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In All the Ways There Were

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Sam had always known, since before he even knew that there were different types of love, that he would love Frodo forever. 

As children, he followed Frodo everywhere, even when his Gaffer said not to go bothering his betters. Frodo taught him to read, and Sam treasured those evenings holed up in the study at Bag End as much as he enjoyed the stories of distant lands and great adventures. 

When they grew older and it was time for Sam to find work, he convinced his old Gaffer that the hike up to Bag End was too steep for an old hobbit to be making twice a day. Sam took over the gardening at Bag End, and he was content - really! - to stay as a gardener. Content to say hello, good morning and good night, to Mister Frodo. Content to sometimes share a cup of tea at the end of a long day, to glimpse Frodo’s profile through a window as he bent over a book. Sam was content, knowing that this could be enough. 

Never letting himself believe that more would be possible, even if he sometimes caught himself daydreaming about it. Two lads together wasn’t entirely unheard of, but not a common hobbit like Sam and a gentlehobbit like Frodo. It simply wasn’t done. No, eventually he would marry a hobbit lass and so would Frodo and being his gardener would be enough.

Gandalf’s quest took him by surprise, but there was never any question that he’d be coming along. He didn’t completely understand why Frodo had to take Bilbo’s old ring to the elves, but he liked spending whole days with him, liked hearing his even breathing deep into the night. Liked cooking for him, a skill Sam was shyly proud of. 

He didn’t know at first how real the dangers were. Accidents happened in the Shire, farming mishaps, sometimes brawls down at the pub that resulted in a bloodied nose. But there were people out to hurt Frodo - that took a while for him to understand. The Dark Riders, whoever they were, bore swords. They wanted blood. Sam didn’t fully realize it until the night in Bree. Hearing the screams outside their window, Sam crouched behind Mister Frodo and looked at the curve of his neck, wondered what he was thinking as the shrieks ripped through the night air. 

Grateful, even on that horrible night, to be so close.

On Weathertop, he was slow - so slow! He wished he was fast and ferocious, like Strider, and wished he could have stopped the Dark Rider’s blade before Frodo was hurt. 

When he realized Frodo had been stabbed, the world went cold and numb. He didn’t remember moving and everything felt slow as molasses but the next moment he found himself at Frodo’s side. Trying to cover the hole, to undo it somehow. It wasn’t that big but Frodo was gasping like a fish in air and it seemed impossible that such a small hole could steal so much love from Sam’s world.

Sam was always good with a task, good at keeping his hands busy. And that was what he did as they fled the Dark Riders. He held Frodo, cooled his hot forehead, hunted herbs for Strider, and pushed aside his fear in order to do what needed to be done. Knowing that he would do anything, up to and including dying, to keep Frodo alive.

He didn’t have room to think about much else until the elf lady showed up. Sam would have stared, but just then he couldn’t see anything beyond Mister Frodo’s pale face and filmy eyes. It wasn’t until she rode away, taking him with her, that he realized. 

He loved Frodo in all the ways there were to love a person. And he'd never told him. 

Sam curled his hand into a fist, stubby fingernails biting into his palm. Fear beating at his chest like a wild bird. He swore to himself that if - when! - when Frodo was well, when they were reunited, he would tell him the truth. Frodo might be uneasy. Might avoid his gaze. But he had to tell. He couldn’t risk Frodo dying and his love staying inside and unspoken.

Sam waited - until Gandalf and Elrond had said their pieces and then left, until Frodo reunited with Merry and Pippin, and finally with Bilbo. He was used to waiting. He stayed close to Frodo, helping him when he got winded climbing Rivendell’s stairs - why were there so many stairs in Rivendell? This wasn’t a proper place for a convalescent - but Frodo insisted on looking around and thanking his hosts. 

He was worn out by early evening, dark eyelids fluttering to stay open, and Sam helped him into bed as golden light washed the walls.

“Thank you, Sam,” Frodo said. “Bilbo said you hardly left my side.”

Sam blushed. “I wasn’t sure if those elves knew how to properly care for a hobbit. Had to make sure they weren’t slipping you anything odd.”

Frodo laughed, and Sam realized it was the first time he’d heard that laughter since - when? Bree? Before? He let himself look at Frodo full in the face, needing to reassure himself - Frodo was alive, alive, alive. 

Frodo caught his gaze and quieted. There was a question in his eyes, and Sam dropped his head, embarrassed. His promise to himself seemed so silly now. Surely he could keep going as he always had, serving Mister Frodo and taking joy from everyday moments - 

But then he remembered the feeling of knowing Frodo might die. And he knew they would go home eventually, and the closer he got to the Shire the more impossible it would be to say. 

And so he just blurted it out, hands clasped together nervously. “The truth is, Mister Frodo, I love you. Sir.”

The ‘sir’ felt ridiculous, and a blush crept over his cheeks. Frodo was quiet for too long, and he risked a glance upwards.

Frodo smiled, uncertain, and Sam felt a pang as he noticed the dark smudges under Frodo’s eyes - what a fool, Samwise Gamgee, to go putting extra burdens on an injured hobbit! 

Frodo touched his hands lightly. “You know I care for you a great deal, my dear Sam.” 

Sam ducked his head. Pulled his hands back, suddenly aware that he had stayed too long. “You rest up, Mister Frodo,” he said. “I’m in the room over here should you need anything.” He stumbled a little as he got up, and quickly left.

Embarrassment was a hot flush inside him, but as he got ready for bed it faded somewhat. All he had said was that he loved Frodo, and that could be taken in many different ways. No doubt Frodo assumed he meant that he loved him as a servant. Perhaps even as a friend. Yes, a friend - that would be enough. It had been enough before.

The relief of the day - Frodo had woken, Frodo was recovered - washed over him. He had barely slept the entire week, worry clenched up in him like a fist that had suddenly been released. And though it was not even dinner-time, he too curled up in the cool elven bed and fell fast asleep.

The next day things felt normal, and Sam was glad he hadn’t said more. He and Frodo camped out on a veranda with Merry and Pippin, listening to Rivendell’s chattering river and spying on the elves as they went about their business. Sam was glad the other gentlehobbits were there; they treated him more like a servant than Frodo did, and it helped to establish the natural way of things. He trotted back and forth between the veranda and Elrond’s kitchen, only bold enough to speak to the elven chef because he knew three hungry hobbits were waiting for him. 

It was a gentle day. When the sun warmed the veranda, Frodo drowsed, and Merry and Pippin sat back and smoked from their pipes. Sam looked up at the trees, at the autumn leaves that spiralled gently downwards and flashed when they got caught in beams of light. 

“May I?” 

Frodo’s voice took him by surprise. Leaning on an elbow, Frodo nodded at Sam’s lap, his face flushed with sleep, and Sam stretched his legs out and Frodo laid his head on them.

It felt so easy and natural that Sam didn’t have time to be nervous until it had happened. Frodo’s head was heavy, his mess of dark curls spilling across Sam’s legs. Sam couldn’t see his face, just sunlight glowing through the tip of his ear, and the curve of his back under his linen shirt. Sam kept perfectly still, as though Frodo was a deer that would startle and run if he did anything more than breathe, and a deep warmth filled his whole body.

They stayed like that for a long time, and then Sam was caught up by an idea that he couldn't let go. Slowly, trying not to wake Frodo, he reached out and stroked his head. Feeling as though he was touching the good porcelain plates at Bag End that no one ever used - something too precious for the world.

Frodo nestled into his thigh and something hungry in Sam leaped at the touch. He pulled back at once, alarmed.

“Keep doing that, please,” Frodo murmured. Sam felt his breath, hot even through the fabric of his trousers, and he bit his lip to keep from trembling as he resumed, gently stroking Frodo’s hair. Trying to capture every part of this moment so that he could remember it forever.

He would have done it all day and into the night, as long as Frodo let him, but Pippin stretched and loudly exclaimed that he was hungry, again , and what was the elvish word for bacon and did elves even have bacon and what would be the point of immortality if you didn’t have bacon. Frodo sat up, bleary, his eyes flickering to Sam for a moment, and Sam scrambled to his feet like the cushions he was leaning on were suddenly on fire. “I’ll find some, Master Pippin!”

Away from that sunlit veranda, the cool darkness of Rivendell’s halls swam with floaters and Sam leaned against the wall. Calming the parts of him that had responded a little too eagerly to the weight of Mister Frodo’s head on his thighs. He smiled to himself, and jogged to the kitchen. He truly was a fool. 

Frodo stayed late in Bilbo’s quarters that night. Sam waited up as long as felt appropriate, then laid out Frodo’s bedthings and shut himself in the adjoining room. The elves had offered him a larger room down the hall, but he’d insisted on one connected to Frodo’s. It was clearly the servant’s room, simple and small but still lovelier than his old bedroom in the Shire. The sheets were cool and smelled of herbs, and haunting music drifted through the open window. 

It was beautiful, but unfamiliar. Being in strange places brought strange feelings; thoughts he never would have acknowledged in the Shire. He thought about Frodo’s head on his lap, the heat it had left, and wondered what it would have been like to move his hands just a little. From the mop of curls to Frodo’s neck, to his cheek, which always looked so soft. What it would feel like to slip a finger under the collar of his shirt. Sam lay awake for a long time, wrestling with these considerations, before burying his face in pillows and falling asleep out of pure stubbornness. 

He didn’t hear Frodo come in. He woke to an odd light, not morning but the dimmed light of a candle. Someone standing in the doorway.

“It’s only me,” Frodo said, and Sam scrambled up, thankful he didn’t sleep naked like some hobbits. 

“Do you need something, sir?” he asked. Frodo was outlined in candle light and he couldn’t see his face in the dark. 

“Oh - no, no, I’m alright,” Frodo said. He started to recede, and Sam wondered if he was just dreaming after all. But then Frodo paused in the door. Let out a quick, tensely held sigh. “It’s just. I am sick of that bed. They changed the sheets but lying there still makes me feel like I’m deep in the fever.” 

Sam swung his legs down to the floor. “Of course, sir. You sleep here.” He stumbled to his feet, ready to exchange beds - but Frodo stepped towards him. 

“I don’t want to disturb you, Samwise. Go back to sleep. I’ll just be here too, if you don’t mind. These elven beds are wide enough.” Frodo brought the candle to his lips, and just before he blew it out Sam saw his face for the first time. Though his words were calm, there was something scared and wild in his eyes.

“That’s fine with me, Mister Frodo.” In the dark he crawled back into bed, huddling all the way at the far end so Frodo would have as much room as possible. This felt vaguely ridiculous. “Though I’ll warn you, my old Gaffer always says I snore fit to wake the dead.” 

Frodo laughed a little, the sound letting Sam know that he was faced away. “Good night, Sam.”

And that was Sam’s sign to be quiet, though he couldn’t imagine sleeping right then. After a few minutes, he heard rustling as Frodo turned to face him. Only a glint of starlight came through the window, shining off of Frodo’s open eyes. Over the thumping of his own idiot heart, he could hear an irregular catch to Frodo’s breath. As though each inhale was a battle. Sam kept still.

“It still hurts,” Frodo murmured, so quietly - as though testing to see if Sam was awake. 

“It will ease in time, Mister Frodo,” Sam said. Frodo was quiet and he worried that he had said something wrong. “What...what does it feel like?”

“A piece of ice,” Frodo said at once. “It’s very cold, and very deep inside me. The outside is healing but...I don’t know if I’ll ever feel truly warm again.”

Sam swallowed. Frodo twisted so he was slightly closer, and Sam reached out - how strange this was! - and put an arm around him. “Come here, then,” he said, trying to sound gruff and friendly and normal. “If you’d like.” 

Frodo moved into Sam’s embrace, closer than Sam expected. He rested his head on Sam’s chest, forehead lightly touching just above Sam’s collarbone. His hair tickled Sam’s nose. This close, Sam could feel tension coiled within him. Some muscle held tight that refused to relax. Sam held him, breathing in the smell of his hair - a nutty scent, with something clear and clean like mint mixed into it. His arm draped loosely around Frodo’s shoulders. He held him until whatever was coiled inside Frodo eased, and his breathing slipped into the softer pattern of sleep. He held him until dawn light colored the ceiling. Only then did Sam sleep, too.

Chapter Text

Frodo slipped out in the early morning and Sam didn’t see him until breakfast, where Frodo smiled at him sheepishly. Sam wasn’t sure what his face was doing in response. He felt oddly transparent, and his heart beat too hard and too fast whenever he stood close to Frodo. 

Merry and Pippin wanted to go for a ramble around the outskirts of Rivendell and they dragged Sam with them. Well, Frodo insisted he go - “Get some fresh air, I’ll be fine here. I’d like to rest up one more day.”

Sam packed a picnic and followed the gentlehobbits as they climbed a trail that led to the top of the Rivendell waterfall. “Samwise is being awfully quiet,” Merry observed after he and Pippin had worn out an argument about what kind of bird they could hear in the trees.

“Just thinking,” Sam said, blushing and absolutely determined not to say what he was thinking of. 

“This has been quite the adventure, hasn’t it? Excited to head back?” 

“I suppose,” Sam said. “Though I doubt I’ll ever do something like this again. I wouldn’t mind it lasting a bit longer.” What he didn’t say was how he knew that in the Shire, Frodo would never have snuck into his bed. 

“And how is our dear Frodo recovering?” Pippin asked, as they climbed through a stand of trees. 

Sam was surprised. “Well enough - I mean, you’ve been seeing him too.” 

“Yes, but he’s closest to you,” Pippin said. 

“I’m just his gardener,” said Sam, bashful. 

Just his gardener,” Merry echoed to Pippin, as though they were continuing a conversation Sam hadn’t been privy to. 

“Oh, nothing more than that?” Pippin asked, and Merry jabbed him in the ribs. 

“Well, I’ve made his meals in the past. Fetched and carried things around Bag End. Those sorts of things.”

Merry raised his eyebrows at Pippin, and they broke through the trees to the top of the waterfall, and a beautiful view of Rivendell in early afternoon light. 

Bushes of white and blue flowers grew up here. Sam had the momentary, wild thought of picking Frodo a bouquet - but Merry and Pippin’s questions had made him shy. He picked just one and threaded it through his button-hole, and busied himself with laying out the picnic.

