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‘You shouldn’t walk into Mister Frodo’s parlour like that, Sam,’ his sister May had told him. ‘It isn’t proper.’

Sam had assured her that Frodo didn’t mind. ‘I think he likes it and all. He’ll be getting lonely, rattling around that hole on his own. There’s no harm in it, is there?’ She’d scoffed at that.

But now there he was, eating his words. He’d come in the front door as usual and gone straight through into the parlour, and now he didn’t have the first idea what to do.

“Good morning,” said Frodo through his laughter.

They’d been laughing when he came in, which would be why they hadn’t heard his feet in the hall. Mister Frodo and the handsome, round-faced hobbit in his parlour. They were both still in their night things and Mister Frodo was perched, shamelessly, in the other hobbit’s lap.

Frodo was wearing one of Mister Bilbo’s old dressing downs, which hung half open. His toes were just touching the floor. The strange hobbit held his pipe in one hand and with the other he was gripping Frodo’s thigh through his nightshirt. When Sam had blundered in they’d been nose to nose and giggling.

“This is Mister Goldworthy,” said Frodo. “He’s, um, visiting from the South Farthing.”

“Yessir,” said Sam. It was all he could think to say. He shifted, his feet slipping on the clammy tiled floor. No matter how hard he tried to keep them safe on Frodo’s face his eyes would keep going to Mister Goldworthy’s fat hand sitting on his leg.

Abruptly Frodo slid off Mister Goldworthy’s lap and onto his own chair. “Sorry, Sam,” he said, still laughing.

Finding his voice, Sam said, “I was just stepping in to say good morning, Mister Frodo.”

“Good morning to you,” Frodo said again.

“Good morning,” mumbled Mister Goldworthy.

“Well, I’ll, I’ll be getting on with the watering,” said Sam.

“Oh, yes,” said Frodo. “It’s warm out, isn’t it?”

“That it is, sir.” Sam wavered. He nodded to Mister Goldworthy, and left the parlour.

Standing in the hall he heard a low mumble of Mister Goldworthy’s voice. Frodo said softly, “the gardener – don’t mind him.”

In the garden, Sam filled the watering can and tried not to dwell on it. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day and he’d been in a very fine mood. He ought to put it out of his mind. It wasn’t any of his business what Mister Frodo did in his own parlour – or anywhere else, for that matter.

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t known where Mister Frodo’s interests lay. It was common knowledge around Hobbiton and maybe further abroad. No-one cared, or no-one cared much. Leastways no-one important cared. Sam had never cared. Or at least, he’d thought he hadn’t cared.

He’d always thought of himself as a very open-minded hobbit and his parents hadn’t raised him to judge. But, he reflected as he set to watering, it could be that there was a difference between knowing that Mister Frodo did things, things certain other hobbits might say were unnatural, in his bedchamber, and seeing him there in his nightshirt with another lad’s hands all over him.

It wasn’t the first time Mister Frodo had had a friend over for breakfast when he’d come to work neither. Sam wasn’t much of a thinker. He’d never connected the dots before, between what Frodo might be getting up to, theoretically, discreetly, by night, and the friends of his who stayed over now and then. Just how many of them were his – Sam didn’t even know what the word would be for that.

From the parlour window he heard Mister Frodo’s laugh spilling out, and another laugh with it. His grip on the watering can went very tight and he saw it again, in his mind’s eye, Mister Goldworthy’s big hand on Frodo’s leg where it didn’t belong. His face went hot. He felt a bit sick.

Might they be laughing at him, he wondered? My gardener – don’t mind him. Did you see him squirm?

“None of your business, Sam Gamgee,” he muttered to himself. He’d go away and water the kitchen garden and with any luck by the time he came back around they’d have moved off somewhere else, or at least put some real clothes on.

And then, he decided, once he was through watering the kitchen garden, he’d stop thinking about it altogether.

*

The other lads talked about hobbits with Mister Frodo’s predilections sometimes. After a few drinks at the Green Dragon they’d come out with the most awful things, nasty names and jokes. Sam had never liked it. When he had the nerve he’d tell them to stop, else he’d sit quietly till they moved onto another joke.

They didn’t often say anything about Mister Frodo, him being a gentlehobbit and his owning the hill and all. They’d been quiet on the subject of Mister Frodo since the night Posco Bunce had run his mouth without realising Mister Merry Brandybuck was listening and got a bloody nose for it.

Sam had always hoped dearly that none of that talk reached Mister Frodo, safe as he was at the top of the hill.

Once he’d seen Mister Frodo in the tavern sitting with one of his friends – one from over the water by the look of him. They hadn’t held hands or touched in any of the ways a lad and lass walking out together would touch but still the boys had snickered.

