He must have kicked out in his sleep. Samwise recalled the momentary terror when his foot connected to something solid before he woke to the clatter of metal ringing into the night. He was instantly wide awake and his fear transformed to embarrassment as the pots he had stacked before falling asleep now rolled about clamorously on chipped stone in the silent night.
"Now you've gone and done it, Samwise Gamgee," he muttered as he picked himself from his mess of a bed. The sheets were knocked about and twisted around and he struggled to disentangle himself.
He started to suspect that the trappings of his bed had added to his troubled sleep.
The woods around him seemed especially subdued when Sam's colander finally settled. It felt as if every living thing around him had stopped to stare. He ignored it best he could, beginning to hope that he had not awoken his companion with his blundering.
"Sam?" came a whisper that shattered the Hobbit's hopes. "What's wrong?"
"Oh, nothing," muttered Sam. "I'm just being clumsy, is all. Go back to sleep, Mr. Frodo and I'll promise to keep myself quiet."
An owl broke the censorship of the forest, and Sam thought the incident was done for. Frodo proved him wrong by sitting up an arm's reach away.
"Mr. Frodo," Sam began to reason, but his companion would have none of it.
Scratching his head, Frodo peered in the dark at his friend and asked, "were you having a nightmare?"
Sam frowned and felt surprisingly exposed by the question. Yes indeed, he had been having a nightmare. But he didn't intend to trouble his Frodo with it. He hadn't expected his Frodo to know, though.
"And what makes you think that, Mr. Frodo?" he offered as a way to distance himself from answering.
"It's nothing to be ashamed of, Sam," Frodo stated, rubbing at his eyes. His voice took on a soft, curious quality as he added, "I think I may have been aware of your nightmare while I was sleeping."
Sam shifted, uncomfortable with the idea of Frodo worrying over him.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Frodo asked softly.
"I wouldn't want to keep you up," Sam murmured.
This rewarded Sam with an unexpected laugh. "I'm already wide awake now, Sam. And I think most of Bridgefields is too."
Sam flushed at the teasing, but was glad to hear Frodo in a merry mood. It would never matter that it came at Sam's expense. He shrunk his head down into his shoulders unconsciously and found himself thinking back on the dream.
Frodo crawled over, dragging his bedding along with him through the earth and leaves they had settled on. "Go on then," he coaxed, settling beside Sam.
"Mr. Frodo," Sam began, "it was just a bad dream and it's done now. I really don't mean to keep you up all night."
Frodo allowed Sam to finish and paused a moment, as they sat side by side. The older Hobbit played with his fingers against the blanket and then looked frankly at his friend. "You've been having bad dreams for a while now Sam."
To this, Sam had no ready answer. He frowned, and perhaps pouted because in the dim starlight he could see Frodo crinkle his eyes in what could have been mirth.
"You're very good at being quiet about it, I don't think Rosie much notices at all."
Sam thought there was a hint of admiration in Frodo's observation. They both knew that sometimes Frodo's dreams would rouse the entire hole, and had once already awoken the baby.
"I suppose it's only natural," Sam said at last. "All that we've been through and done. I can't imagine what poor Merry and Pippin sometimes go through, all those battles they fought. And I wonder if even Strider still sees things he doesn't mean to see any longer."
He spoke and knotted his hands in his bedding, which still sprawled about him. Frodo reached over and placed a warm palm on Sam's which stilled the motion.
"What bothers you when you dream, Sam?"
Resigned that he could not escape his Master's request any longer, Sam sighed and shook his head.
"I see spiders, Mr. Frodo. I see the big spider that Gandalf called Shelob when we told him about our part of the journey. And in my dream I know she's still alive because I didn't really kill her. She's in some black hole somewhere, hating and angry and thinking all the time about me and about you. Oh Mr. Frodo, she was so terrible. Like nothing else in Middle Earth, she was. And still is."
He peered up from where his gaze had got stuck staring, and found Frodo watching him with a sad expression.
"I remember," began Frodo, "only that horrible feeling in her lair. When we were lost and touching our way through the dark. Such a long dark. I don't remember seeing her, but I believe you when you say she was a very evil thing."
Sam nodded apprehensively.
"Even with an army of Elves, I don't think I could have done her in, Mr. Frodo. And at night sometimes, I think I know she's out there waiting. That there's nothing now to stop her from finding us, much like how Gollum left his caves to find Bilbo and his ring."
Unwillingly, Sam peered around their small camp and into the darkness of the shadowed trees. Frodo may have noticed the cautious, furtive glances of his friend for he squeezed Sam's hand.
"Keep in mind, Sam," he said with authority and assurance, "that Bilbo had foolishly told Gollum who he was and where he lived. And you were far too busy shouting in Elvish to give Shelob our home address. And if she were so clever and evil as to track you down, she would have to first cross unnoticed over all of Strider's kingdom. And even then, I don't think Gandalf has quite abandoned the Shire."
Frodo's words made sense, and had always sounded wise. Sam took those suggestions into his consideration, and wished he himself could come up with such wisdom on his own.
"You defeated her once, Sam," Frodo murmured. "In a far worse place you were, without my help—nay, with my hindrance. And you drove her back. I think she would not seek you out in a million years. You're surrounded by allies, and you are braver and wiser than you have ever been and you are a father and a husband now. You have things that you would protect with all your strength."
"Then, I had you to protect," Sam answered, and he met Frodo's gaze candidly.
Frodo pursed his lips and stared back, looking for a moment both old and haunted, and then renewed and glad. He finally leaned over to rest his head on Sam's shoulder.
"You have bad dreams because of me, Sam."