As they headed back to Rivendell, Sam realized there was a chance Mister Frodo would want to share his bed again. This question - because of course it was more likely that he wouldn’t - exploded in his head like one of Gandalf’s fireworks. He was certain he wouldn’t be able to say anything without giving away his thoughts, so he stayed very quiet. 

Frodo seemed well rested and pleased to see them. His gaze flicked to Sam’s flower, and then to his face, and he smiled as though secretly enjoying a joke. Sam decided that Frodo would not come back to his bed, that it was a singular event he was making too much of. He needed to remember his place, and so he threw himself into work and spent the afternoon mending holes in the gentlehobbit’s traveling clothes and scouring his own set of pots and pans with sand down by the riverbank. 

Dinner that night was a spread of odd elvish food laid out on a low table under a willow. The hobbits gathered at one end, shy around so many elves, who had all gathered to listen as a bard sang a very long song. Sam found himself entranced by the singer and the way her fingers moved across her lyre, though he couldn’t understand any of the words. It seemed to be sad, but beautiful.

“The lay of Beren and Luthien,” Frodo murmured, close to his ear, and Sam jumped. Frodo smiled apologetically. He’d been sitting across the table but had moved closer without Sam noticing. “Did you ever read it? We - I - have a translation in the study.”

Sam shook his head. “Sounds a bit advanced for me, sir. I mostly just read children’s tales.” He didn’t risk looking at Frodo but wanted, more than anything, for Frodo to stay close and keep talking to him. “What is it about?”

“An ancestor of our host, I believe,” Frodo said, nodding at Elrond. The elf’s eyes were closed as he listened to the song. “A mortal man, Beren, who loved the elf maiden Luthien. Her father was opposed, so he set him an impossible quest to win her hand. He went on the quest, of course. We’re just at the part where she insists on coming too.”

“Good for her,” said Sam. 

“Yes, I thought you might find that bit relatable,” Frodo said lightly. Sam looked at him nervously and Frodo smiled - oh, he would do anything for that smile. Frodo dipped his head so his mouth was close to Sam’s ear, and Sam felt suddenly very aware of everyone else at the table and what this must look like to them.

“Thank you for last night,” Frodo said, and Sam flushed through his whole body. He didn’t say anything, fixing his eyes on the singer. Frodo leaned back a little and then Sam looked - saw an uncertain look wash over Frodo’s face. 

“Anything you need, sir,” Sam said, and the words seemed wrong as soon as they left his mouth. Frodo nodded at him and moved away on the bench, just a bit, the movement disguised as reaching for a glass of wine. He turned his face towards the music and seemed to be absorbed.

Sam bit his lip, hard. He’d given the wrong answer to something he didn’t know was a question. He wanted to talk to Frodo then, but he was too aware of Merry and Pippin sitting nearby. 

This all was very confusing.

The hobbits walked back to their rooms together, so Sam wasn’t alone with Frodo until they parted from Merry and Pippin. Sam lingered in the larger bedroom, uncertain. Frodo turned away from him to draw the curtains shut, and then paused for a moment, breathing in decisively. 

“I owe you an apology, Samwise,” he said, somewhat stiffly. “I misinterpreted something you said and - well, we needn’t get into it. Everything has been so odd since we left the Shire.” He turned to look at Sam and smiled - but a tight smile, not the kind that Sam so loved to see.

Sam was quiet for a moment, afraid he’d botch his words again. “Sir, I…” He stepped closer. Things made more sense the closer he was to Frodo. “Last night was - I was glad. That you came in. If it made you feel a bit better, I was glad.”

He kept himself from saying ‘sir’, biting down on it at the last minute. Frodo looked away. “You like to help, don’t you? I’m very lucky to have you taking care of me.”

“I like to see you happy,” Sam blurted out. “Because I - well. That’s what I’m here for.” Frodo looked up at him, and the blueness of his eyes made Sam catch his breath. 

“You know I would never ask you to go beyond your duty, Samwise,” Frodo said. And Sam realized for the first time that Frodo - Frodo! - was nervous. Frodo, who had read a thousand books and always seemed calm, always seemed to know more than anyone else, was nervous, one hand fidgeting against the other.

He would never have had the courage on his own. Sam was a coward in so many things. But he was finding that he could be brave, infinitely brave. For Frodo.

“You can just call me Sam,” he said, and closed the space between them. 

Frodo’s lips were softer than he’d imagined. How strange it was that he had held Frodo in many different ways but this tiny point of contact was so new and so different. 

Then Frodo slid one hand around Sam’s waist, the other up to his neck, and Sam pulled back to look at him, to make sure this was real.

“I wasn’t sure,” Frodo said, his pale cheeks flushed. “When you said you loved me, I wasn’t sure how you meant it.”

Sam felt a dizzy, foolish grin stealing across his face. “Oh, that. I meant it in all the ways.” He brushed a hand along Frodo’s cheek, up to tangle in his hair. Bent to kiss him again. 

Frodo quavered a little, as though his knees were close to giving out. “Bed, maybe,” he murmured against Sam’s cheek, a question. Sam sat down on Frodo’s bed, suddenly nervous. But Frodo hesitated.

“I wasn’t just making excuses last night,” he said. “I don’t like this bed. Could we - “

“Of course.” Sam sprung up and took Frodo’s hand, pulling him into the smaller room. It was dark in there and neither of them bothered to light a candle as they stumbled into Sam’s bed. They kissed again, laughed when their noses bumped together, and Sam bent Frodo down until his hair sprawled across the pillows. 

He was trembling now, not wanting to do something wrong but afraid that if they stopped this would never happen again. Frodo skimmed a hand down his back and slipped it up and under his shirt, and Sam felt deep, hungry parts of himself respond to the touch. He kissed Frodo along his neck, down to the top button of his shirt. Slid Frodo’s bracers off, one by one. Then he felt suddenly clumsy and uncertain, and covered by sitting back and pulling his shirt off. 

Frodo looked up at him, and smiled. “My Sam.” Sam didn’t know what to say. Frodo looked so beautiful, lying tousled on the bed. Sam knew what he wanted, but not what to do next, and the uncertainty must have shown on his face because Frodo sat up too.

“Let me,” he said, and climbed onto Sam’s lap, which was nearly too much for him to bear. Frodo kissed him deeply, one hand cupping the back of his head and the other moving down his chest until his fingers were undoing the button to Sam’s trousers. 

Sam made a sound without meaning to, muffled against Frodo’s lips, and he let Frodo push him back against the pillows. Something like embarrassment bloomed hot inside him, but there was no way he could pretend he didn’t want this. He bit into his own hand to keep more sounds inside, and arched his back against the bed as Frodo kissed the corner of his jaw and slid his hand downward.

After, Sam felt shame rush in hot after the pleasure, and he hardly dared to look at Frodo. But when he did, Frodo was smiling, sheepish again, and the familiarity of his face brought Sam back to reality. “Was that alright?” Frodo asked, and Sam almost laughed at the question. But then he could tell that Frodo had asked in earnest, and he nodded shyly. 

“I,” he said, his voice sticking, and cleared his throat. Turned onto his side so that he was pressed up against Frodo, hand lying on his hip. “I don’t want to do the wrong thing.”

Frodo pulled back and looked at him with those blue eyes. Sam could look at his eyes forever. “You haven’t done this before,” he said. A question, again.

“Not with a lad,” said Sam. Unsure if a few fumbles with hobbit girls really counted. This had been very different. 

“For tonight,” Frodo said, folding his hands around Sam’s, “can that be all?”

“But I want to,” Sam said. Had he ruined it? “I want to make you feel - “

Frodo kissed him, cutting him off. “You make me feel,” he said. “You make me feel so much.” Sam returned his kiss, and then they lay like that, arms loosely wrapped around each other. Frodo nestled his head under Sam’s chin, tracing a finger down and up his side, and Sam felt like he might float away. 

“Whatever happened to them?” he finally asked. Just wanting to hear Frodo’s voice.


“Beren and Luthien. Did they achieve the quest and end up together?”

Frodo was silent for a moment. “It’s a sad tale. Beren died from the quest. But...he was brought back, the only mortal to ever be granted another life. And Luthien gave up her immortality so they could live out their lives together.”

“That’s not sad,” said Sam. “That sounds right lovely.” 

He could feel Frodo’s mouth curl into a smile, pressed against his chest. “You’re right, my dear Sam. It does.”

They slept curled against each other, and in the morning Frodo didn’t slip away, but stretched languidly in the sunlight and cast a look in Sam’s direction that sent them both laughing. “ You are full of surprises, Samwise Gamgee,” he said, which made Sam squawk in outrage.

“Me?! I’m very dependable, ask anyone in the Shire.”

Frodo flipped onto his stomach and looked at Sam through his eyelashes. Sam could get used to this, being able to gaze at Frodo as much as he liked.  “How long did you know?”

“What part?” Sam asked.

“Any of it.”

Sam frowned. “Always, I suppose. As long as I’ve known you. I didn’t think…”

“That I was this way?” Frodo’s voice was light, but Sam felt a fragility around his words.

“That’s not it,” Sam said. “I just...if all I could ever have of you was fetching your groceries and weeding your garden, I would have settled for that. If it was just us going for pints and walking home after, I would have settled for that.” Frodo’s shirt had come undone in the night, and Sam reached out, tracing a line along his shoulder. Still marveling that he could just reach out and touch. “I never thought I could have all this.”

Frodo’s face was hard to read. “But did you actually want ...all this?”

And now Sam couldn’t help but laugh. “With due respect, sir, you are very clever and well read, but you are being a fool in this matter.” He kissed Frodo, tried to say with the kiss the words that were still tangled in his head. A good kiss, a deep kiss. It had felt unfamiliar last night, and now it was the most correct thing in the world.

The kiss seemed to have gotten the idea across to Frodo, who looked slightly dazed. “Forgive me, Sam. I never thought I could have all this either.”

Chapter Text

There was talk of a council at breakfast that day. Sam had not wanted to go to breakfast at all, but Frodo insisted. 

From what Sam gathered, Frodo would present the Ring so that some important people could decide what to do with it, and then his part would be done. Sam still wasn’t sure why only Frodo could carry it. It seemed a lot to ask. He'd noticed that morning the way the chain hung heavy on Frodo’s neck, and was glad that soon it would be gone. 

They watched as messenger birds were sent out with news of the council, and then Merry and Pippin wanted to pull Frodo away to show him a funny statue they’d discovered in the gardens. Sam caught himself yawning and Frodo smiled at him ruefully. “Perhaps you should rest,” he said. “I’ll be back soon.” Sam was about to protest, but Frodo cast a glance over his shoulder to where Merry and Pippin were waiting. “I’m afraid my cousins are beginning to suspect us, and I’d like to throw them off the scent.”

“Of course, sir,” said Sam, ducking his head as he tried to catch the ‘sir’ too late. Well, if Frodo wanted to pretend things were normal, deference came along with that. He waved to them and then went in search of a quiet bench and a nap.

Sleep didn’t come, though. It felt odd being alone, and Frodo’s words had wormed their way into his skull. Of course it made sense to keep all this from the others. But Sam couldn’t help feeling that Merry and Pippin wouldn’t mind. Maybe they’d tease a bit, but after all Pippin was a Took and they were all odd and no one minded. 

Empty hands made bothersome thoughts louder. Sam mustered his courage and went to the elven kitchen and asked the cook, whose name turned out to be Cellian, if she needed any help. She wasn’t quite as intimidating as he’d thought, although he only recognized about half of the words she used as she taught him how to roll layers of paper-thin pastry for that night’s dessert. 

When they were coming out of the oven, she wrapped several pastries in a napkin and handed them to Sam. “For you and your melethril ,” she said with a smile. 

“Thank you, my lady,” said Sam, “only I don’t know what that means. Melethril .”

She frowned. “ Seron? Hervenn? ” When he shook his head she touched his heart with her gentle elf fingers. “The one you melo - love. The one who bears Isildor’s Bane.” 

It was only when she mimed a ring that he understood, and blushed down to his toes. “Frodo,” he said. “Ah. Begging your pardon, but how did you know?”  

She turned to pull trays from the oven and Sam hurried to help her. “It’s not hard to see love,” she said. “ Estel shines in your eyes when you look at him.”

They were the only people in the drafty kitchen, and Sam felt a rush of gratitude even over his embarrassment. Cellian didn’t seem to think there was anything odd about the two of them. 

“What does estel mean?” he asked Frodo later. They had gone for a walk in the cooling evening air and stopped under the shadow of a tree to steal some kisses. It made Sam feel like he was in a story, to be kissed in an elven garden with fireflies winking around them. 

Estel ,” mused Frodo, slipping his hand into Sam’s as they ambled over a little bridge. “It means...hope, but a specific type. The elves have words for different kinds.”

“So what type is it?”

“It would translate as...having to do with trust, I believe? A steadfast hope, one that can’t be broken or turned aside. As opposed to amdir , which is hope based on facts and logic.” Sam smiled to himself. “Why do you ask?”

“No reason,” said Sam, and stopped at the arc of the bridge so he could look at Frodo in the moon’s light. “What did Merry and Pippin say today?”

Frodo laughed. “Not much. I was just being paranoid.” He slipped an arm around Sam, trying to draw him off the bridge, but Sam held back for a moment.

“I don’t mind if they know, Frodo,” he said. “I don’t mind if anyone knows about us.”

Frodo dropped his gaze, and Sam let him lead them off the bridge and back onto the shaded path. Frodo was silent and Sam bit his lip, wanting to fill the silence but wanting to hear his response more.

“Things seem different when you’re far from home,” Frodo said finally. “But we’re going back, quite soon, and I don’t want to…” He sighed, and looked up at Sam, and Sam’s heart nearly broke at the sweetness and sadness in Frodo’s face. “Is it alright to just want you to myself for now?”

Sam nodded, and kissed Frodo, and put everything out of his mind except for the current moment. 

Whatever he could have of Frodo would be enough.

Time passed in Rivendell, days folding into nights as the elves prepared for the council and solemn men and dwarves arrived from the farthest corners of Middle-Earth. 