Sam had been thinking back over all Frodo’s friends, the Buckshire lad in the pub and Mister Goldworthy and the others he’d seen coming and going over the years, and he reckoned if Mister Frodo had a type it was hobbits with broad shoulders and fair hair, and soft around the middle.

“That’s enough of that,” he said aloud to himself. “Enough of that, Sam Gamgee.” He was in the kitchen garden, planting. The sun was warm and the dark soil was warm between his fingers. If he could only turn his thoughts off for a while. “The planting to do,” he said to himself. “And the edges need trimming – there we are.” He patted the soil down flat.

“Talking to yourself, Sam?”

Frodo’s voice cut across his thoughts so swiftly it sent him dizzy. “Oh, no Mister Frodo!” He snatched his hands out of the bed. “I was just doing some planting.”

Frodo was – he’d call it smirking, but if it was a smirk it was a fond smirk. “I know,” he said. “I came out to see how you were getting on.” Hitching up the legs of his trousers, he knelt beside Sam on the path. “Need a hand?”

Sam looked at his seedlings, fresh and pale green against the earth. He looked at Frodo. The sun was behind the hill and bathed in its light he was all but glowing around the edges. “Oh no, sir, I’m alright,” he said.

“Do you mind if I sit?” said Frodo.

“Not at all,” said Sam. He dug back into the herb bed. “I was just planting herbs, see,” he said, lifting his trowel.

“Oh, yes?” said Frodo, who had probably seen what Sam was doing.

“The dill, and some coriander,” said Sam.

And before he knew what was what he was babbling away about the herb garden and how well it was coming on, Frodo sitting beside him all the while saying, “hmm,” and, “I see,” and to all appearances content to let Sam run on about his favourite subject as long as he liked. And run on he would.

They hadn’t talked much that past fortnight. Sam had taken to knocking before coming in to say good morning and whether Frodo liked it better that way he couldn’t say. Sam didn’t like it better.

What if they talked less and less till it was just how do you do and water the grass as with the others he gardened for? He couldn’t stand the thought of that. Mister Frodo was almost a friend – as close to a friend as he could be, being a gentlehobbit.

He’d all but run out of things to say about herbs and was pondering moving n to the vegetables when, as he set his last seedling into its hole, Frodo reached out and said, “let me help.”

He reached into the bed, his hands brushing Sam’s. Sam did not withdraw. He watched as Mister Frodo’s soft, indoor hands pressed down the soil, coming away dirty.

“You don’t need to do that, Mister Frodo,” said Sam.

“I like to,” said Frodo, and all at once he set his hand atop Sam’s.

His hand was cool, a shade or so lighter than Sam’s, and it sat there as if it had every right to be there. Sam looked up at Frodo, puzzled, and saw a funny look in his eye, a look he’d only seen once before. It was the same look he’d had that morning – the way he’d been eying Mister Goldworthy as Sam had blundered in. As if he was something delicious, something he wanted to eat up.

In a flash Sam’s face went hot and in that moment, as Frodo looked into his eyes and he into Frodo’s, thoughts crowded his head. Just my gardener – don’t mind him – did you see him squirm? Didn’t he just squirm?

Their laughs, spilling together out of the parlour window.

He remembered in sudden and acute detail the time Lily Brownlock had asked him to walk out with her and laughed in his face when he’d said yes, lovesick little fool that he’d been. His stomach turned just as it had turned then. His skin crawled where Frodo touched it.

Frodo’s thumb began to move, a slow, gentle circle against the skin of his wrist.

Sam snatched his hand away as if he’d touched a serpent. “None of that, Mister Frodo,” he said sharply.

For half a moment he could have said Frodo looked saddened. But then his master said, “I see. I do apologise.” Rising to his feet, he walked to the kitchen door, dusting soil off his hands as he went.

Sam busied himself in the herb bed till he heard the click of a latch. Even then, he didn’t dare look around, painfully aware as he was of the row of windows behind him.

Not a sound carried through the opening windows of Bag End. Somewhere in that silence was Mister Frodo.

Why couldn’t he be a proper gentlehobbit, Sam thought to himself. A normal hobbit, with a wife and children to fill up the spare bedrooms in Bag End. And what had he been thinking, grabbing Sam’s hand like that – what a trick to play.

That was just what the lads said about hobbits like Mister Frodo, that they were out to trick you, to draw you into their nasty ways. He didn’t believe that. He’d never believed that. He didn’t know what to think.

He sat back on his haunches for a moment, not thinking but merely feeling, his mind a whirly. Then, quite to his surprise, he began to cry.

“Pull yourself together, Sam.” He scrubbed his hands across his face, leaving smears of blackish dirt. He sniffed. “Pull yourself together, now. That’s enough of that.”

*

The days wore on, into June and steadily hotter. Sam watered more, and despaired at the wilting of his flowerbeds.

Not that they were his, strictly speaking. They belonged to Bag End and so to Frodo. He shouldn’t think of them of his own. It was a bad habit, like walking into gentlehobbits’ parlours unannounced.

