid motions, caressing and teasing him. The intensity of the feeling made Frodo's head reel and he wobbled unsteadily.

"Let me show you how much I love you," came Sam's whisper. "Let me stay here with you tonight. Can I?"

Frodo found himself nodding.

Hand in hand they made their way down the darkened corridor to Frodo's bedroom. Sam opened the door for Frodo, but Frodo stood on the threshold for a moment, half in a dream.

"It's dark. I'll take care of that," said Sam.

"Not too much light," Frodo said quickly.

"Just enough to see you by." Sam searched for candles and soon a dull glow illuminated the bedroom.

Slowly Frodo entered his room, surveying the surrounds as if were the first time he had seen it. He stared thoughtfully at the bed which had been empty for so long. Sam noticed his hesitation.

"You're not afraid, are you?" he asked. Frodo shook his head, but it was not an overly convincing gesture. "When I pushed you on the couch, I didn't mean to frighten you. You know I'd never do anything hurt you."

"I know that, my dear. I'm with my Samwise now."

Sam pulled Frodo close to him. Hip lips lightly brushed Frodo's, feeling the curve and softness of them and leaving a ticklish trail across them. Frodo pressed his lips together to expunge the feeling. Then Sam pulled Frodo's full lower lip between his own, kissing him softly, as if he were some delicate object liable to break or some rare flower which needed careful cultivation. He started to loosen Frodo's shirt and with one hand unfastened the shiny brass buttons. But once Sam pulled back the material and slipped it down Frodo's shoulders to reveal bare flesh, Frodo flinched and turned his head away.

"I've seen you in your skin before," chided Sam.

"I know. But I can't help remembering what you said about looking like Gollum."

"You know I didn't mean it."

"But I do feel ugly - all skin and bones." Frodo put his hand protectively over the mark left by the morgul blade. "And the scars, Sam, they will never fade. How can you even look at me?"

"I see them, Frodo, I know they're there. Don't you know you are always beautiful in my eyes," Sam said softly. "But even if you weren't it's what's inside that counts, isn't it?" With that he eased the shirt off, threw it on the bedside chair and took another look at his master. Frodo's features may have been prettier and more pleasing than most of the Shire lasses Sam knew, but there the similarity ended. As Sam embraced him there was none of the usual round softness to cushion him. His hands encircled the narrow waist but there was no plump bottom or full hips to clasp. Instead of a curvaceous bosom to caress his fingers ran over a flat and angular chest and bony shoulder blades. But it didn't seem to matter. He let his hands roam over Frodo's pale skin, skimming the curve of his shoulders and curving the contours of his upper arms. No buttery softness there, but taut narrow muscles which trembled under the skin. Sam rubbed Frodo's forearms and Frodo's nervously clenched hands flexed a little under the pressure of his strong fingers.

"Sam," said Frodo suddenly.

"Yes, my love?"

Frodo managed to look a little embarrassed, even in the dim light. "I have to confess it's been a while since I've done this. Quite a while, in fact. It might not be good for either of us."

"You're just tense, is all," said Sam. "If you like I'll give you a massage and maybe it'll relax you. But let's get your clothes off first. Now lie down and think peaceful thoughts." While he had been speaking Sam had been undoing his buttons and before he realized it Frodo found his breeches and drawers sliding down his thighs. He stepped out of them and kicked the clothes to one side. Sam eased him back onto the bed covers, wondering at the sight of Frodo's dark hair framing his pale face against an even whiter pillow and at the thought that Frodo was nervous about the prospect making love. He wanted to ask how long it had been, who was the last one he had been with, even just to know if it were a lad or a lass. Sam reached into the bed side table where he knew there were several bottles of scented candle oil and asked Frodo to roll over. Obediently Frodo turned onto his stomach. Sam poured a liberal quantity of orange blossom oil into his hand and began to deftly rub the liquid into Frodo's cold skin. Frodo sighed to himself as Sam's palms moved from his shoulders, to his arms, then down his side, leaving a trail of warmth. He winced a little as the calloused palm slid over the weal left by the Orc whip, but if it repelled Sam he did not say anything.

"You just tell me what you like and I'll try my best to make it right," Sam said.

"What I like?" murmured Frodo into his pillow. "I'm not even sure I know what I like any more. I'm not sure I remember."

"Other side," Sam ordered. Frodo did so, but found himself looking intently at the ceiling as Sam busied himself gently but firmly kneading his upper body. He closed his eyes. Then suddenly he felt himself quiver inside as a feeling of warmth ran through his frame down to his belly. Sam's hand were still moving over him but he had leant down to unexpectedly lick Frodo's left nipple. Frodo made a little moan and his hand moved over the spot when Sam's mouth left it. It had hardened and was sensitive, open to being fingered and played with. Sam's mouth latched on to the other nipple, his tongue teasing and sucking. Frodo gasped again and raised himself up on one elbow.