Frodo slept in Sam’s bed. His wound still bothered him, and sometimes Sam would wake to Frodo’s tense, jagged breathing. Eyes fixed on something far away, hand spasming against his shoulder or wrapped around the ring that he always wore about his neck. Sam tried his best to comfort Frodo at these times, to rub his back and bring him hot drinks, things he would do for someone who was ill. But the best cure, he found, was to tell Frodo stories. First he just recited what he could remember of children’s tales, ones he’d read in Bilbo’s books or been told at bed-time when he was little. When he ran out of those, he started making things up, silly stories that didn’t have a beginning or end. The best was when he could make Frodo laugh. That was when he knew for sure that the pain had passed.

Other nights, they kissed and did things that made Sam blush when he remembered them in the light of day. Frodo never seemed to get tired of making Sam feel good, and Sam could hardly complain about that. But one night he did get the courage up to ask Frodo why it never went the other way. Frodo had pushed Sam up against the window seat, unbuttoned Sam’s shirt, and kissed down his chest. But Sam caught him up before he went further.

“Can’t I do the same for you, Frodo? You never let me, and I just want give all this back to you.”

Frodo turned his face into Sam’s hand to kiss it, and Sam knew him well enough at this point to see that Frodo was putting words together in his head. 

“I know you want to,” he said slowly. “But would you understand if I told you it’s just...not something I want for myself?” He smiled at Sam, one of those true smiles. “Sam, you feel so much, and being close to you - it’s like warming myself at a fire. But I don’t have a fire of my own, at least not in this way.”

“Oh,” said Sam, not sure he understood. “You...don’t want to give it a try, at least?”

“I know myself,” Frodo said, climbing onto the window seat so he was closer to Sam. “Please understand, dear Sam. Everything we do makes me very happy. Could be content with this?”

Sam blushed, pleased at the idea of being someone who had a fire inside. “I just didn’t want to be selfish,” he mumbled, and Frodo laughed.

“Of all the things I worry about in this world, Samwise Gamgee being selfish is not one of them,” he said. He pulled back and looked at Sam up and down. “Now take your clothes off. I want to see you.”

Later they lay in bed and Sam touched Frodo’s hip where his shirt had pulled out of his trousers. “There is one thing,” he said carefully. “And it’s alright if you don’t want to.” Frodo looked at him, calm, waiting. “I would just like to hold you, without anything in between us.” 

Frodo blinked, and sat up in bed. He turned away from Sam as he pulled off his shirt, and then his trousers. When he turned back, Sam’s eye went first to the scar on Frodo’s shoulder - it seemed wrong, a painful twisting of skin that was otherwise clear and clean. 

The Ring hung around his neck, and Frodo held it in one hand as though to keep it hidden. He moved it to hang down his back, out of view, and then lay down. Careful, and shy - not looking away from Sam, but blushing at the very tips of his ears. 

Sam’s breath caught in his throat, because Frodo was beautiful like this. More beautiful than any of the elves. More beautiful than fireworks. 

He knew if he said that, Frodo would only laugh, so he just reached out to gather him in his arms. Skin to skin, with nothing in between.

The day before the council, Sam shared a pipe with Merry and Pippin and found himself suddenly missing home. The smell of pipeweed combined with the yellowing leaves in Rivendell brought back memories of the Shire in autumn; the harvest festival and the pumpkin weighing contest and hot spiced wine at the Green Dragon. He counted days and tried to figure out if they would get back in time for him to mulch the garden and plant bulbs for spring. 

He excused himself to pack, tracking down every part of their traveling kits and laying them on the floor and cleaning each one. It was soothing to have everything just so. “Now, what have I forgotten?” he muttered.

“Packed already?” Frodo asked from the doorway. Sam looked up at him.

“No harm in being prepared.”

They walked onto the veranda. It was one of those days where clouds chased each other across the sky and the wind made everything feel restless and alive. “I thought you wanted to see the elves, Sam,” said Frodo, teasing.

“I do!” 

“‘More than anything.’”

“I did. It’s just...” He looked sideways at Frodo. Elves had not been the most exciting part of Rivendell. “We did what Gandalf asked us to, didn’t we? We got the Ring to Rivendell. And I thought, seeing as how you’re on the mend, we’d be off soon. Off home.”

“You’re right, Sam,” said Frodo. He took out the Ring. Rare that Sam ever even saw the thing. He didn’t like how Frodo held it sometimes, as though it was a part of himself - but he was glad to see that today his grip was light and easy. “We did what we set out to do. The Ring will be safe here.” Frodo slung an arm around Sam as they walked back inside. “I am ready to go home.”

Sam turned to him inside, his heart suddenly beating rather quickly. “About that. I’ve been thinking.” 

Frodo bit his lip. “Sam - ” 

Sam’s heart sank, because Frodo’s eyes were sad, and he rushed to be the one to talk first, to convince him. “I meant what I said. I don’t care what others think of us when we go back. I want to be with you, properly and for all to know.”

Frodo looked away from him. “I thought you would be content with whatever you could have of me. Isn’t that what you said?”

Sam felt suddenly desperate. “ Yes , sir, I mean, Frodo, but - I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want this - “

Frodo stepped up sharply and grabbed Sam’s hands. He looked almost angry. “I do want this. Of course I do. wouldn’t be fair to you, Sam.”

Sam set his jaw. Estel - hope that couldn’t be broken. He sat on the bed and tried not to sound like a child. “Explain.”

Frodo sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. He looked tired and thin in the shifting afternoon light. 

“Say we went home. Say we let everyone know just what we were to each other. Would people accept us?” Sam crossed his arms. These concerns were so far from his mind. But Frodo paced, reasoning it out. “Well, they wouldn’t batter down my door with torches. But they would talk - and especially about you. Baggins are known for being unusual, it’s not like Bilbo took a wife either. But Gamgees…” Frodo looked at the floor, his brows low and serious. “Your family has a good name, and I don’t want to spoil it.”

A little part of Sam broke, because he didn’t want to be angry with Frodo. He stood. “My family will be alright.”

Frodo wouldn’t meet his eyes. “They’d say I manipulated you. Pressed you into...service.”

Sam balled his hands into fists. “I’d tell them they were wrong!”

“These aren’t things they’d say to our faces.” Frodo looked at him now, cupped his cheek. “I know you, Sam. I know you want things from life that I...I can’t give you.”

Sam would have cried, except for a spreading numbness like the one he’d felt on Weathertop when Frodo was hurt. “Seems you know me better than I know myself. Seems you have my whole future planned out.”

Frodo wrapped his arms around him, buried his face in Sam’s neck. Sam couldn’t stay cold, couldn’t resist returning the embrace. In his arms, Frodo was coiled and small and sad. “Please don’t be angry,” Frodo said, muffled against his shirt. “Please just let this be what it is. Something sweet for the road.” 

Sam didn’t want to return to packing, knowing that their time was running out. They stayed shut up in their rooms all day, and it must have been desperation that made Sam’s fire burn hotter than ever. That made him want to leave marks on Frodo’s soft skin with his mouth - marks that would fade eventually, but would last longer than this thing between the two of them.

Sam’s stomach growled as they sprawled next to each other, hungry but unwilling to get up, the sunset casting dark shadows around the room. 

“Is this why you always pushed me at Rosie Cotton?” he asked without meaning to. Something that had been sitting in the back of his mind unanswered.

Frodo leaned up on his elbows. “You like her, don’t you?”

Sam scowled. “Not the way I like you. Not by half.”

“You deserve to be happy. I want that for you.”

Frodo . Sam loved him. But he was so foolish sometimes. “And I know what makes me happy. This makes me happy.” Frodo sighed and rolled on his back, and Sam straddled him. Planted his hands on either side of Frodo’s head so he had to look him in the eye. “Due respect, sir, but I’m not giving up just because you told me to.”

Frodo gazed at him with something like surprise. Estel . Sam felt it, stronger than ever just then.

“I always forget how stubborn you are.” Frodo’s mouth twitched in amusement. “We’ll see, Sam.”

And that was that, not a straight answer but a crack in Frodo’s determination, enough to see daylight through. They went to dinner and if anyone noticed the little reddish bite on Frodo’s neck, too high to hide under his collar, they didn’t comment. 

Sam was not invited to the council. He told Frodo he would stay behind and finish the packing, but curiosity got the better of him. There were so many tall, stern people from far away, discussing matters of great importance, and he didn’t want Frodo to be alone there - even if Frodo thought he was. 

So Sam hid in a stand of bushes nearby, and breathed a sigh of relief when Frodo took the Ring and placed it on a little table. His part was done. Sam wanted to grab him then, but the council had to keep going and Frodo sat politely at Gandalf’s side. Sam wasn’t quite sure why everyone started yelling - it seemed that some of them wanted to destroy the Ring, and others didn’t. 

He couldn’t see Frodo’s face, but he saw when Frodo stood up. A shock went through him and he leaned forward, somehow knowing what Frodo was going to say before he said it. “I will take the Ring to Mordor,” Frodo said to the entire council, sounding tired and scared and trying his best to cover it. 

Sam shook his head - this was wrong! They were supposed to be headed home! Surely Gandalf wouldn’t let Frodo go all the way to Mordor!

But instead Gandalf vowed to protect Frodo on his journey, seeming very old in that moment. And then so did Strider, who looked much more kingly in grey velvet than he had on the road. And then some other people, an elf with yellow hair and one of the dwarves who’d been yelling the loudest and a man of Gondor with broad shoulders who hadn’t thought the Ring should be destroyed at all. Strangers . Frodo would be going to the darkest ends of the earth with strangers .

Sam didn’t mean to yell, exactly, but he did, and tumbled out to stand next to Frodo as the entire council turned to stare. He had all kinds of words to berate them for letting Frodo do this, but all that came out was a stubborn, “Frodo’s not going anywhere without me.”

Lord Elrond raised his eyebrows. “Indeed, It is hardly possible to separate you, even when he is summoned to a secret council and you are not.” And this should have made Sam embarrassed, but he was finding that he was all kinds of brave when it came to Frodo. He stood his ground, and when Merry and Pippin also turned out to be listening and ran out, he even had the bravery to sneak a look at Frodo. 

He was scared. Sam could tell. But as Elrond talked about the journey ahead, Frodo slipped his hand into Sam’s and held it tight. And he did not let go.

Chapter Text

The worry of the Shire and nosey hobbits and having to part from Frodo was gone, just like that, but in a cruel joke it had been replaced with something darker and much more terrifying. Merry and Pippin seemed lighthearted - but then again, they always were. Frodo kept quiet, looking ahead mostly, his eyes huge like he was trying to absorb all the knowledge he would need for the road.

And Sam was lightheaded, spinning out into nothingness. Their journey to Rivendell had felt like going to the farthest reaches of the earth, but when he caught a glimpse of Strider’s map he saw that it was barely outside of the Shire compared to Mordor. There were mountains and rivers in between, forests and squiggly illustrations that looked like monsters if he squinted. And that was the way they were going.

Only one thing kept him from spinning away entirely, and that was the fact that Frodo never stopped holding his hand that whole day. Not when Elrond declared them the Fellowship of the Ring. Not when Gandalf and Strider took them to Elrond’s library to look through maps and discuss rations. Not when all the elves at dinner, and all the other strangers, stood and toasted them like heroes even though they hadn’t done anything yet. 

Frodo didn’t say much of anything, but he held onto Sam’s hand, and Sam felt fiercely proud of that. Whoever wanted to could see. There were greater things to think about now. 

At the end of dinner Frodo’s head began to nod onto Sam’s shoulder. Not sleeping, just tired. He saw the Gondor man looking at them - Boromir - and met his gaze staunchly. He even put his arm around Frodo to help him to bed. 

“Samwise,” Merry said as they were parting in the hall. Sam turned, and Frodo squeezed his hand and finally let go, slipping into the room and closing the door without another word.

“Yes, sir,” said Sam, fingers tingling with the absence. 

“Do you reckon we’re going all the way to Mount Doom?” Merry asked, leaning against the wall. 

Sam shrugged.“We’ll take it as far as we need to. As far as Mister Frodo can manage.” 

Pippin cocked his head and smiled at Sam, as though seeing him for the first time. And Merry clapped him on the shoulder. 

“I’m glad he has you. Our Frodo deserves…” Merry’s eyes twinkled as he let the sentence trail away.

“A special friend,” suggested Pippin. 

Sam ducked his head shyly. He remembered the word Cellian had used, though he still didn’t really know what it meant. “He’s my... melathril ,” he said, pronouncing the elvish word carefully.

“Oh, a scholar!” laughed Merry in surprise. “Well excuse me very much, your elven lordship!”

Pippin rolled his eyes. “You’re perfect for each other.” And with that, they left. 

“Why don’t you ever recite elven poetry for me , Pip?” Sam heard Merry ask around the corner, and he smiled. He knew he should be embarrassed but instead felt rather pleased.

Frodo had not lit any lights inside, and was already in their bed, curled up against the wall. Sam sat next to him. “Do you need anything?” 

Frodo shook his head against the pillow very slightly. Sam could see the fine chain around his neck was pulled tight. 

“Must it really be you, Frodo?” 

Someday he would learn not to say the first thing that came into his head. But his heart was breaking for Frodo just then.

Frodo didn’t say anything, didn’t even move. Sam bit his lip, then pulled off his shirt and climbed into bed. Lay close to Frodo, but not too close. He’d never seen him like this before and didn’t want to intrude. Sam felt awkward.

“I can leave you alone if you like,” he said. Frodo reached behind and grabbed Sam’s arm before he could move, though. Then turned in one quick motion and buried his face in Sam’s breast. Sam thought his cheeks were damp, but couldn’t be sure. He stroked his hair slowly, the same calming way he used on Bill the Pony when the Dark Riders had spooked him.

“I should tell you not to come,” Frodo said after a long while, talking through gritted teeth. “If I was good and not selfish and loved you properly, I would send you back to the Shire.” Frodo finally looked up at Sam, and he was not crying but there was a dark and desperate look to his eyes. 

As though daring Sam to - what? To leave? Or to stay? 

Sam kissed his forehead, between the eyes, willing that look away. “I would do most anything you asked of me, Frodo dear, and happily. But that’s the one thing I would disobey.”

“Would you really?” said Frodo, drawing himself up. “If I told you to leave, directly, you would refuse me?” 