“Blasted heat,” he muttered to himself. “Could at least kill the weeds as well as the flowers.” He didn’t mind thistles but they had their place and their place was out in the woods, not in the flower garden at Bag End. He adjusted his gloves and went back to work.

“Morning, Sam.” And there was Mister Frodo, standing abruptly on the path with a cup of tea in his hand and a saucer in the other.

“Oh, good morning Mister Frodo!” said Sam, shading his eyes against the sun.

“I was wondering if you were in yet,” said Frodo.

“Well, here I am,” said Sam. “I thought I’d just get stuck in, y’see. Lots to do.”

“Hm.” Frodo sipped his mid-morning tea. “How much more do you have to do today?”

Sam looked about the garden and all at once his carefully-laid plans spilled out of his head. He could barely look Frodo in the eye of late, let alone hold up a conversation with him. “Well, there’s the weeding,” he said. “And then I was going to do the hedges, sir.”

“I don’t suppose the hedges can wait till tomorrow?” said Frodo. “It’s just, I have a friend coming for lunch and I thought we’d sit in the garden.”

Kneeling on the grass, Sam stared up at Frodo, his face half-hidden by the sun behind him. “Right you are, sir,” he said, and went back to his weeding. Mister Frodo’s footsteps tramped away. “A friend like Mister Goldworthy?”

The words slipped out without him fully meaning them to. But the moment they were out he knew they’d come from a nasty, spiteful place inside himself, a place he seldom nurtured.

He did not look up as Frodo stopped, and turned, and came back up the path. “A friend like Merry Brandybuck,” said Frodo. “If you must know.”

The sun had gone behind a cloud. In the new light Frodo’s face was bitter. “Oh,” said Sam, abashed. “Sorry, sir.”

“Why?” said Frodo.

“Why, sir?” said Sam.

“If it was a friend like Mister Goldworthy,” said Frodo, “would that matter?”

It would matter. The thought of Frodo and Mister Goldworthy, or any of his other handsome friends, rolling around on the lawn – the lawn Sam tended with his own hands – made his skin crawl.

“Of course not,” said Sam. “You do as you please, Mister Frodo.” He made a show of going back to his weeding and waited for Frodo to go inside.

Frodo didn’t go anywhere. After a moment his teacup clinked against his saucer. “Sam, if you have a problem with the way I do things you’d better come out and say it.”

“No problem, sir,” said Sam crisply.

“Because if you’re upset with me I’d rather you said so to my face,” said Frodo. “Instead of lumping around pulling faces and muttering to yourself.”

“I haven’t been pulling faces, sir,” said Sam.

“You have.”

Whether he had or he hadn’t Sam couldn’t say. He’d never been good at keeping his feelings from showing on his face. And as for muttering, well, he’d been doing that all morning and could hardly deny it. He said nothing.

“I’m sorry if Mister Goldworthy and I embarrassed you,” said Frodo.

“I’m not embarrassed, Mister Frodo,” said Sam.

“No?” said Frodo. “Then why are you in such a temper?”

“I’m not in a temper, sir,” said Sam. He tugged at an especially deeply-rooted weed and tried not to think of it, Mister Goldworthy’s hand where it oughtn’t have been. “Just because I don’t like seeing you with another lad pawing all over you,” he said, tugging harder. “Doesn’t mean I’m in a temper –” The stem snapped, leaving the roots in the ground.

What he wanted to say was it makes me sick, but he caught the words on his tongue, knowing how they’d sound. His mouth worked as he tried to think of another way to put it. “It ain’t decent, sir.”

“Decent,” Frodo repeated tonelessly. His face was bleak.

Sitting on the grass clutching the weed he’d torn out of the ground Sam felt a sudden flood of remorse. He felt as if he’d stood up and struck Frodo about the face. He felt as if he might as well have struck him.

“Well,” said Frodo stiffly. “If that’s how you feel, perhaps you’d be better off seeking other employment.”

He walked away. The kitchen door went snick and Sam sat alone in the garden, alone and sick and timid.

*

“What’s that long face for, then?” said Merry Brandybuck.

“Pardon me, sir?” said Sam. It was quiet in the tavern, too late for lunch and too early for evening drinking. He’d been sitting there all afternoon, nursing half a pint of ale and his feelings.

“I said, what’s that long face for?” said Merry again, leaning upon Sam’s table.

What was he to say to that? He knew what he ought to say, which was that his face wasn’t long and everything was fine, thank you, but he didn’t want to say that and anyway it’d be a lie.

“I thought you were visiting Mister Frodo?” he said.

“I was,” said Merry. “But I stopped in here to say good afternoon to the lads and spotted you sitting here all hang-dog. What’s the face in aid of?”

Sam said, “I think I’ve just been sacked,” still somewhat in disbelief.