"Mr. Frodo," Sam protested quietly, leaning into his Master. "I would bear these nightmares and all of yours too, if such things were up to our doing."
Frodo used his free hand to push a part of his blanket over Sam's uncovered knees. "I don't think I would allow that," he mused. "It's high time I bear a lot more of my own burden."
"I think you've borne enough."
Frodo said nothing for awhile.
A breath of air rustled the leaves high above the Hobbits' heads. Sam felt his eyes start to droop and tried to find the part in all of their long adventure where he would have believed that this moment could have come to be. It was nice, sitting in the middle of the woods camping for fun instead of from necessity. In peace, instead of watchful and anxious fear of discovery.
This was bittersweet, too. Sam believed that something was drawing to a close, and try as he might, he could not quite identify it and he wasn't sure he even wanted to know what it was or acknowledge it.
He didn't know how long they had sat together like this before Frodo said, "I remember when you had just taken the job as Uncle Bilbo's gardener."
Sam roused himself long enough to hum a response, not sure of where Frodo's thought had come from but starting to find it more cheerful than his own broodings.
"Your sister was with me, learning her letters when she spotted a spider on one of the bookshelves."
Sam chuckled despite himself, already hearing Daisy's shrill voice. He could remember that incident, or perhaps one very similar. Daisy had never liked bugs.
"You came into the library and you were awfully embarrassed at Daisy and she kept yelling at you to kill it, and you grabbed an open book from the table and it was my favourite book at the time."
Sam could feel the grin on Frodo's face, close beside his. He supposed that he, too, had one to match it.
"I thought you were going to kill the spider, too. And I was too horrified to move or speak against it. I kept seeing twisted spider-legs slammed between the pages of my book and I was resolved to never forgive you if that had transpired."
Frodo took a moment to recount his breath, before continuing with the conclusion.
"You coaxed the spider onto the book and told Daisy that she was making a fool of herself and that spiders were good for gardens. And you were so careful with that spider as you carried it out, and I was so concerned for that book that I never really appreciated how gentle you were, Sam."
Dumbly, Sam thought about that day trying to remember it. He recalled the gardens of any given season at Bag End. He could not bring to mind each and every insect or arachnid he had removed from indoors to outdoors, but he did sense the emotions he must have felt at Daisy's misbehaving during Mr. Bilbo's and Mr. Frodo's hospitality. And he had always tried to respect how fragile small creatures were. Open books made excellent tools in the transport of spiders, since their dark little bodies stood out on the pages and he could turn the book sideways or tilt it to keep the spider contained until it was safely out of doors. And he would never harm any of Mr. Frodo's books. Sam could see the point of Frodo's story, though.
"I think it's wonderful that spiders are good for gardens, Sam."
It moved something in Sam, to think that his Frodo kept memories of such a simple action in this way.
At length, Sam opened his eyes to see a sky still devoid of dawn light. He did feel drowsy, and somewhat emotionally spent. He could not imagine how tired Mr. Frodo would be.
As carefully as he could, Sam pulled his sheets back to himself without intending to disturb Frodo. Frodo shifted though, to Sam's dismay, to help the other straighten out their combined sheets. He did look as weary now as Sam felt.
For the past few months Frodo often appeared exhausted, but his face was at least relaxed for now and his stare fixed on Sam with an keenness that was reassuring to the gardener.
"And you, Mr. Frodo?" Sam caught himself asking. "When you have bad dreams, what do you dream about?"
He astounded himself through his audacity. The words seemed to come from somewhere Sam had no control of.
Frodo didn't turn away from the earnest look Sam offered, though. He tilted his head, frowned and looked inwardly with a lost kind of thoughtfulness. Sam watched him gather their blankets together into a ball, absently using his hands.
Frodo could have said many things. That he dreamt of the Dark Lord taking him and keeping him in torment for years and years and years and years. Frodo could have dreams of his night in the keeping of Orcs, naked and alone and in fear of the consequences of failing his quest—the ring already on its' way to its' Master. Or Frodo could talk of his own dreams of Shelob, not needing to have seen her. He would be trapped and contained and dragged away to be devoured piece by piece with no one to hear him in the dark where light never shone. There were Ring Wraiths and Weathertop battles that would wound him forever. Frodo could dream that the Shire burned, or of any one of his friends betraying him. He could have dreamed of Samwise leaving him.
More than anything, Sam wished he could take back the question out of his own selfish desire to not know how his Master suffered.
Slowly, Frodo returned and said with very little emotion, "I often dream that you're not gone, Sam. But that I do not recognize you."
Worked up by the possibilities, and now stunned by the truth, Sam bit back an unbidden cry.
Frodo continued somberly. "In the dream, this doesn't kill me. But when I wake up…" he trailed off.
Sam's eyes stung. "Oh Mr. Frodo."
"And now I've gone and made you miserable. I should be ashamed of myself," Frodo whispered admonishingly, and he let his dear friend Sam embrace him tightly.
"I wish I had never kicked that pot over," Sam said, blinking back tears. "I mean, Mr. Frodo, that I'm glad to know what you go through, but I'm not glad to know it either. If you take my meaning."
"Oh Sam," Frodo squeezed. "I do take your meaning. And I wish you'd kick a pot over every time you are haunted by things so that I may know when you suffer." At length, Frodo draw back and looking quite old he said, "we are a miserable pair of war heroes, Sam."
Sam nodded, smiling bitterly. "That we are, Mr. Frodo. That we are."
Exhausted, the pots and colander were left lying in the dirt to reflect starlight as the Hobbits made their bed together, and for a second time they tried to win a sleep with no more dreams outside of one another.
(Author gratefully acknowledges Aria Breuer for suggesting corrections to grammar. That's never happened before, so...thanks!)