A look flashed in his eyes that was almost imperious. Sam didn’t like it, and didn’t like how Frodo had one hand wrapped white-knuckled around the Ring. 

“Don’t ask me that,” was all he could say, and it came out sounding like a plea. 

The look went out of Frodo’s eyes, and he slumped against Sam. Sighed a long, weary sigh. “Good. Because I don’t think I can do this without you.”

Between them, Sam could feel the Ring, cold and hard as a lump of ice that did not melt.

Then they were on the road, and it was a strange kind of relief to just be doing the blasted thing. Sam expected to be much more afraid out there in the wilds, but it turned out that exhaustion was a good antidote to fear. The tall folk set a fast pace, and often he and Frodo and Merry and Pippin and the pony ended up trailing behind, until one of them noticed and came back to keep an eye on them. Protected by four great warriors and a wizard - that wasn’t a bad way to see the world, Sam decided.

And there was another reason to be in good spirits, which was that Frodo had said they were something sweet, for the road , and now they planned to be on the road indefinitely. They hardly had time to talk to each other alone before they left, so Sam planned to follow Frodo’s lead when it came to affection. He was surprised, and happily so, when on their first night seated around a campfire Frodo came and settled against his legs. Sam cracked his bread in half and passed some to Frodo, who shot him a wink.

Pippin scoffed as he helped himself to the cookpot. “Unbelievable, Frodo Baggins.” 

Frodo sat up sharply. “What?”

Pippin pointed a sausage at him, shaking his head sternly. “We are on a mission of utmost importance , isn’t that right Gandalf?” The wizard nodded sagely behind a cloud of pipe-smoke. “Venturing into the direst of dangers, in the darkest of times...and you two sit here - flirting !” 

Merry snorted and Gandalf choked on his smoke and Frodo let out an undignified squawk. Sam couldn’t help laughing a little. 

“Subtle,” Frodo said to Pippin, shaking his head. From this angle Sam couldn’t see his face but could see that his ears were bright red. “Thanks for that, Pip.”

“I thought that hobbit was the cook,” said the dwarf - Gimli, Sam remembered.

“I thought he was Frodo’s bodyguard,” said Legolas.

Boromir looked confused. “I thought they were all children.”

Now it was Sam’s turn to blush. “I’m almost forty!” he sputtered. Boromir held up his hands, looking surprised, and Gandalf hid a laugh in his cup.

Anyway , what does the road tomorrow look like?” Frodo asked loudly, and Strider mercifully launched into a description. Frodo shot Sam a rueful look, but he also reached up and threaded his fingers through Sam’s. And later that night, they pulled their bedrolls together and Sam fell asleep with one hand resting light on Frodo’s side and nose buried in Frodo’s curls.

And that was that.

Sam didn’t trust or even like the strangers in the Fellowship at first. But he’d disliked Strider at first too, and the man had saved Frodo and done his best to keep them all safe - and turned out to be some kind of King named Aragorn, although Sam didn’t understand what kind of King tromped around in muddy boots.

Gimli never stopped thinking that Sam was the cook, and he turned out to be mostly right; the other hobbits were useless at proper cooking, Aragorn would probably be content munching on hardtack for years, and Legolas and Gandalf didn’t seem to eat much of anything. Gimli had a healthy interest in food, though, so he would walk alongside Sam later in the day and consult with him about the dinner menu. Not that there was much variation; Elrond had loaded them up with preserved meat, fruit, and hardtack, and there was only so much you could do with that.

“I could do wonders with a nice chicken,” said Sam. “Or a rabbit. Do you think you could ask Legolas to hunt for us?”

Gimli scowled. “Be careful asking favors of Elves, my boy. They’re tricky folk, as like to hold it against you as they are to help.”

“I’m sure they’re not as bad as all that,” said Sam. “And a hot meal would be lovely. Please, Gimli?” And so Gimli stumped over to bark what sounded like an order at Legolas, and Sam passed Bill’s reins to Merry so that he could wander off the road a ways and look for savory herbs.

Legolas strung his bow and sprinted off at what seemed like a frankly unsustainable pace. Sam walked back to the hobbits. “Does this smell like it would taste good?” Sam asked, waving some leaves in Frodo’s face. “It’s like ramsonweed, but the flowers were yellow instead of white.” Frodo was looking at him oddly. “What?”

Frodo smiled and shook his head. “Nothing. Only thousands of years of hostility between elves and dwarves, and Sam Gamgee gets them chatting about dinner plans.”

“Dinner is important,” was all Sam could say. Frodo plucked a leaf and nibbled it. “Definitely ramsonweed.”

So Legolas began hunting every day, running away on light feet and returning in the afternoons with game slung over his shoulders. He even ate a few bites of dinner that first night, a roast grouse, and praised the flavor. Sam was pretty sure he was just being nice, but that still gave him a little burst of pride. He did love to cook for people.

Much of the game was new to Sam. The birds were different than Shire chickens, the rabbits leaner and larger, and Legolas seemed to enjoy hunting different prey every day. Aragorn took to helping Sam prepare the meals, demonstrating how to butcher each animal and use every scrap of meat, telling him which ones were known for their rich flesh and which ones had a bile sac that would spoil the meat if it was pierced and other useful bits of ranger knowledge. 

He also started teaching Sam herb-lore. Many of the plants had similar variations in the Shire, but they grew different out in the wilds and Aragorn knew uses for them that Sam had never learned from his Gaffer. Gandalf weighed in occasionally as well, with the magical uses for plants and scraps of old tales.

Young Sam would have never believed that one day he’d be chatting about seasonings with the King of Men, an Elven prince, and a Dwarven warrior - with frequent requests interjected by Merry and Pippin, of course - but it all felt natural and easy. Dinner-time became the highlight of each day, especially the nights when Gimli passed around his flask of pungent dwarven liquor and taught them all drinking songs. He could almost forget they were on a dangerous quest and pretend it was just a very long holiday.

“You know, they’re not so bad after all,” Sam said to Frodo when they were twenty days into the journey, as they settled into their bedroll. They had camped in a stand of pine trees, unusual for this land, and Frodo had spent some time before bed mounding up ferns and needles into an indulgently soft mattress. The campfire had burned down and everyone slept farther apart than usual, taking advantage of the natural cover to let down their guard.

“I’m glad you think so,” said Frodo, amusement in his voice. “I know they’re all waiting on your favor.”

“Don’t tease,” said Sam. “They hardly notice me. I’m just happy we’re traveling with them. It makes this all feel more possible.”

He flopped back on the bedroll and Frodo peered into his face. “You really don’t see it, do you?”

Sam instinctively rushed his hands to his face - was he grubby from dinner? But Frodo laughed and pulled his hands down. “This Fellowship - they hardly knew each other, except for us hobbits, and Aragorn and Gandalf I suppose. Everyone was ready for an awfully grim journey and lots of arguments.” Frodo cocked his head and looked at Sam in a way that made him squirm. “But you’ve got them talking to each other and working together. You’re something of a leader, Samwise.”

“Now you really are teasing, and I won’t have it,” Sam said. Frodo looked so self satisfied that Sam had no choice but to kiss him, and then kiss him again for good measure. Frodo glanced around, but the rest of the camp was quiet. “Do you want to?” he murmured. 

“Yes, but quietly,” said Sam, and Frodo smirked and ducked under the cloak they were using as a blanket and made Sam forget all the aches and pains of the road. 

The night got colder, but Frodo still unbuttoned his shirt so he could nestle up against Sam’s chest, and they were quite warm under the cloak. 

“It does feel more possible,” Frodo said after Sam thought he’d already drifted to sleep. “All of us together. We really might make it there.”

“And back again,” said Sam. And they slept like that, more soundly than either had for weeks, and woke feeling rested and ready.

Chapter Text

Their journey took them steadily upwards, until they were traveling the slopes of the same Misty Mountains from Bilbo’s tales. The land grew harsher, Legolas’s daily offering of game grew leaner, and all the hobbits’ feet became tough and knobbly as rocks. 

But Frodo was in good spirits, and so Sam was too. Sometimes they sang as they walked, trying to remember all the words to Bilbo’s silliest songs, and sometimes they told stories. There was something pleasant in going through the past and telling each other different sides of the same tales.

“Where did you go, that one Spring Party? The same year the Mayor’s roof caved in from all the rain. I remember you snuck off and I spent all night searching for you,” Frodo asked. 

Sam closed his eyes, remembering that night from his tweens; the crocus flowers were blooming and lights were strung up outside the Green Dragon and Tilda Proudfoot played dancing songs on the fiddle. “You searched for me?” he asked. “All night?”

“Don’t look so pleased with yourself. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins was talking my ear off and I knew you’d help me escape.”

“A likely story. I think you fancied me, all the way back then, and wanted to give me a tart,” Sam said, teasing. Giving a pie or tart to another hobbit at the Spring Party was a way to begin a courtship, or at least show interest. The tarts were always accepted (and promptly eaten) regardless of whether or not the proposal was.

Frodo rolled his eyes. “You are ridiculous. And hedging. Where did you go?”

Sam blushed. He would have rathered not talk about this, but Frodo had asked. “I was with Rosie Cotton, actually.”

Frodo slowed down a bit to walk behind Merry and Pippin, and Sam matched his pace. 

“I was never sure if you and she - ”

“Just a few times,” said Sam, blushing harder now. “Just - you know, some kissing. We were in our tweens. It wasn’t - ”

He wasn’t sure what to say. It felt like a betrayal.

“It’s alright,” said Frodo, touching Sam’s shoulder as they walked side by side. “I did know you liked her. And she likes you. You don’t have to pretend it isn’t so.”

“It’s just different,” Sam mumbled. “I never thought this - you and I - ”

“Neither of us did,” Frodo said. 

“No,” said Sam. “But…”

Out with it, then. He loved Frodo and that meant he must tell him the truth.

“She wanted to make promises. Marriage, a family, all of that. But that was a while ago, and it stopped because I couldn’t say yes to her.”

Frodo looked lost in his own thoughts, gazing at the mountains that loomed above them. “Why not?”

“It wouldn’t have been the right thing to do,” Sam said, and Frodo frowned like he was confused. How could Frodo be the cleverest hobbit he knew but not understand this? “Not with the way I felt about you,” he explained. “I would always have been ready to - to drop everything, if you only called for me. And that wouldn’t’ve been fair for Rosie.”

He looked at Frodo, whose expression was unreadable, bluest of eyes fixed on the mountain peaks. Finally Frodo bit his lip and turned to face him. “You almost make me believe I’m good,” he said, “for someone like you to love me the way you do, Samwise.”

The words were sweet but there was something sad in Frodo’s eyes. Sam grabbed his hand. “That’s foolish. Of course you’re good.”

Frodo squeezed his hand and they walked like that, hand in hand, and Sam felt such a swelling of love and gratitude and wonder at being here , now , with Frodo , that his eyes misted over. 

“You would be a good father,” Frodo mused after a while. “Do you want that?”

“Of course, someday,” said Sam. “You would be, too.” 

Frodo quirked one side of his mouth in a half-smile. “Perhaps. Though I have little experience with fathers, I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Frodo seemed to be having a conversation half in his own head. Sam felt a bit confused, felt the need to reassure. “It’s always been you, Frodo. I’m yours, as long as you’ll have me.”

Frodo kissed the back of his hand. His lips were chapped from the journey but Sam would never, never get tired of being kissed by Frodo. “Thank you. My dear Sam.”

That night when they stopped to camp Frodo went away by himself. Sam was worried that something was wrong, but Legolas had brought him a string of tiny birds that required much plucking and he didn’t have time to go look for him. As he laid the last one in the cookpot, Frodo came back with a gift - one of their pieces of hardtack, crumbled into a rough bowl and filled with blackberries. 

“It’s not Spring, and this is a pretty poor try at a tart,” he said bashfully, but Sam glowed with pleasure as he took it. The berries were tiny and hard, the last of the summer’s crop, the sweetest thing he had ever tasted.

Sam had come to genuinely like all the members of the Fellowship, except for one. He simply did not feel right around Boromir. The man had a loud, easy laugh, and a booming voice when they sang walking songs. He went out of his way to be overly courteous to Frodo and always paid Sam compliments on the night’s dinner. There was no real reason to dislike him.

But still. Sam got a strange feeling from Boromir sometimes when he caught him looking at Frodo across the campfire. As though Frodo was a riddle he wanted very much to solve. 

No one else seemed to share these thoughts, and Merry and Pippin especially had gotten close with him. They scrambled to keep up with his long strides during the day and pestered him for tales of the wider world. “I should like to see Gondor,” Pippin took to saying with a far-off gleam in his eye. “Perhaps when we finish this up I shall take a holiday there.” Sam personally disagreed, not wanting to see a blade of grass more than what they had to in order to complete the quest, but then again Pippin was given to bouts of whimsy.

Boromir also began teaching Merry and Pippin to use the swords Aragorn had given them. Well, it was clear that they were just daggers when set against an actual Man-sized sword, but they were learning nonetheless. Sam could not imagine actually using his - wasn’t that why they were traveling with a group of warriors? - but he watched the lessons out of the corner of his eye.

It was during one of those that danger finally made itself known. They had stopped for lunch, Boromir was play-fighting Merry and Pippin, and Sam noticed a strange dark shape in the sky. As soon as he pointed it out, things happened very quickly - Legolas shouted an alarm, Aragorn drew his sword, and they all rushed to hide themselves under overhanging boulders. 

Sam set himself in front of Frodo. He could only see a sliver of sky, but it blackened as a swarm of nasty looking birds flew low over the mountain. 

When they had passed, Gandalf decided the way they were going was no longer safe. It seemed that another wizard was interfering with their journey. Privately, Sam wondered why Legolas didn’t just shoot all the birds out of the sky, but perhaps there were more of them than the elf had arrows.

So they turned directly towards the mountains and began climbing in earnest. Snow was rare in the Shire, and Sam had never seen more than a few inches, but the farther up they went the thicker it lay on the ground. They camped in an overhang the night before the pass Gandalf was making for, and all the hobbits huddled together for warmth. Being barefoot in snow was especially painful; it took an hour by the fire for Sam to be able to feel his feet, and Frodo shivered through the night. 