“Sacked?” Merry’s lips quirked as if Sam’s livelihood was a bit of fun. “By who?”

“Mister Frodo,” said Sam glumly.

At that, Merry’s face dropped. He stared at Sam in confusion and concern. He took his elbows off the tabletop and for a moment Sam thought he was going to walk away but instead he slid into the windowseat and sat heavily on the cushions. “Say that again?”

“Mister Frodo Baggins,” said Sam.

Merry went through several expressions of puzzlement as if he was trying to do a complicated sum in his head. He took out his pipe, and tapped it on the table in thought. At length, he said, “alright. What did you do?”

“What did I do?” said Sam.

“To get yourself sacked,” said Merry. “I can’t imagine Frodo would sack you for no good reason, but then I can’t imagine you’d give him good reason to sack you. But I know him better than I know you, so if I’m wrong about one of your characters I dare say it’s more likely to be yours. So I suppose you must have done something, and something pretty awful at that. Out with it.”

“You could be wrong about Frodo’s character,” said Sam stiffly. “There’s plenty who are good to their friends and rotten to their service.”

“True, true,” said Merry. “I take it back. It could go either way. What happened?”
Sam dithered a moment longer. Then, resigned to his fate, he confessed. “I did something awful.” He lifted his tankard and found it empty but for a few frothy dregs.

Slowly, Merry rubbed his hand over his mouth. “How awful?”

“Dreadfully awful,” said Sam. “To be honest, sir, if I were Mister Frodo I’d have sacked me too.”

“Goodness me,” said Merry.

“Did he say anything to you about it, Mister Merry?” said Sam.

“Not a thing,” said Merry. “He was very quiet this afternoon, as a matter of fact. What did your gaffer say?”

“I haven’t been home yet,” said Sam. “I don’t know how I’ll tell him. He’ll have my skin for sure.” Looking into the glittering depths of his empty tankard he went on, “I don’t know what I’ll do. I can’t hardly tell him what happened. He’ll be so angry – and I don’t want to stop gardening at Bag End. I love those gardens like my own, sir.”

“Sam, you’d best tell me,” said Merry. “What’d you do?”

“It’s not something I did as much as something I said,” said Sam. “And it’s a bit of a long story.”

“Alright,” said Merry with a sigh. “Wait here.” Standing, he clapped Sam lightly on the shoulder and went to the bar.

“I’m all ears,” he said a minute or two later, setting Sam’s fresh half-pint down before him.

“You didn’t need to do that, sir, really,” said Sam. “I don’t deserve –”

“Don’t mention it,” said Merry. “Anyhow, now you owe me so come out with it. What did you do?”

Sam looked at his ale, not daring to drink it, feeling like a thief. “You’ll hate me if I tell you.” True, what he’d called Frodo wasn’t as vicious as what Posco Bunce had called Frodo but that didn’t mean he wasn’t in for a bloody nose, or at the very least a stern talking to.

“I doubt that that,” said Merry, raising his tankard to his lips.

“I called him indecent.”

Merry choked on his ale. “You what?”

“Strictly speaking I didn’t call him indecent so much as not decent,” Sam babbled.

“What, what did you do that for?” said Merry.

“I don’t know!” said Sam.

Reaching across the table Merry grabbed Sam’s tankard and tugged it sharply across the table top, splashing ale about. “I’m taking this back,” he said. “I’ll be drinking both of these.”

“I didn’t mean it, honest I didn’t,” said Sam. “It just came out. I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t think that, I swear I don’t. I was just so upset.”

It hadn’t been his words. It hadn’t even been the words of lads like Posco Bunce. It was like something his grandmother would say. Where those words had come from, it ain’t decent, he couldn’t imagine.

“I take it,” said Merry, “this was with regards to –” He waved his pipe about in a vague circle that Sam took to mean Mister Frodo’s proclivities, specifically those concerning his own sex.

“Yes,” said Sam. “I don’t know why I said it and now I feel rotten.”

“As you should!” said Merry. “If I was Frodo I’d have given you the sack too. Honestly. And to think I felt sorry for you.”

The tears Sam had been holding back all afternoon fogged his eyes. He wiped at them, willing them back, but there was no hiding it.

“You really do feel bad, don’t you?” said Merry.

“Yes, sir,” said Sam, choked.

“I take it there’s more to this business.”

“A fair bit more, sir,” said Sam.

Mister Merry let out a deep and resigned sigh. He put Sam’s tankard back in its previous position. “Go on, then.”

“I don’t know where to start.” Sam gripped the handle of his tankard. “And I don’t know if I should. It’s not all polite, to tell the truth.”

“Start at the beginning,” said Merry. He began to fill his pipe.