Sam lifted his head, appraising the result. "You remembered you liked that," he said wryly. "Maybe you'll recall other things."

"Yes, I recall that you should take your clothes off too," said Frodo. Tentatively he reached forward to undo the buttons of Sam's shirt, but his fingers felt clumsy and wooden. Sam waited patiently, helping him with the last few and allowing Frodo to let him pull the shirt down his arms. Sam turned to the edge of the bed and slipped his already unbuttoned breeches off. Frodo admired Sam's tanned back, well muscled and solid, remembering how easily Sam had hoisted him onto his shoulders on that last desperate leg. When he turned back Frodo gave him a wan little smile and ran his hands over the broad shoulders and chest, in open admiration. Sam's face was in shadow but his skin glowed like pale gold in the candlelight and his nipples stood out like two copper coins.

"Sam, you make me think of a sunbeam amongst all this darkness," he said appreciatively. Then he sighed a little. "But I feel very pale and faded beside you."

"Pale and faded? No. If I'm a sunbeam that makes you my moonbeam, doesn't it?" countered Sam.

Frodo leant over to kiss him. "Dear Sam, you always know what to say."

He fell back onto the covers, and pulled Sam down on top of him. Sam settled between his thighs, but used his arms to take most of his weight so he wouldn't crush Frodo. Frodo curled his lower legs around Sam's, rubbing his feet along the thick calves and his arms went around Sam's neck. Sam kissed his mouth and sucked softly on Frodo's white skin.

He could feel Sam hardening with each kiss until his cock bumped stiff and hot between their bellies. The intensity of Sam's arousal radiating against him both terrified and delighted Frodo. Sam had touched him before, back in Mordor, where Frodo had needed him to keep him grounded in reality; his touch then had been just for comfort, but now it was for something much more. A low moan escaped him. He wanted more and Sam was quick to respond to his need.

He rolled off Frodo and propped himself up on one elbow next to him. "Show me how you like to be touched, Frodo," he asked. "Where else shall I touch you?"

Without taking his eyes off Sam, Frodo took Sam's hand and placed it over his heart. Sam brushed Frodo's chest lightly with his fingers, then roamed over his warming skin, still leaving a trail of orange blossom oil. Frodo slowly guided Sam's hand down his chest and decided to let Sam take his own course. He leant back, savouring the sensation as Sam stroked his narrow hips and pale flanks, before stopping to tickle the soft skin behind his bended knee. His hand curved over one of Frodo's feet, brushing the hair there and his fingers separated his toes. When he pushed Frodo's legs farther apart so he could run his palm up the inside of the taut thighs Frodo found himself trembling in anticipation. His tenseness left him, seeping out with every touch Sam bestowed on him. Each caress, every kiss seemed to fill him with a sense of lightness which permeated his being, pushing the darkness within further and further away. His touch renewed sensuality long dormant and his caress recalled repressed desire.

"You know where," he murmured hoarsely.

Sam's gaze never felt him as his hand ran down Frodo's belly and fingers encircled him to squeeze him tight. Long languid strokes stirred Frodo's flesh into life, causing him to shudder with the long forgotten sensation. The movements increased in tempo and rhythm, becoming faster and more insistent. Sam gripped him firmly with one hand, forming a ring around him with his finger and thumb, then placed his hand at the base of his shaft squeezing the base until Frodo was fully aroused and aching with want. His fingers ran up and down over the hot flesh, enticing and teasing. Frodo, panting now, placed his hand back over Sam's, encouraging his movements to a more frenetic level. Just as he allowed himself to fall back against the covers to give himself over to Sam's ministrations, the hand was suddenly withdrawn.

"Sam, what are you doing?" Frodo whispered in disappointment. "Make me come, please."

"Not yet, it's too soon," came the answer. "I don't want this to be over so quickly. I want us to enjoy this together, for as long as we can." Then Sam's curly head moved to his chest and his tongue flicked over the taut rosy nipples, then slid down his chest. His tongue dipped into Frodo's navel but rather than stopping there, Sam continued down his belly.

Frodo's eyes widened in surprise and delight as he felt soft lips caress against his most sensitive spot.

"You don't have to do that," he said quickly.