The next day they attempted the pass, starting as soon as the Sun came out to warm the mountainside. And that was where it happened. 

Sam blamed himself for not paying close enough attention. He hated the cold, he was finding out, and it took most of his effort just to put one foot in front of another. Bill the pony hated the cold too, and the rest of Sam’s attention went to keeping him moving. So he lost track of where Frodo was in the line, and only realized they’d gotten separated when there was a yell from behind him.

Frodo had fallen, it seemed, and tumbled down the mountain until Aragorn caught him and helped him up. That was all right and good, but then Sam saw Frodo fumbling frantically in his shirt and Boromir stooping down and the next thing he knew, Boromir had plucked the Ring from where it had fallen off Frodo’s neck. 

Odd how everything seemed to grow quiet in that moment; odd how even though Sam could only see Boromir’s back, he saw clearly the bright golden flash of the Ring where it hung on its chain.

Sam couldn’t hear what was said, but Frodo’s eyes were wide and afraid and he stood very still. Aragorn snapped something low and threatening, sounding like a guard dog about to bite. Finally Boromir trudged forward and handed the Ring to Frodo and tousled his hair. Sam felt a hot swell of anger when he touched Frodo, when he heard Boromir’s easy laugh on the wind. How dare he.

In the later afternoon the Sun moved and cast them all in shadow, it grew very cold, and the snow was piled almost as tall as Sam’s head. They still had not reached the other side. Frodo fell again, and then Merry; their feet were too numb to walk. They huddled against the cliff and wrapped them in strips of cloth, but it didn’t help much, so Aragorn took Frodo and Sam under his arms and half carried them, and Boromir took Merry and Pippin. Sam wanted very badly to hold Frodo, but he settled for keeping his gaze on Frodo’s face. His eyes were closed, his cheeks and nose flushed with cold, and his hands wrapped tight around the Ring.

Then there was shouting, and Aragorn stopped, and Gandalf bellowed what sounded like a spell into the whipping wind. It had grown dark, darker than it should have. Suddenly there was a great crack above them and Sam looked up and only had time to say “Oh,” before the mountain fell on them.

“Frodo,” Sam gasped. Snow was everywhere around him, a white that was almost angry in its brightness. Everything was dizzying and upside-down. He flailed his arms until he broke through the surface, gasping for breath. He had to get to Frodo . The wind was howling and thick with ice and the other members of the party were blurred shapes as they burst out of the snow too. Sam melted with relief when he saw Aragorn lifting Frodo out of a snowbank. He was shivering, eyes open but darting around, not fixed on anything, hands still crabbed around the Ring. 

Sam wanted more than anything to go to him, but the struggle had knocked the breath out of him and he couldn’t find the strength. Boromir and Gandalf and Gimli were arguing about which course to take. Sam just huddled into himself and looked at Frodo. His vision was still blurry, as though his eyes themselves were freezing over.

“Let the Ring-Bearer decide,” Gandalf said, just as the wind died for a moment of eerie quiet. His eyes looked old and tired under the brim of his hat. Frodo blinked, then turned to Sam with a helpless look that made Sam angry again. Why did it always have to be Frodo?  

Whatever Frodo saw in Sam’s face decided him. “Frodo?” Gandalf asked. 

“We will go through the mines,” Frodo said.

“So be it,” said Gandalf, and the party began to gather themselves together and turn around.

Frodo staggered through the snow to Sam. “You’re hurt,” he said, taking his hands, although Sam couldn’t really feel the touch. 

“Just cold,” said Sam, or tried to - his lips were so numb the words didn’t really come out. Frodo buried his face in Sam’s neck and reached under his cloak to rub his back and arms.

“Gimli knows some Dwarven mines we can travel through. I will get you off this mountain, Samwise Gamgee,” he said in his ear, and just the heat of his breath was enough to get Sam to push himself up and begin the long, hard journey back the way they’d come.

They made it down out of the snowline that night, into a hollow protected from the wind, and Legolas went down the mountain to gather wood for a fire. Even when it was blazing, with everyone huddled around, Sam felt small and frozen and couldn’t get his fingers under the straps of his pack. Merry noticed him struggling and helped him get it off, and sat close to him while Frodo came and sat on the other side. 

“I must make dinner,” Sam said thickly, trying to open his pack and get at their provisions. 

“Stop that,” said Frodo, taking his hand. “Oh, your fingers are frozen solid. Merry, help me.”

The two of them rubbed Sam’s numb hands until they began to tingle and sting. “Poor thing,” said Frodo, and Sam felt silly and weak.

“I’m sorry it took me so hard,” he said. The journey had gotten rough and he had failed to meet it, and what did that mean for the future? “I don’t know why.”

“Ssh,” said Frodo. “Pip, could you take over for me?”

Pippin sat down and took Sam’s hand, although he was nearly as cold, and Sam squeezed his eyes shut in embarrassment. “I will be alright, really,” he said, but his face was still so frozen the words slurred when they came out.

The fire crackled and Sam heard Frodo’s voice raised in protest. “Yes, I am serious. There’s no need to be prideful about it.” 

Sam tried to stand up, but Merry and Pippin pulled on his arms and kept him seated. Frodo was staring down Boromir, bristling with indignation. In the firelight, Boromir looked angry for a moment, but the look passed and he smiled. 

“Of course, little one. Whatever will help.” He unslung the round shield from his back and passed it to Frodo. 

Frodo took it, stumbling a bit under the weight, and left the circle of firelight. “Let me help you, lad,” said Gimli, following him.

“What’s he doing,” mumbled Sam, who was beginning to get very tired. “He should stay here. Let me go too.”

“Frodo will be fine,” Merry said. “Lor’, but you’re persistent, aren’t you.”

Gimli and Frodo came back with the shallow dome of the shield filled with snow. Frodo took four knives and dug their tips into the ground around the fire and then balanced the shield on their hilts, so that it was warmed from underneath by the flames. 

“A fast way to ruin a good blade,” Gimli muttered, but Frodo shot him a glare and he quieted. Gandalf was watching with a curious look on his face.

The snow melted and Frodo and Gimli lifted the shield and carried it over to Sam. “Here you are, love,” said Frodo. “Put your feet in here and warm up.”

Sam looked at the dish of water, steam rising into the black cold night, and realized it was a footbath as nice as any he’d prepared for Bilbo Baggins after a long day of walking. He wanted to laugh because it was all so ridiculous, but it came out more like a sob, and Frodo came and sat down again and put an arm around him. The water made his feet practically explode with pins and needles, but after a while he could feel life coming back to them. 

“I’m sorry,” he said again to Frodo, when he was sure his face was working again and he’d drunk some of the broth Merry had heated up for them all. “You shouldn’t have to tend to me like this. It’s not the way of things.”

“If we are going to do this, you must let me take care of you too,” Frodo said. “I feel there will be more difficult times ahead, and worse than just snow.”

“Nothing can be all that bad so long as you’re with me,” Sam said, quiet and shy. He let Frodo wrap his cloak around them both and draw him close, and if Boromir cast a frown in their direction, he didn’t mind.

Chapter Text

The way to the Gates of Moria went quickly, propelled as they were by Gimli’s descriptions of his cousin’s mine. “You have eaten at the pitiful tables of the elves,” he liked to proclaim as they walked. “Leaves and berries and wisps of cloud! Prepare your stomachs, lads - and your livers - for Dwarven hospitality!” 

The hobbits were, needless to say, all very excited. 

“I wonder why we didn’t go this way to begin with,” Sam mused, the evening before they planned to arrive at the Gates. They were apart from the others, crouched at a little spring that bubbled up from the rocky ground. Ferns grew around the bank of the stream and its chattering set him at ease after a hard day’s walk. 

Sam was scrubbing down the cookpot and Frodo was wringing out their spare traveling clothes. It was funny seeing Frodo do work like that, but he often insisted on it these days.

Frodo didn’t respond at once. He draped Sam’s shirt on a rock to dry, careful, a slight line appearing between his eyebrows. “Frodo?” Sam asked, and touched his arm. He frowned when he felt something unfamiliar and hard under Frodo’s shirt. 

“What’s this?”

“Oh,” Frodo said with a little laugh. “Something Bilbo gave me. A mail shirt. Dwarven-made.”

“Armor.” Sam ran his fingers under Frodo’s collar, saw white metal flash in the last of the day’s light. “And why are you wearing armor?”

Frodo sighed. “I don’t have a good feeling about Moria,” he said finally. “Gandalf has been oddly quiet about it, so I think he suspects something too.”

“Surely Gimli would know best,” Sam said. He very much wanted to believe that soon he would be eating a hot dinner cooked by someone else. 

“Perhaps.” Frodo’s face twitched like he was in pain. He drew in a long and shaky breath. “It’s...heavy, Sam. Sometimes I think it is whispering to me.” 

Sam didn’t have to ask what Frodo was talking about. “Don’t listen, then,” he urged. “Stop up your ears.”

“It’s in my head. And I think it knows things. I think it responds to evil forces, and something under the mountain is calling out to it.”

The notion of whispers in Frodo’s head scared Sam more than nasty spy birds, more than freezing mountaintops, even more than Dark Riders. 

“We shouldn’t go, then.”

“We have to.” Frodo’s voice was tense. “We can’t make the pass.”

Sam bit his lip. “Then let’s keep going South. Isn’t there a way through - ”

“That takes us too close to Gondor, and I don’t want to know.”

Boromir . Sam growled. “How are we meant to do this if there’s one here we can’t trust?”

“I don’t know, Sam,” said Frodo. 

“It’s not fair the choice was put on you,” Sam said. 

Frodo dipped his head. His mouth was tight. 

Sam felt useless. He scoured the cookpot with sand and set it to dry and turned back to Frodo. “What can I do?”

When Frodo looked up, something different shone in his eyes. “Distract me, Sam.”

“With a tale, or — ”

“Not a tale.” Frodo wrapped a hand around the front of Sam’s shirt and pulled him into a kiss, deep and hungry. Sam was surprised, and broke away after a moment. They were both grimy and tired and out in the open. 

“The others — ”

Frodo buried his hands in Sam’s curls. His face was very close, his cheeks flushed. “I don’t care. I don’t care. ” He kissed Sam again and pulled at the buttons of his shirt. “Just for a bit, I don’t want to think about them. About anything. I just want to get lost in you.”

He pressed Sam back against a boulder and kissed his neck, one hand still tangled in his hair, and Sam couldn’t help but make a soft sound that was (he hoped) covered by the chatter of the water. Frodo pulled back just to tug Sam’s shirt off. The air was cold and the rock was rough but he didn’t care. 

“Yours too,” Sam said, “It’s only fair.” Frodo smiled at him and stripped off his vest and shirt. 

The shining shirt of mail glowed gold in the sunset and made him look like a warrior out of legend. Frodo moved to take it off too and Sam stopped him. “I rather like it,” he said, and flushed because that was embarrassing. But Frodo understood. He climbed onto Sam and took his face in his hands and kissed him, and Sam melted, weariness giving way to pleasure all at once. 

The setting sun was bright through his closed eyes and Frodo’s hands were calloused and sure, and he didn’t know how it was for Frodo but very quickly it became impossible for Sam to think of anything else. 

They stayed by the spring until it grew dark. The campfire crackled a ways away and they could just hear Legolas singing quietly in elven. Frodo lay in Sam’s lap and Sam stroked his hair slowly, gently, teasing out tangles. His eyes were closed and in the moonlight his lashes threw shadows on his cheeks.

“I wish we could stay here,” Sam said. Frodo opened one eye.

“You don’t want to go back to the fire? I’m getting a bit cold.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Sam said, casting around for words. “I wish we could stop and just stay in this moment. Just the two of us, no one else and no quest.”

Frodo nodded against his legs. “Me too.”

Something Sam had been thinking earlier came back to his head. “Will you tell me when you’re worried about things like Moria? I want to be ready to protect you.”

Frodo sat up, pulling his clothes back on. “I will. I’m sorry I didn’t earlier. it bad that I like to see you happy, too? It’s like…” He looked around, to where the Moon hung pale and almost full. “Like how the Moon doesn’t make light, but he can reflect what the Sun shines on him. It makes me happy when you’re happy.”

Sam struggled with several feelings, but he chose to just rock back on his heels and help Frodo to his feet. “So I’m the Sun in this tale? Pretty words, Frodo Baggins. Very pretty.” Frodo laughed and that made him feel good. “Perhaps you will be right and everything will be horrid, and we will just have to get through it and come out the other side. And perhaps I will be right, and we’ll have a lovely time with the Dwarves.”

“I hope you’re the one who’s right,” Frodo said, and linked arms with him as they went back to the campfire. 

Frodo was right.

A terrible thing had happened inside Moria. Sam tried not to look at the bodies. He had never seen skeletons before and it felt disrespectful that they had been left sprawled about every which way.

They tried to leave but something grabbed Frodo - an awful tentacled creature that lived in the water outside the Gates of Moria. Sam, who had only hung a sword from his belt that day to get used to the weight, found himself drawing it and hacking at the tentacle that wound around Frodo’s ankle. The movement was like chopping firewood, but the way the flesh gaped and rank blood spattered out made Sam want to throw up. 

The Men strode into the water and fought the thing, and Legolas fired arrows until it dropped Frodo and they all ran into the mine for shelter and the thing pulled down the door behind them in its death throes. Everything was dark and choked with dust and Sam stumbled over dry bones until he found Frodo, shaking and soaked, and wrapped his arms around him and tried not to cry.

“Why is it always you,” he asked, not letting go as Gandalf conjured a light and surveyed their surroundings. “It shouldn’t always be you.” But Frodo didn’t answer.

So they had to go through the mines after all. Sam was sure they had been extraordinary in their day, but he couldn’t find much love for the vaulted ceilings, the carvings, the dizzying mineshafts that glimmered with mithril and gems. The place smelled musty, the way his winter clothes did when they came out of storage but a hundred times worse. He wanted to make it to the other side as fast as possible.

The party travelled quietly, because it was clear that something had killed all the dwarves, and that something was probably still lurking around. There were no more walking songs and only small fires. Gandalf seemed lost in thought most of the time, though once Sam caught the wizard looking at him with a curious, searching gaze.