And so he did. He knew he shouldn’t, for it was a story about his private business and Mister Frodo’s private business and it wasn’t the sort of thing he’d be comfortable talking about with his own sort and it concerned subjects he certainly shouldn’t be spilling his guts out about to a gentlehobbit like Merry Brandybuck – but he told it anyway.

“And then I came down here and bought half a pint and I’ve been here ever since,” he finished. “And that’s where you came in, Mister Merry.”

All while he’d been telling his story, such as it was, Merry had been filling and lighting his pipe and now he sat puffing on it with the air of a world-weary traveller rather than a young hobbit scarce out of his tweens. When he saw that Sam had finished, he took the pipe from his mouth and said, “well that’s a pickle and no mistake.”

“It is a right pickle, sir,” Sam agreed.

“I’ve got two bits of advice for you, Sam Gamgee.” Merry pointed at Sam with the stem of his pipe. “First off, you’d best go straight to Bag End tomorrow morning and apologise – if you really are sorry.”

“I am, sir!” said Sam. “I didn’t mean it – I don’t think that way and I never have. I don’t know what came over me and I don’t know if he’ll forgive me. I don’t think I’d forgive me if I was him.”

“You’d best apologise anyway,” said Merry. “He certainly won’t forgive you if you don’t.”

“I suppose not,” said Sam. “What was the second bit of advice?”

“Hm? Oh,” said Merry. Learning forward on the window seat, he said, “have you considered that you might be jealous?”

“Jealous?” said Sam. “How’d you mean?” He took a swig of ale. He felt enormously better for having got the matter off his chest. Especially as, curiously, Merry didn’t seem to be angry with him anymore – or leastways his anger had had the edge taken off it.

“Jealous,” Merry said again, gesturing with his hands as if that one word ought to be enough to explain everything.

“What’s to be jealous of?” said Sam. “I’m hardly going to be interested in the lads he’s spending the night with, am I?”

“Ah.” Merry winced, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Alright. I shall try a different tack.” He puffed on his pipe, and said, “how do you feel about our Frodo?”

“Feel about him, Mister Merry?” said Sam. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“You’re very fond of him, I take it?” said Merry.

“Well, yes,” said Sam.

“And you care about his good opinion of you,” said Merry.

“Of course I do.”

“Spend a lot of time thinking about him, when he isn’t around?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” said Sam.

“Well, do you?” Merry said.

“I dunno,” said Sam. “I suppose so.” Ever since that morning with Mister Goldworthy he’d been thinking about Frodo non-stop, but now he thought about it even before that Frodo had been in his mind a lot. But why shouldn’t he be?

“Do you think he’s handsome?”

“I – what?” said Sam. “What sort of a question is that? What’s got into you?”

“But do you think he’s handsome?” Merry persisted.

Sam floundered. He had a sense this was a trap but he didn’t know how. “But he is handsome, Mister Merry,” he said. “Everyone thinks so.”

“I don’t imagine everyone does think so,” said Merry.

“Eh?” said Sam.

“You think he’s handsome, anyway,” said Merry. “Do you see what I’m driving at here?”

Sam thought about it. “No, sir,” he said.

“Oh, Sam.” Merry leaned back in his seat, almost but not quite laughing. He rubbed a hand over his face. “Sam. Samwise. Sam Gamgee. Sam, my lad.”

“I’m older than you, Mister Merry,” said Sam.

“Sam, Sam, Sam,” said Merry. “Not much of a thinker, are you, Sam?”

“Never have been, sir,” said Sam, slightly hurt.

“I can see I shall have to be more direct,” said Merry. Sitting forward, he said, “have you considered you might be very, very attracted to him?” and put his pipe back in his mouth.

Now it was Sam’s turn to choke on his ale. “What?” he said. “Don’t talk nonsense!”

“It’s not nonsense, Sam,” said Merry placidly.

“It is, sir, begging your pardon!” said Sam. “As if I’d ever – and you thought I – and you a gentlehobbit and all!”

“So you haven’t, then,” said Merry.

“Haven’t what?” said Sam.

“Considered it,” said Merry.

“Well –” Of course he hadn’t. In all the thinking he’d done about Frodo that past month he’d never considered that he might be – well naturally he hadn’t, because he wasn’t. He wasn’t like that. He’d know, if he was like that – if his interests went the other way, as Mister Frodo’s did. It wasn’t hardly the sort of thing you could get all through your life not noticing, now, was it?

Even so, he considered it a moment. He considered it a moment longer.

It was as if he’d been staring a page of strange, indecipherable characters and someone had casually said in his ear, you’d holding the book upside down. He turned the events of the last month around in his head and viewed them from a new angle and in a flash it made sense, all of it.

The way he’d felt, when Frodo had looked at him like that with those big eyes of his, and touched his hands – and the way he’d felt afterwards. That sick fear like worms squirming in his guts, or beating wings. That sour feeling in his chest when he’d seen Mister Goldworthy’s hand on Frodo’s leg – of course, of course it had been jealousy. He was jealous, and if Mister Frodo had been a lass he’d have seen it at once.