Sam sat up and settled himself aside Frodo. "Shush, just let me," he said. Sam brushed off Frodo's protestations and leant down to kiss the tip of his shaft, then pass his broad tongue over it. Frodo gasped and that was all the encouragement Sam needed to continue. He lay between Frodo's thighs, propped up on his elbows. He closed his eyes and then opened his mouth wide, careful not to let his teeth scrape the sensitiveflesh and took the head into his mouth. His held it gently in his mouth for a moment to get used to the feeling. Frodo had tensed beneath him, seemingly holding his breath while he waited to see what Sam would do. Sam felt a sudden power at being able to hold someone enthralled, compliant to his will. He let his tongue move over the silky softness, licking and flickering in a a leisurely exploration which allowed him to savour the salty taste and musky smell of such an intimate place.

Slowly he let his lips form a circle around Frodo and he used his mouth to suck him in a gentle rhythm. Frodo simultaneously exhaled in relief and moaned in appreciation. Feeling more daring now, Sam taunted him by flicking his tongue across the tip as he sucked, even teasing the slit at the top. Frodo was soon making inarticulate noises in time as Sam bobbed his head backwards and forwards on his shaft, letting it slide in and out of his mouth. He found his hips moving, thrusting up into Sam's mouth, seeking release.

Frodo's hands fluttered at his sides, then crept into Sam's hair, fingers grasping around his wavy locks. His head tossed on the pillow and his open eyes stared at the ceiling, seeing nothing as his excitement mounted. As he climaxed he could hear Sam's gurgling noises and his own voice, hoarse and raw, calling Sam's name.

Frodo's head flopped back and he stifled a sob. His chest rose and fell rapidly, breathing laboured. Sam moved up next to him and looked at Frodo with a smile. Frodo's eyes were wet and shone in the dim light, his expression pleasingly tired and a little sad. He held up his arms, inviting Sam into his embrace. Frodo stroked his face and his fingers brushed wonderingly over Sam's wet mouth. Sam clutched Frodo's fingers and kissed them gently.

"Oh, my dear," Frodo managed to say after a moment. "You really are amazing, Sam."

"It was all right, then?"

"Oh, yes!" exclaimed Frodo, a little louder than he had intended.

Sam laughed a little. "It seems you really are flesh and blood, after all."

"And you are too, Sam."

"We all are," said Sam simply. "We all have our own desires; you've only just woken up to yours."

"Now I wish I had earlier," said Frodo, wistfully. "You've always been my dear friend, my trusted companion, and you're the most beautiful Hobbit in the Shire. My feelings for you have grown so much without me even knowing. I love you Samwise, never forget that."

Sam lay his head against Frodo's shoulder, slipping his arms around him. "I've longed to hear that. I've loved you for so long," he whispered. "But Frodo, why couldn't you have just said so earlier and we could have been done with all these tears?"

Frodo sighed, and stroked Sam's damp locks as he sought the right words. Then he answered. "I was afraid I'd drag you down into darkness with me. And I couldn't bear that."

"But there's no darkness when I'm with you, Frodo. There's no need to be afraid of shadows any more."

"I know, my dear." Frodo brushed a stray strand of hair from Sam's cheek and they settled drowsily back into the pillows. Silently he thanked Sam for his gift. 'You don't know how much you have given me,' thought Frodo. 'You've made me feel alive and dispelled the darkness, even if for a little while.'

Soon Sam slept peacefully at his side; indeed, Sam would always be at his side, in one way or another. He would cherish Sam's love and the memory of it would help him when he finally departed, as he knew he must. Frodo knew how much pain he would cause Sam by leaving. But he looked back at the sleeping Hobbit and smiled. Sam would go on without him. He would marry and have a fulfilling domestic life filled with children and a loving wife. He would continue to make things grow, to give life, and encourage things to bloom. How could it be otherwise with a master gardener? It was second nature for him to care and cherish living things, even a wounded old Hobbit.

Frodo pressed a kiss to Sam's brow and rose from the bed. He went to the window and flung it open. He surveyed the garden and surrounding fields and trees where all was quiet and still. The cool air tingled on his skin and a shaft of moonlight pierced the cloud cover, illuminating the scene before him in shades of silver and grey. His eyes could see minute details of leaves waving in the breeze and of flowers nestled close to the ground, closed against the night. He discerned the aromatic smell of recently cut hay from a nearby farmer's field on the air. Somewhere, miles off, there was the lonely bark of a dog. A feeling of serenity settled in Frodo's heart for he knew now that all he loved was safe and unassailable.

He tilted his head to one side, as if listening for something other than the quiet murmur of the Shire at sleep. Then, suddenly and just for a moment, Frodo heard the distant sound of the Sea on the shores of Middle-Earth.

The End