Frodo was tired and the Ring seemed to be especially heavy down here. He stayed mostly by Sam as they walked. When they stopped he would curl up in Sam’s lap and close his eyes, though Sam didn’t think he actually slept much.

They were camped like that on the fourth night, in a little cavern with a carved entrance and glittering veins of minerals snaking across the rough stone walls. Aragorn stood guard in the corridor.

“Master Samwise,” Gandalf said, nodding at Sam across the little fire they’d made from broken barrels. “A moment of your time?” 

Sam looked at his lap where Frodo had actually fallen asleep, and carefully extricated himself, laying Frodo’s head down on a pack. He followed Gandalf a ways down the corridor, until they were looking out into the musty blackness of Moria. 

Gandalf didn’t say anything for quite some time and Sam cleared his throat, wondering if the wizard had forgotten he was there. 

“To my knowledge, it has not happened before,” Gandalf said finally, almost talking to himself. “Isildur had a wife, but she was not with him at Mordor when he cut it from Sauron’s hand. Sméagol did not have anyone, unless he and Déagol - but if so, that was not enough to stop the sway of the thing.”

“Pardon,” said Sam, who didn’t recognize any of these names. “But do you need me here for this?” He was anxious to get back to Frodo.

Gandalf turned and gave him an appraising look in the light from his staff. “I do not think any other bearer of the One Ring was in love,” he said. “So I cannot guess what effect it will have. But it must be discussed.”

“Oh,” said Sam. “Do you think he is? In love with me? He’s never exactly said - ”

“Yes, yes, of course he is,” Gandalf said impatiently. “And this presents a question. Will your love protect him from the corrupting influence of the Ring? Or will the Ring use that love to whisper louder in Frodo’s ear?”

Sam blinked. He had absolutely no idea. 

“The Ring feeds off desire,” mused Gandalf. “It promises to achieve anything that the bearer should wish. So we must assume that the presence of desire would give it more power over Frodo.” 

Sam blushed and looked down at his toes. “Well, it all sounds very improper when you put it like that.”

Gandalf ignored him. “But then again. The Ring eats at the mind, stealing memories and personhood and replacing them with an all-consuming obsession. In lesser mortals, that is.”

”Frodo isn’t lesser,” Sam muttered. 

Gandalf looked at him like he’d forgotten Sam was there, and chuckled. “Perhaps. Hobbits are much tougher than anyone gives them credit for. But Sam - if you stay with Frodo - “

“And I mean to,” interrupted Sam.

“Yes. Yes, I think that will be best, despite the risk. You will need to help him keep a hold of himself. To remember where he is from, what he loves, who he is. Our Frodo is strong, but the Ring is stronger. It already reaches into his mind.” Gandalf sighed heavily. “He might…change, Samwise. You must be ready for that. I think he will need you very badly, before the end.”

Sam looked out into the darkness and thought about the idea of stealing , of corrupting , and something cold seized at his heart. Before he put the words together properly they just tumbled out. 

“Pardon my frankness sir, but everyone says you’re the wisest person in all of Middle-Earth, and Frodo and Mister Bilbo trust you and speaks so well of you, but I don’t see how that all can be true when you’ve gone and put this terrible burden upon him.” His hands balled into fists.

Something in Gandalf seemed to grow tall and dark like a thundercloud, and Sam remembered that he was talking to a wizard with magical powers and trembled a little. But when Gandalf finally looked at him, his face was only sad.

“It is my greatest sin,” Gandalf said. “And I have lived for a very long time, and done many things I now regret.” He bowed his head over his staff and Sam didn’t know what to say. They stood like that for a moment, quiet. 

“I am not all that brave, or clever, or strong,” Sam said finally in a small voice. His anger had departed, leaving only hollow worry in its wake. “But Frodo - he makes me want to be those things. As much as I can. So I’ll do my best, sir.”

Gandalf knelt down to his level, so Sam looked right into his odd, bright eyes, like two far-off stars. “There is absolutely no point in cultivating those lofty qualities,” he said, “if they are not in the service of others.”

Those words stayed in Sam’s mind for a long time, because on the next day Gandalf died.

A lot happened on that day. They were attacked by goblins, finally meeting the awful beasts that had murdered all the dwarves. Sam forgot about his sword at first and hit some of them with his cooking pan, which actually worked quite well. But the goblins had brought a cave troll with them, a giant stampeding creature that smelled like spoilt milk and, just like the creature in the water, it went straight for Frodo. 

It pinned him with a spear the size of a lamppost and for another one of those awful Weathertop moments, the frantic battle slowed to a crawl and Sam thought Frodo had been killed. But his mithril shirt had turned the blade, and Sam loved it even more for that. Frodo would have a nasty bruise on his ribs but quickly he was walking again - and good, because more goblins were pouring from every crevice of the mine.

It should have seemed hopeless, should have made him drop to his feet and cower and give up, but Frodo needed him and there just wasn’t time to be afraid. All they could do was run pell-mell through the mines, Gandalf promising the entrance was soon, as the gibbers and screams of the goblins echoed around them. 

And then the goblins scattered and the air got hotter, and harder to breath, and something like red firelight flickered in the far reaches of the halls. They scrambled across a bridge, Sam making sure Frodo was in front - if no one else, Frodo must make it out of here alive.

And at last, Gandalf stood against the thing that was chasing them down the halls, the thing all the goblins had been afraid of. The demon. Sam couldn’t bear to look at it properly, it was that hot; so hot it made his eyes feel dry and shrunken, so hot he felt his lips cracking when it bellowed with breath like a thousand furnaces. And the noise it made, a horrible shrieking and tearing of metal as it drew a smoldering blade as long as Aragorn was tall. Gandalf stood against it, with his sword and his staff and his eyes like distant stars, and Sam hid his face because he could not watch. 

They made it out of the mine, staggered out of the earth under a steely sky and blinked and gasped in the cold fresh air. But Gandalf wasn’t with them. Gandalf had fallen.

Sam stumbled to Frodo, whose eyes were wide. Who had screamed like his heart was being ripped out. 

“Frodo,” he said thickly, tears coming on the next breath, and pulled him into an embrace. If he could just hold him, if he could just keep him safe, at least that one single thing would be all right. 

But Frodo shook his head and pulled away, pulled Sam’s arms off him. Sam didn’t understand. “Stop,” Frodo said, or sort of gasped, like he was dying. “Sam, I must think. Let me think.” And he limped away across the hard black rock.

Sam sunk to the ground then and fully wept, because he would never disobey Frodo but he felt terribly scared and alone. 

It was just thinking about what Gandalf had said that made him stand up when Aragorn commanded it. Made him walk again, on sore and battered feet, any direction that led away from the mines. Kept him in the group, even when Frodo did not look at him, did not speak to him, but looked straight ahead, pale and cold as a statue and eyes all full of horror. 

He will need you very badly, before the end.

Chapter Text

They made for an elven forest, and the first few miles passed without Sam seeing anything but his feet stumbling one step after another. Tears kept leaking out of his eyes and rolling down his face. It all seemed somewhat hopeless without Gandalf, but when he thought about that the tears came thicker, so he didn’t.

Frodo walked ahead of him, and did not speak to Sam or even turn to look back at him, except once.

They had entered the woods, and the softness of moss and loam was a relief. Gimli pulled Frodo close and warned him about an elven sorceress nearby. Sam listened too, but remembered that Gimli was not fond of elves and so took it with a grain of salt.

Frodo didn’t say anything to Gimli, but a moment later he gasped and stumbled over nothing. He stopped and looked around wildly and grabbed at the Ring.

“Mister Frodo?” Sam asked, worry and uncertainty making him go back to the old form of address. And Frodo did turn around and look at Sam for a moment. Their eyes connected and he looked wild and scared before he broke away.

There was a lot going on in Frodo’s head that he was keeping locked up in there. So Sam would wait, until he was ready to talk. He could be patient.

But they were barred from the forest. A group of elves, dressed in soft deer-skins the same color of the tree bark around them, stepped forward with bows drawn. Aragorn talked with them in elven, and they led the party off the path. Sam didn’t like the way Aragorn and Legolas shot each other worried glances, but there was no choice but to follow them.

After dusk, in a blue twilight, they reached a little encampment. Sam stepped between Frodo and the elves, trying to look sturdy and tough. Their leader finally looked past the tall folk. His gaze slid over Sam with disinterest, and then he frowned darkly. Sam didn’t think of fear as being an emotion elves felt, but this one looked afraid.

“You bring great evil here,” he said to Frodo, almost angrily. “You can go no further.”

Sam stepped forward, because he didn’t care who this elf was but nobody talked to Frodo like that! Aragorn put a hand out, though, holding him back. “Let me,” he said quietly.

So Aragorn stood a ways away and argued with the elf in hushed voices, and the hobbits all sat down to rest their tired feet. Sam took out some jerky and passed it around, although Frodo didn’t take any.

Sam had resolved to wait but that was battling with his desire to do something , and the latter won out; so he sat down next to Frodo and touched his arm. “Talk to me, please,” he said. “What are you thinking?”

Frodo just shook his head, the barest movement, and kept his gaze fixed straight ahead. “You don’t want to know,” he murmured. 

“Try me,” Sam said. 

Frodo’s mouth twisted up like a scar that had healed wrong. Sam wanted very badly to reach out and touch him, but he held back.

“Without Gandalf, we will fail, and the world will fall,” Frodo said finally, flatly.

Estel . “Don’t go giving up - ” Sam said, but Frodo kept talking like he did not hear. 

“And I made the choice to go into the mines. It is my fault .”

Sam tried to take his hand, but Frodo pulled back like the touch stung. He looked up at Sam and his face was unknowable. 

Stop ,” he said. “You cannot - I don’t want - ” Something in Sam’s face must have shown the impact, words like barbed arrows, because Frodo looked away. “Let me be, Sam.”

Sam took the point, although he did not like it. He moved a ways away and let Frodo sit and be sad, although he couldn’t help but look at him every now and again to make sure he didn’t need anything.

Finally the elves did agree to let them pass. But they would have to go speak with the elven sorceress on their way, which made Gimli growl angrily. They rested at the encampment that night. When everyone was taking out bedrolls, Frodo bundled up in his cloak and hunched over and avoided Sam’s gaze. Sam looked at him helplessly and couldn’t look away. He just didn’t know what to do.

“Give him a little space,” said a quiet voice, and Sam turned to see Merry next to him. 

“But I want to help,” Sam said, his head dropping in embarrassment. “He won’t even eat anything.”

“I know,” said Merry. He looked worried too. “Let’s just...see what tomorrow brings.” 

So Sam slept alone for the first time since Frodo had first crept into his bed in Rivendell, and his dreams were full of fire and a frantic run through passages that never ended.

Nothing had changed in the morning and it was hard not to feel miserable. Sam barely looked around as they entered a sort of elven city in the heart of the woods. It was much odder than Rivendell, full of shadows and soft glimmering lights and winding stairs built into the very trees. The kind of place he had read about and always wanted to visit, but he couldn’t muster his curiosity just then. 

Until they met the sorceress. Galadriel . She was some kind of queen of the elves, her and her companion Celeborn, and she appeared in front of them like a dream. Aragorn lowered his head in respect, though Sam couldn’t help but stare; she shone with a soft light, her face seemed very old and very young all at once, and her eyes were the rich blue of an autumn sky just passing into twilight. 

Just looking at her made him feel refreshed. If there was such beauty in this world, maybe, just maybe, there was hope too. Frodo was standing in front of him and Sam hoped very much that he felt the same way.

The elves asked after Gandalf, and Legolas said bitterly that he’d died because “we went needlessly into the net of Moria.” Frodo flinched at that and Sam had half a mind to kick Legolas. 

“Needless were none of the deeds of Gandalf in life,” said Galadriel, her words slow and calm. “We do not yet know his full purpose.” And Sam brightened up at that. Because it had been Gandalf who had asked Frodo to choose the way. And though he couldn’t see how, maybe the old wizard had meant for these things to happen. He hoped Frodo was listening.

Galadriel talked more, although it was oddly hard to pay attention to her words. Sam just watched her face, her ageless eyes. 

And then those eyes fixed on his, and Sam gasped out loud because his whole heart felt like a book that she was reading through. “Yet hope remains,” she said, a smile in her voice. “While the company is true.” 

And that fortified him. No matter what Frodo said, no matter what happened, Sam would be true.

They settled in for the night in a tent, strewn with lights and soft pillows, as around them quiet singing echoed in the trees and an elf brought them a spread of food and drink. Despite everything it was lovely, and Sam only wished that Frodo would come and sit with him. 

“Sam,” Pippin said, “fancy a bathe in the river?” 

Sam looked at Frodo, who had wrapped himself in blankets and was listening to the music, a plate untouched beside him, and shook his head. What if Frodo needed him? 

But Merry appeared too, looking at Sam in a kind and rather pitying way. “He will be alright,” Merry said. “Come on. I’m sure the elves are all gossiping about how badly we smell.” So Sam went with them, down to the banks where a wide bath with stone steps had been built right into the river. 

There were soft towels laid out in a cedar chest, and little silver dishes of soap that smelled like lemons, and a flowering tree that hung over the pool and dropped white petals into the water. Sam was a bit shy undressing in front of Merry and Pippin, but they had no compunctions about stripping down and jumping into the water, so he followed. And it felt good , amazingly good, to watch the dirt of the road and the dust and ash of Moria slough away in the water.

“That’s a big one, Pip,” Merry said, poking a purpling bruise on Pippin’s side.

“Ouch, now what’s that from?” Pippin asked, twisting to see. “A goblin did smack me with something pointy, I seem to recall.” 

“Also yesterday you tripped over your own feet and landed on your sword pommel.” 

Pippin scrunched up his nose. “Let’s say it was the goblin. Wash my back?”

Sam felt lonely as Merry scrubbed down Pippin’s back. He looked at his own bruises and scrapes. Quite a collection. 

“Oh, stop feeling sorry for yourself,” Pippin said, splashing water at him, and Sam blushed. 

“I’m fine!”

“No you’re not,” Merry said. “Have you and Frodo talked?”

Sam shook his head, and felt tears burn at his eyes and pretended to wash his face so Merry and Pippin wouldn’t notice.