Sam’s hands flew to his mouth. “Oh no!” he cried.

There we go,” said Merry.

“No, no,” said Sam. Tears welled in his eyes all over again and he blinked them away. “I can’t be.”

“Do calm down, Sam,” said Merry. “It’s not as if it’s a bad thing.”

“But –” He’d never thought of it was a bad thing but then it had always been something apart from himself, something strange and faraway that had no bearing on his life. “But what am I to do?”

“Not for me to decide,” said Merry airily.

All the worst names he’d ever heard for hobbits that went the other way ran through his mind and inwardly he shuddered. “But I’m not like that. I go for lasses, I always have –”

“Then you’re one of those that goes both ways,” said Merry. “Welcome to the fold, Sam Gamgee.”

Sam stared at Merry in disbelief. That he could be so casual about a thing like this, and in public, and in the middle of the day. He must have looked stricken for Merry went on,

“It’s nothing to be frightened of, Sam.”

“Maybe not for you,” said Sam. “Your being a gentlehobbit and all – it’s different for the likes of me.”

“I –” Merry frowned. “Alright. I suppose it is different.”

“But what am I supposed to do?” said Sam. If Mister Frodo wouldn’t give him his job back he’d have to go home and explain to his Gaffer what had happened. And even if Mister Frodo would give it back, he’d have to go to Bag End every day and somehow look Frodo in the eye knowing what he knew now and how he’d cope with that he didn’t know.

“If I were you,” said Merry. “I’d out and tell him.”

Tell him?” said Sam.

“Why not?” said Merry. “It’s not as if you can make things any worse. Anyhow, the way you tell it he made a pass at you.”

“I don’t think he meant it, sir,” said Sam.

“Didn’t he?”

“I mean to say, I think he was making a joke,” Sam went on.

“If you think my cousin Frodo would make a joke like that,” said Merry, “then you don’t know him at all.”

He was right, Sam realised. Frodo wasn’t the type to joke around so cruelly. Was it possible he had really meant it? He had really wanted Sam to – to do what? He had only a hazy idea of what two lads might do together.

Sam drank his ale thoughtfully. “I don’t know that he’d be interested,” he said on reflection. “Not after what I said.”

“He might be,” said Merry.

“Well, anyhow, far as I know he’s,” Sam searched for the right word. “Taken.”

“Taken?” Merry echoed.

“That Mister Goldworthy,” said Sam.

“Oh, Hugo?” said Merry carelessly. “Don’t worry about him, they’re just friends.”

“I think they’re a bit more than friends, Mister Merry,” said Sam.

“Special friends,” said Merry. “That’s all. Trust me.”

“If you say so,” said Sam.

“He likes you, you know. Told me so himself,” Merry said.

“He did?” It had never occurred to Sam that Frodo might talk about him when he wasn’t there.

“And you are his type.”

“I am?” Sam thought about it. “I am his type.” He shook himself. “It wouldn’t be proper. Mister Frodo’s a gentlehobbit and I’m just his gardener. It wouldn’t be proper at all.”

“Do you really think Baggins of Bag End cares much for what’s proper?” said Merry.

“Maybe not, but I do,” said Sam. “I couldn’t possibly.”

“What have you got to lose?” said Merry.

“A lot of folks’ good opinion of me,” Sam reminded him.

“Other than that,” said Merry. “Well, no-one who matters will care. Think it over.” Standing, he drained his tankard and clapped Sam’s shoulder. “Best of luck to you, Sam Gamgee. Let me know how it goes.” Whistling to himself, he sauntered out of the tavern.

*

The trouble was, he hadn’t the faintest idea how any of this worked. Courting was a complicated enough dance without first having to find out if the object of your affection even went your way. You couldn’t just ask another lad to walk out with you the way you might a lass, or you’d get a lot worse than laughed at if you judged wrong.

Frodo didn’t seem to have much trouble finding willing partners but Sam had never given any thought to how he met them. Was there a system? Some secret code he didn’t know about?

Of course it was a bit moot in this instance as he knew perfectly well where Frodo’s interests lay and had good reason to think his affections, such as they were, were reciprocated. But still, he wasn’t sure how to talk to Frodo about it.

And if Frodo truly was interested in him, what then? He’d heard things, of course he had, about what two lads might do together. Crude, nasty things and which of them were true and which were lies he didn’t know.

The thought alone scared him. But the more he considered, the thought of not telling Frodo, of not ever knowing what might have happened, that scared him more. And if he put it off any longer, he’d never do it at all.

After breakfast the next morning he found himself standing on the doorstep of Bag End with a bunch of flowers and only the barest bones of a plan.