“He’s got a heavy burden,” he said finally. “It’s alright. I don’t want to weigh him down any more.”

“Yes, we all know you’re such a burden,” Pippin said, and Sam looked up at him with hurt plain on his face and Merry elbowed him in his bruise. “Hey! Sarcasm , Samwise. Anyone with eyes can see that you make him happy.”

“I don’t think happy can help with this,” Sam said, biting his lip to keep the quaver out of his voice. “At the end of the day, I’m really just his gardener.”

“OH, for the love of - ” Merry started, and cut himself off when Sam flinched. “Samwise Gamgee,” he said more gently, “you’re his - meletheleth or whatever you called it. He loves you and you love him and it is absolutely ridiculous to pretend it’s less than that.”

Sam dropped his head and something Galadriel had said came into his mind. In all lands, love is now mingled with grief.

“I’m afraid that kind of love was just, a sort of distraction for him,” he said finally. “And I - he - he’s so important. Much more important than me. So I have to be whatever he needs from me.” He looked up at them. It was odd to say these things out loud. “That’s always how it’s been with us.”

Pippin looked at Sam and sighed. Merry frowned. “Well, it shouldn’t be that way.”

“Lots of things shouldn’t be the way they are,” Sam mumbled.

“At the very least he owes you a conversation,” Merry said. “Will you go talk to him later? I can’t stand seeing you mope, it depresses me terribly and I want to enjoy being pampered by elves before whatever awful thing happens next.” 

Sam nodded. Merry reached out of the water to fetch a pipe from his bundle of clothes. He filled it and lit it with a candle and settled back against the steps. “On this wretched journey, the least we can do is take a little comfort from the people we love.”

Sam stood up with a resolute splash. “I will go talk to him. Thank you both, sirs.” Pippin toasted him with the pipe and Sam left him and Merry in the bath.

“Frodo,” Sam said. His heart thumped wildly in his ears and Frodo blinked up at him from the cushions in surprise. “It’s time for you to tell me what’s on your mind and what you want from me. You’ve hardly spoken for two days and it’s becoming very strange.”

“I’m sorry, Sam,” said Frodo softly. But when Sam stayed standing, stubborn, he bit his lip and stood up. “Yes, let’s talk.”

They walked away from the tent, down a winding path to a little dell with a lantern hanging in it. Frodo looked up at the canopy, the stairways and bridges that linked the tallest of trees, and sighed. 

“We can’t keep doing this.”

It wasn’t that Sam hadn’t gotten that impression, but hearing Frodo say it felt truly awful. “Now you’re worried about the elves having opinions,” he said sullenly, though he knew deep down that was not the problem.

“No, Sam, that’s not it. Please.” Frodo raked his hands through his hair, looking anywhere but at him. “There’s just not room for you in my head.”

It was as Sam had feared, then. His love wasn’t the helpful type that Gandalf had said it would be. “So this has just been a distraction.”

Frodo whirled to look at him and the look on his face, angry and desperate, made Sam step back.

“I am afraid every day that something will happen to you,” Frodo said through gritted teeth. “I’m afraid I have dragged you on a journey that will result in your death. I’m afraid…” 

He slumped, almost falling, settled down hunched on a tree root looking terribly sad and small. Sam felt his own throat getting tight as Frodo chose his words carefully, so carefully. “I am afraid I cannot treat you the way you deserve. I am afraid the things I need from you will only ruin you.” Frodo rarely cried, Sam wasn’t sure if he had ever truly seen it, but eyes were wet now and shone in the lantern light when he looked up. “You can be happy , Sam, don’t you know that? Really happy . Don’t you know how rare that is?”

Sometimes Sam wanted to shake him. “And you’re acting like me being happy has naught to do with you.”

“I’m sorry. I know. I much.” Frodo sniffed and wiped a hand across his eyes. “I wish we could have been together in the Shire. I wish this quest had never come to me. I wish I was brave like you and I could keep a smile on my face instead of just being scared all the time.” Sam sat at his feet, because these were soft words and they gave him hope. But Frodo looked away from him and grew firm. “But I need to stop pretending this is a holiday. This is my burden, and I carry it alone.”

“But you can’t do this alone,” Sam said. Elrond had sent them out in a group of nine, hadn’t he? Gandalf had said to stay with him. “Two is stronger than one. Just let me help you.”

Frodo passed a hand over his eyes and stayed like that for a long moment. There was a tremble to his shoulders that made Sam think he was weeping. 

“Do you want to help me?” he said finally, low and soft. Sam put a hand gently on his knee. Anything, anything. Frodo looked at him with wet eyes. “It would help me to know you were safe, and home, and living your life.”

Sam bit his lip so hard it cracked, but he didn’t really feel the pain. He didn’t feel much of anything. He stood up.

“Is that an order, sir?”

Frodo looked helpless. “...No, Sam. I wouldn’t - we’ve gone beyond me ordering you to do things, haven’t we?” Sam knew he was trying to explain but it was all just words, stupid words. “Having you with me gives me something to care about, and the Ring feeds on what I care about. Please understand.”

“Well, Gandalf and I already talked about that, and he told me to stick with you. So I will, to respect the wishes of the dead, unless you think you’re cleverer than a wizard and outright tell me different.” He turned away. “Let’s just go back to what we know best, Mister Frodo.”

It had been enough just to serve Frodo before. He had been content - really. It would have to be enough again.

Chapter Text

Sam decided to go back to being Frodo’s servant. He had years of practice, after all, and it shouldn’t be that hard to settle back into the habit of addressing him as ‘sir’ and responding when talked to but not initiating conversation. To keep his eyes down respectfully instead of looking at Frodo whenever he wanted; to keep his hands at his side instead of reaching out for reassurance and connection. 

He would simply find ways to keep his hands busy and his mind fixed on other things.

So Sam threw himself into chores the next day, washing all their clothes and patching the holes while the elves brought them a wealth of food for the road. Chief among them were packets of lembas , a type of traveling bread wrapped in leaves. Sam nibbled a corner of one. It tasted like a shortbread without much sugar and a thin layer of nutty paste in the center, and he made sure to fill his pack with it. It was always easier to be bent over a task; although he was aware at all times that Frodo sat nearby, poring over Aragorn’s map.

And then it was time to depart. The elves gave them all grey-green cloaks, and Galadriel gave each person a gift of their own. Merry and Pippin got noble looking daggers. Frodo received a vial filled with starlight that looked properly magic. But to Sam she just gave a coil of rope.

It wasn’t that he had expected any gift at all. But it sort of reaffirmed things for Sam. Lady Galadriel had seen his heart, and she knew that he was not a warrior. He did not have a great destiny. The best he could hope for was to keep his head down, and if anything needed to be tied, well, he had some rope.

Hobbits did not like boats on principle. Sam had managed to keep this dislike purely theoretical for most of his life, but it proved true in practice. The elves had given them a fleet of small grey vessels to float down the river in, and promised that was the fastest way to get close to Mordor. That was well and good, but Sam would have preferred a longer walk with solid ground beneath his feet. 

Frodo settled in the front of one boat and Aragorn stepped up with a paddle and waved Sam over to sit in the middle. Sam wanted to apologize to Frodo because it probably would have been better to ride with someone else, but he did not know how to explain that to Aragorn. For his part, Frodo glanced back at Sam and smiled awkwardly. 

“Have you tried the lembas?” he asked, the first direct thing he’d said to Sam since it would help me to know you were safe at home. “I thought it tasted a bit like Esmeralda Took’s honey cakes.”

“Don’t think I’ve ever had those, sir,” Sam said stiffly. Esmeralda was Merry’s mother, and she didn’t go about inviting Gamgees to her table. 

Frodo looked embarrassed and turned away. “Ah, of course.”

 “But I reckon it would be good as the topping on a crumble,” Sam volunteered. “I’ll make us all some if I can find any berries.” 

But then that made him think of the blackberry tart Frodo had given him, and the way he’d smiled watching Sam eat it. He wondered if Frodo was thinking of that too. They both fell quiet. 

Sam spent the first hour of their journey bracing against the side of the boat and feeling queasy. “You can relax, Master Gamgee,” said Aragorn with a laugh in his voice. “Elven boats do not sink.”

“Due respect, sir, but hobbits do,” Sam grumbled. But he settled back. When he wasn’t resisting it, the rocking of the boat was actually quite soothing. The day was hot and he folded his new cloak into a pillow and gazed at the sky as it passed overhead. Truth be told he had not slept much the night before; so, lulled by Aragorn’s steady rowing, his eyes slowly closed. 

Frodo said something in a soft voice that pulled Sam out of an odd dream about rabbits and honey cakes. He woke up just enough to hear Aragorn chuckle. “I always forget you understand elvish,” he was saying to Frodo. 

Sam kept his eyes closed, enjoying the sun on his face and not wanting to bother them.

“I’m not as well versed in Quenya,” Frodo said. “What did Galadriel say to you? Something about the light diminishing?”

“She was speaking of my lady Arwen, who saved you at the ford,” Aragorn said. He cleared his throat. “Before we left, she promised to stay in Middle-Earth with me, instead of going to Valinor.”

“Is that where the elves go?” Frodo asked. “Sometimes they would pass us in the Shire, on their way to the Sea.” His voice sounded dreamy and far away.

“Yes. Their proper land.” Aragorn’s voice was heavy. “I hear it is beautiful. She could live forever there among her kin.”

“Do you want her to go?” Frodo asked. Sam wanted to open his eyes and see Frodo’s expression, but he didn’t think Frodo would keep talking if he was awake.

“I love her,” Aragorn said after a silence. “I always have. I was young when I first told her, and it didn’t occur to me that my love might be her doom. Elves can live forever, if they are not killed, and if they do not give their lives to a mortal.” He sighed. “So being with me means she chooses death.”

Frodo’s voice was soft. Sam almost couldn’t hear him over the water. “And still you let her make that choice?”

“What would you do?” Aragorn asked, but Frodo did not answer. He chuckled. “I could convince this river to flow backwards before I could command Arwen Undomiel to do anything she did not want to. But we’ve talked it over, many times.” 

“I think I would like to know the people I love would live forever,” Frodo said. “It would be a comfort in hard times.”

Sam let his eyes flutter open just a little. Through his lashes he saw Aragorn touch the silver gem he always wore around his neck, and smile to himself. “Perhaps, but Arwen does not owe me any comfort I cannot return to her. And she sees it as choosing love, rather than death. All I can do is try to be worthy of that choice.”

And then Aragorn looked right at Sam. He closed his eyes quickly, but rather thought Aragorn knew he’d been awake the whole time.

They made it far down the river that day. Maybe boats were not that bad after all, although he was cramped from so much sitting. It was good to reunite with the others once they’d pulled up on the shore; Sam missed talking to people. A day of looking at the back of Frodo’s head and wishing he would turn around had made him sad.

He let Merry and Pippin pull him aside to smoke and relay stories that Boromir had told them. He knew they were trying to cheer him up. 

“You did talk to him?” Merry asked when Sam still seemed distracted, and looked at Frodo out the corner of his eye. 

“Yes,” said Sam, but suddenly felt hemmed in and embarrassed. “It’s over, but it’s alright.”

“Is it?” said Pippin. “I never thought of Frodo as being the type to lead someone on.”

“He’s not,” Sam snapped. They would never understand. They had never been in service to anyone a day in their lives. “He was my master first and that is how it is again. Please just forget it happened.”

He knew Merry and Pippin were not pleased with this response, but it was all too much to have to defend Frodo over something that still hurt so badly. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to start dinner.”

Forget it happened. He could never truly forget, but days of changing scenery and silence and grief made the whole affair feel distant. It seemed impossible now that he had ever kissed Frodo while the light of the setting sun blazed off a shirt of dwarven mithril, or held him close with nothing in between and felt his heartbeat. Impossible that the cold and sad person sitting wrapped in his cloak had ever turned to look at him and smiled with his whole face. It felt like a dream.

He wanted to be chatty and normal and draw Frodo out, just a little. To show Merry and Pip that things truly were alright, to show Frodo that they could talk without it being it so terribly awkward. “Have some food, Mister Frodo,” he said cheerfully. Soup was bubbling in the cookpot, from another elven leaf packet filled with dried mushrooms and herbs, and it smelled delicious.

“No, Sam,” Frodo murmured. Sam could barely hear him over the river. 

“You haven’t eaten anything all day, and you’re not sleeping, neither. Don’t think I haven’t noticed,” he found himself saying. That was the sort of thing he would have said before, wasn’t it? Overfamiliar, but expecting to be ignored. He crouched next to Frodo. 

“I’m alright,” said Frodo, and there was an angry bite to his words. 

Sam felt angry too. So they weren’t kissing anymore, and Sam was doing his very best to accept that. Why couldn’t Frodo just act normal? Couldn’t he see how hard Sam was trying?

“But you’re not,” he said, pushing. He couldn’t help it. “I’m here to help you. I promised Gandalf that I would.”

Frodo looked at him. His brow was furrowed like he was in pain. And Sam realized, with a feeling like missing a step in the dark, that there might not be a normal to go back to.

“You can’t help me, Sam,” Frodo said. “Not this time.” He turned away, one hand worrying at the collar of his mithril shirt. “Get some sleep.”

The river banks were pebbled and the mist was clammy. Sam burrowed into his new cloak and willed sleep to come, even though he did not feel tired. But at some point it must have, because when he woke up the Moon had risen high into the sky and Frodo was lying next to him. 

He was curled up on his side, facing Sam but not touching him, and his eyes were open. He was so still he might have been a statue, except that he blinked when Sam opened his eyes.

He was close enough that Sam could easily have reached out and kissed him. But they didn’t do that anymore. So he just lay there and looked at Frodo and felt lucky to get to see him like this.

“I never thanked you,” Frodo said, so quietly. 

Sam was about to ask what for, but Frodo put out a hand and touched his lips.

“Let me say this.” He drew in a breath. “I never expected to fall in love. It wasn’t something I looked for, not in the Shire and especially not on this journey. But I know - ” 

Something troubled passed over his face. He bit his lip, pushed it back down. “I know that whatever happens next, I will be glad it happened. I will be glad it was you. Even if I was not worthy, in the end.” 