He knocked, and waited. He waited for what felt like an age and began to wonder if Frodo wasn’t in – or, worse, had seen him through the window and was snubbing him – but then Bag End went a fair way back into the hill. It often took a long while to reach the front door.

At length, the round door opened and in the shadows of the hall, very dark next to the bright June sunlight, Frodo’s face appeared.

“Oh, good morning, Sam,” he said, airily, but also warily. He didn’t open the door any wider.

“Good morning, Mister Frodo.” Sam thrust the flowers forward like a shield. “These are for you.” He hadn’t meant to start that way but now he was looking Frodo in the eye it seemed easiest. Frodo was looking at the flowers, which now struck Sam as woefully insufficient. “I just wanted to tell you – well, that is to say, I’m sorry for what I said yesterday.”

“Oh.” Opening the door a little wider, Frodo accepted the flowers. “You didn’t need to bring flowers.”

“I wanted to, sir.” Sam’s hands, at a loss for anything else to do, began to sweat. He shoved them into his pockets. “I really am sorry, sir. I –”

“It’s alright, Sam,” said Frodo. “I’m sorry for snapping at you. I overreacted. You can keep your job.”

Well, that was one hurdle jumped and easier than Sam had expected. He breathed out.

“And do give my regards to your Gaffer,” said Frodo. And then, just like that, he made as if to close the door.

“With all due respect, sir,” said Sam in a tumble. “I didn’t come here to beg for my job back – which isn’t to say I don’t want it no more, because I do – and my Gaffer didn’t send me. He don’t know what happened yesterday and I don’t suppose I’ll tell him now.”

“Better not,” Frodo agreed.

“I have more I’d like to say, Mister Frodo,” said Sam. “And if you please, I don’t think I can stay it standing on your doorstep.”

“Oh,” said Frodo. “Oh – well, I suppose you’d better come in.”

Sam stepped into the hall of Bag End, the cool, dark interior of the hill. It felt strange coming in through the front door, almost like a guest. Even stranger, when Frodo him him on into the parlour.

The window was open, and Frodo busied himself at once finding somewhere to put the flowers. “What was it you wanted to say?” he said mildly.

For all the world he seemed to have forgiven Sam for what he said. Or rather, he hadn’t forgiven as much as put it aside.

It struck Sam that Frodo lived in a world where sometimes people you liked, people you trusted, turned around and called you indecent for plain living your life and all you could do was put it aside and pretend to forgive. After all, a hobbit who’d say it ain’t decent but was willing to talk to you politely and take care of your garden despite thinking you were doing wrong was far from the worst sort of hobbit.

“I am sorry for what I said, Mister Frodo,” he burst out. “Really and truly, I didn’t mean it and I don’t think it. I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’d understand if you can’t, or if you won’t.” Frodo stood by the open window, not looking at him, toying with the satiny petal of a flower. “I don’t know that I’d forgive me, if I was you. It was a horrible thing to say, Mister Frodo, no mistake.”

Frodo said, “hm,” which could have meant any number of things.

“I don’t even know why I said it,” said Sam. “Not really. I was just so upset, Mister Frodo, and it came out – and I wish I could say I didn’t mean to hurt you but I’ve been thinking on it and I think maybe I did mean to, for a moment.”

Frodo looked at him. “It did hurt,” he confessed. “Coming from you.”

That stung, but at the same time – Sam thought of what Merry had said, you care about his good opinion of you. Frodo cared about Sam’s good opinion of him, in his own way. “I’m sorry,” he said it again, acutely aware that he could only say as much so many times before it lost its meaning.

“I didn’t think you were the sort to say a thing like that,” said Frodo.

“I didn’t think so neither,” said Sam.

“Well, don’t worry,” said Frodo. “You’re forgiven.”

Sam could tell he expected that to be the end of the conversation. You’re forgiven and then they’d never speak of it again. Part of him wanted that. Part of him thought it might be for the best.

He didn’t know how to say what he had to say next. “I’ve been talking with Mister Merry,” he said at last.

“Oh, goodness,” said Frodo. “What did he say to you? Do I need to have a word with him?”

“Oh, no – no, sir,” said Sam. “He was very helpful, I think.” He shoved his hands once again into his pockets and immediately took them out. He wished he hadn’t given the flowers away so soon. He’d have liked something to hide his face. As it was, he twisted his fingers together and looked at his feet. “I’ve just got to thinking, Mister Frodo.”

“Mm-hm,” said Frodo.

“I’ve got to thinking,” said Sam. “About everything that’s been going on, and, and why I got so upset, and I think I got upset, seeing you – well, I think maybe I got so upset because I wanted you for himself.”

His eyes he kept on his feet. The parlour was very quiet, but for the faint sounds carrying through the window from the hill. A bird singing, a distant hum of children’s voices, the rattle of a cart. For a long while he looked at his feet and Mister Frodo said nothing at all.

Then he said, “Sam.”

On reflex, Sam looked up. Frodo’s arms were folded across his chest and he looked – more so than anything else he looked furiously angry.

“Why didn’t you just say so?”

Sam’s mouth worked for a moment. He didn’t know where to start. “I didn’t think you’d be interested.”

“You didn’t think I’d be – I thought I’d made my feelings perfectly clear!” said Frodo.
“I thought you were making fun,” Sam confessed.

“You thought I was making fun?” said Frodo. “Why would you think that?”

“I don’t know, sir,” said Sam. “It wouldn’t hardly be the first time someone’s made fun of me like that. And at any rate, it wouldn’t have been proper to say so, you being a gentlehobbit – and at any rate I didn’t know myself till last night.”

“What do you mean, didn’t know?” said Frodo.

“As I said,” said Sam. “I didn’t know why I was so upset.”

Frodo’s fury was fading as quickly as it had come. He looked thoughtful, perhaps putting the pieces together rather as Sam had. “Is this what you talked with Merry about?”

“As I said,” said Sam, “he was helpful.” He took a breath. “I didn’t know what I was feeling. I’ve never felt this way about another lad before.”

“Oh.” Full understanding dawned at last. “Oh, good gracious. I’m, I’m honoured. I think.”

“And I’m so sorry, for what I said,” said Sam. “And I –”

Frodo crossed the parlour, closing the gap between them. Reaching out, he took Sam’s unresisting hand. “It’s alright, Sam,” he said gently. “I understand completely.”

“You do?” said Sam. He wasn’t sure he understood completely himself.

“I’ve been through the same thing myself,” said Frodo.

“You have?” said Sam.

“Well, no,” said Frodo. “I didn’t go around insulting my friends. But then, I didn’t have any friends like me at the time.”

“I’m sorry.” Tears welled in Sam’s eyes and he scrubbed at them with his free hand. “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s alright,” said Frodo. “You’re sensitive. I like that about you.” He squeezed Sam’s hand. “I like a lot of things about you.”

Sam met his gaze, looking into his beautiful blue eyes. Frodo was cradling Sam’s right hand in both of his own, the tips of his fingers just stroking the skin of his wrist. Sam’s breath caught in his throat and it struck him for the first time just how smitten he was.

Somehow without even noticing he’d fallen head over heels for Mister Frodo Baggins and now it was hitting him all at once. There was a cloud of butterflies in his stomach and his head was swimming and if he couldn’t even handle Frodo holding his hand and looking him in the eye however was he going to handle whatever came next?

“Sam.” Frodo’s hand cupped his face and Sam forgot how to breathe. “May I kiss you?”

“Oh, my,” said Sam. Frodo was touching him so confidently, as if he’d done this a hundred times.

“Is that a yes?” said Frodo, a smile quirking his lips.

“Oh, yes please,” said Sam.

As he leaned in Frodo’s eyes didn’t leave his. He kissed the corner of Sam’s mouth, very gently, almost shyly, and drew back. That look in his eyes was back, the look Sam could only think to call bedroom eyes. His chest throbbed.

Semi-consciously he wet his lips and Frodo took that as an invitation. He kissed Sam proper, hard and soft all at once and Sam shivered from head to toe. He almost forgot to close his eyes and he didn’t have the first idea what to do with his hands. He’d kissed enough lasses before but this was different, even if it didn’t feel so different, it was different.

Frodo’s lips parted, his mouth very soft and wet, and at the first brush of his tongue Sam shivered all over. His hands fidgeted by his sides, restless but not daring to touch.

“Mm.” Pulling away, Frodo took Sam’s hands in his and planted them firmly on his hips. “For goodness sake, Sam, I’m not the best china.”

“I’m sorry –” Frodo cut him off with another kiss, deeper and longer and this time Sam closed his eyes at once and melted into it, kissing back with everything he had.

“I think I’m getting the hang of this,” he said as they drew apart.

“Mmm,” said Frodo, his eyes half closed. Their noses brushed together. “Yes, you are.” He dropped his head, nuzzling at Sam’s neck, and Sam sighed.

They had a lot of bridges to cross, the pair of them. Like what this was going to mean for them, what they’d do and how they’d live and who they’d tell and what they’d say. There was a lot they’d have to talk about, Sam decided.

But that could wait. For now the sun was shining through the parlour windows and no-one was expecting either of them till teatime at the earliest. Sam ran a hand down Frodo’s back, marvelling at this new intimacy, the freedom to touch as he pleased.

“Hmm.” Frodo drew back, taking Sam’s hands in his and squeezing them. “Have you had second breakfast yet?”

“No,” said Sam. It was a mite early for second breakfast, but he was hardly going to refuse, if it was on offer. “Shall we sit in the garden?”

Frodo beamed at him, a true and honest smile, and said, “let’s.”