“Wait - ” said Sam, but Frodo put an arm around him and kissed him, just on the cheek, soft lips and the familiar smell of him making Sam’s heart ache all over again. 

“Please don’t forget that, Sam,” he said in his ear. Then stood up and went back to his own bedroll without another word. 

So Sam fixed his eyes on Frodo and did not look away. He couldn’t shake the feeling that that had been some sort of goodbye. But they had many miles left to go together, whether Frodo liked it or not, and Sam could be patient. 

In the afternoon, they reached a roaring waterfall that marked the end of their time in the boats. Aragorn had a plan to make for the other shore when it got dark, since it seemed they were being followed. Sam re-filled his bag with as much lembas bread as he could carry. 

He was tired again from not much sleep, and tired anticipating traveling all night. Frodo looked like he was napping too, so Sam settled against a rock and closed his eyes. The fellowship were arguing, Boromir disagreeing with Aragorn again and Gimli grumbling about something or other, but it wasn’t hard to ignore them.

Until a voice cut through his sleep and had him scrambling to his feet and grabbing for his sword before he was even properly awake. “Where’s Frodo?” Merry had asked. 

Sam blinked and tried to figure out how long he had been sleeping as Aragorn stood quickly. “And where is Boromir,” he said, with a growl in his voice, and Sam gasped. 

They ran into the woods that bordered the riverbanks, all of them, shouting for Frodo. Sam didn’t know how he ran faster than Aragorn and Legolas, but somehow he did, outstripping them as he threw himself into the thicket. “Frodo!” he called as loud as he could, “Mister Frodo!” and heard the others yelling too.

Where had he gone? And had Boromir taken him? Snatches of conversation floated back into his mind; Boromir did not want to destroy the Ring, he had said as much at the Council. Boromir wanted to go to Minas Tirith, and he wanted to take the Ring there and use it. He was so much stronger than Frodo. It wouldn’t have been difficult.

Frustration and anger seized him, because why had they brought Boromir with them on this quest, why had no one been watching Frodo, why had Sam fallen asleep and failed at the one thing he was supposed to do. Tears jumped into his eyes, and in his haste he put his foot through a rotten log and lost his balance and fell, tumbling down a slope and landing sprawled in a clearing.

He picked himself up. Far away he heard voices calling for Frodo, and - was that the clash of metal? Swords? He wasn’t sure. 

He lowered his head. Tried to think. Couldn’t. His head was filled with panic and yelling and he was afraid to keep running in case it was the wrong direction but he couldn’t stay still because clearly Frodo was not here.

Sam had put a hand in his pocket without thinking, and something in there cut through his panic - something faceted and hard and unfamiliar. He took it out.

His hand was cracked and lined with dirt and it seemed utterly incongruous that in the center of his palm sat a white gemstone. It was small, leaf-shaped, and sparkled in the light. Silver metal clung to its sides, like it had been pried out of a setting. 

How had it ended up in his pocket? And why did he feel like he’d seen it before?

And then he was running back the way he’d come, running as fast as he could, the gemstone fallen and forgotten on the forest floor. Scrambling up the slope through slippery dead leaves, every second feeling like a mortal wound.

Because the gem had been set in the collar of Frodo’s mithril. He’d seen the sun glancing off a whole row of them, leaf shaped and set in a pattern. And for it to be in his pocket meant that Frodo had wanted to leave him a token. 

Meant that Frodo had been saying goodbye. 

Meant that Frodo, poor sweet stupid noble burdened Frodo, was leaving for Mordor without the rest of the fellowship. 

But Sam wasn’t going to let him go alone. Not if he could catch up. He would choose love, every time.

Chapter Text

Sam gulped in cold air and coughed out brackish water. Black dots swarmed his vision but when they cleared he saw Frodo in front of him, frantic and soaking. Ah, yes. He had run into the water after Frodo’s boat and sunk like a stone. Well, that was what Frodo got for trying to leave in secret. 

“You saved me,” he said wonderingly. 

“You have to let me go, Sam.” Tears were starting in Frodo’s eyes. 

Sam shook his head doggedly. “I made a promise, Mr. Frodo. A promise.” And then he was crying too, thinking about how if he’d been just a few minutes late he would have lost Frodo altogether. “‘Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee.’ And I don’t mean to.”

If nothing else, if there was no place for love or even loyalty, he would still keep the promise he’d made to Gandalf for as long as he could. 

Frodo’s face broke, and then he was embracing Sam like he hadn’t for days. Truth be told, like he hadn’t ever - Frodo had always held something of himself back but now he clung to Sam, dug his fingers into his back and buried his face in his shoulder. “Oh, Sam.”

There was shouting from the forest. Frodo pulled back and looked in his eyes, careful, searching; scared. Sam glared at him. There would be no more pushing away. 

Frodo seemed to see this. “Come on, then.” He grabbed an oar and Sam grabbed the other and they paddled the boat as fast as they could to the opposite shore. 

It wasn’t until they’d left the boat on the shore, stumbled into the woods, and put a good distance between themselves and the river, that either of them spoke. They’d come to the top of a ridge and stopped for a breather, and Frodo turned to him unhappily.

“If I told you to turn around and find the others, would you go?”

Sam set his jaw. “No. And I hope that’s the last time you’ll ask.”

Frodo slumped down on a rock and squeezed his eyes shut. “It’s because Gandalf made you promise.”

And something came clear in Sam’s mind, because when Frodo said it out loud he realized it wasn’t that, either. He looked at Frodo with sudden clarity. “You think I just do what I’m told, don’t you?” 

Frodo looked up, surprised. “Clearly you don’t, or you wouldn’t be here.”

“No, but that’s it, isn’t it,” Sam said, thoughts coming together all at once. Suddenly everything made sense. “You only let us get close because you knew you could set me aside if you needed. And now you’re upset because you tried to do that and I didn’t listen.”

Frodo frowned. “That makes me sound horrible.”

“No,” Sam said. “It just makes you sound scared.”

“Well, if I thought that, it’s only because you told me as much yourself,” Frodo said with exasperation. “You told me you would be happy with whatever you could have of me.”

“I was wrong,” Sam said, and laughed as he realized it. Of course he’d been wrong, when he thought about it now. But maybe sometimes you needed to believe a lie in order to find the courage to take the first step. 

Frodo stood and his shoulders were set, tense and angry. He breathed out a sharp decisive breath and kicked at a pinecone. It rattled down the ridge.

“If you are coming, you need to understand. I have to give everything I have to this quest. I simply do not have anything left for you, Samwise.” 

The way Frodo talked about love like it had limits, in that clipped voice that curtailed emotion, was so stupid that Sam couldn’t find a response. 

So he threw a pinecone at the back of his head. 

Frodo whirled around angrily. “Did you just - ”

Sam skipped backwards and leveled his gaze at Frodo, daring him. His heart pounded in his ears.

Frodo stared at him. Sam stooped and grabbed another pinecone. 

“Don’t - ” Frodo said, but too late. Sam flicked it right between his eyes. He’d always been a good shot.

Something furious crossed Frodo’s face and he threw himself at Sam. And Sam let him come, knew that Frodo couldn’t and wouldn’t really hurt him. He let Frodo take him down, both of them tumbling to the forest floor in a flurry of pine needles. 

Why are you like this ,” Frodo hissed, his face flushed and very close to Sam’s, his hands digging into Sam’s shoulders. 

“Just stubborn, I suppose,” said Sam, cheerfully because at last Frodo was talking to him with real feeling behind the words instead of distance and coldness. And he swiped Frodo’s legs out from under him and rolled him over and pinned him, hands on his wrists and legs crossed over his ankles. 

Frodo stared up at him like a caught creature, breath coming fast and shallow. Eyes wide and full of something he could not read.

“I am not your servant anymore,” Sam said. “We cannot go back to that.”

Frodo’s breath caught in his throat and he looked helpless just then, lying on the ground with pine needles in his hair.

“I’m scared,” he whispered.

“Me too,” Sam said, “but we must try to be brave.” 

Frodo would always be cleverer than him with words but there was one way he could prove his point beyond the shadow of a doubt. So he kissed him, gentle so as not to frighten him but steady and sure, and he knew it was right when he felt Frodo’s mouth open under his. 

“It will be the ruin of everything,” Frodo said against his lips, and Sam pulled back to see the color running high in his cheeks as his eyes flickered across Sam’s face. 

“No it won’t,” Sam said. “It will be what saves everything.”

“How can you be so sure?” Frodo asked, with a break to his voice. And Sam had never realized just how scared Frodo was until this conversation; how scared he was every day; and that it made him hold himself back from everything that was good and sweet in the world.

“I just am,” Sam said. “And I am very reliable. Ask anyone in the Shire.”

The fear in Frodo’s eyes trembled and broke and he laughed - it had been such a long time since he’d laughed. And Sam let his wrists go so that he could grab Sam’s face and pull him into a kiss, desperate and full of a fierce joy. 

“You are not my servant,” Frodo said, and his hands caught in Sam’s hair and his eyes were bright and shining. “So what are you?”

“Your melathril ,” said Sam, and Frodo laughed in genuine surprise.

“Where did you learn elvish pet names,” he asked with a smile. 

“I have plenty of secrets,” Sam said. He didn’t, really, but he liked surprising Frodo. “Let me show you.” 

He hooked a hand around Frodo’s waist and pulled him close. And despite everything; the terror of being in such a wild place, the grief of leaving their friends behind, the weariness of the road; despite it all, he found himself wanting Frodo in a way he never had before. 

Because he didn’t just want to make Frodo happy. He wanted to make Frodo understand, in a way he would never, could never forget, that they belonged to each other. They belonged to each other in all the ways there were.

“If we are caught because of this and everything goes to ruin, all the songs and tales will blame you for being lustful,” Frodo said after, but he was soft and smiling in a way he hadn’t been since before Moria.

“Let’s get going, then,” said Sam, buttoning his shirt and helping Frodo up. “And if we could wrap this quest business up quickly, I can think of a few more things I’d like to do with you.”

Frodo laughed and grabbed his hand. “You are ridiculous.” They walked like that for a while, down the ridge and up another as the trees thinned and the ground grew hard and rocky.

When they reached the top, Frodo stopped and drew in a breath. Sam looked, and saw the land spread out before them; a stretch of mist pierced with sharp rocks, a marshland that glimmered in the late afternoon light, and beyond a low mountain range. And beyond that - 

A gathering of dark clouds, their bellies lit with a red glow, like a sunset but in the wrong place and angry instead of beautiful. 

“Mordor,” Frodo said, and the lightness had left his voice but the fear wasn’t there, either. Sam nodded, and began to make plans in his head; how much food they had, and how much water, and how long it would take to make it there and back. Because it looked somewhat impossible, but impossible just meant he hadn’t taken the time to make a plan.

“I hope the others find a safer route,” Frodo said. 

“Strider’ll look after them,” Sam said stoutly.

“I don’t suppose we’ll ever see them again.” Frodo’s eyes were far away, fixed on the furnace glow of Mordor. Sam just looked at Frodo. Let him worry as much as he liked. Sam wouldn’t let him get lost in it.

“We may yet, Frodo,” he said. “We may yet.”

Frodo finally turned to him, and he was smiling again. A sad smile, but still. “Sam,” he said. “I’m glad you’re with me.”

Sam felt pleasure glow warm inside him. They started walking, picking their way down the dark rocks, and the miles ahead mattered less in that moment than the two of them, together.

Chapter Text

They set off into the land that Frodo said was called Emyn Muil. Strider or Gandalf might have had a better plan than just to walk straight towards the Black Gate of Mordor, but it was the only thing they could think of to do. It was the least pleasant place Sam had ever been, even counting Moria - the land was full of cliffs and sharp ravines and a thick mist that covered everything until it burned off around mid-day. 

Despite this, on good days it felt light and easy. They came up with running jokes and made a game out of spotting shapes in rocks and clouds. Sam tried to learn every way to make Frodo smile, and kept lists in his head of the times Frodo looked at him with soft eyes and said “Oh, Sam,” in the way that set off fireworks in his chest. 

Because on bad days, Frodo fixed on the red glow of Mordor and retreated into himself like a snail into his shell. Sam never knew what to do then, except put one foot in front of the other and periodically try to start conversations about light and silly things. His job was to keep Frodo’s spirits up, even if that sometimes meant pretending nothing was wrong.

They were walking through a narrowing canyon, but the way was blocked by a tumble of jagged rocks and Frodo turned to Sam piteously. “Help?”

“You wouldn’t last a day out here,” Sam chuckled, and boosted him up on his shoulders. 

“Yes, I’m afraid that a quiet life of reading and scholarship has not prepared me for the wilds,” Frodo said, brushing himself off. 

Sam scrambled over the rocks and kissed him on the cheek even though they were both grubby. “I’ll make sure no harm comes to you.” 

“Thank you, dear Sam,” said Frodo. “I’m very lucky to have you.” He looked off at the sky, brows drawn together like he was thinking, and then turned back to Sam. “Can I...ask you something? It’s about the Ring.”

“’Course,” said Sam, even though talking about the thing made him uneasy.

“Does it ever talk to you?” Frodo asked.

Sam shook his head. “It’s just a piece of metal." 

Frodo bit his lip. “It talked to Boromir, I think. When he tried to take it from me - I could see in his face, he changed. It wasn’t him.”

Frodo hadn’t talked about what happened on the riverbank. Sam scowled. “I never liked him.”

“He’s not a bad man,” Frodo said, squinting up at the cliffs around them. “I hope he’s alright now.”

“You’re too good for all this,” Sam grunted, kneeling to re-tie a strap on his pack. He did not have any well wishes to spare for Boromir.

“Just promise you’ll tell me,” Frodo said, and turned to offer Sam a hand up. 

“Tell you what?”

“If you hear it speaking in your mind,” Frodo said, and his hand was cold in Sam’s. “I need to know. Promise me, Sam?”

And he looked so earnestly worried that Sam kissed his hand. “I promise. But you needn’t worry. The Gaffer always said my skull was too thick for anything to get through.”

Frodo laughed. “Hm, I can see his point.”

“Easy now!” Sam said, and Frodo winked at him. They spotted a winding path out of the canyon and made for it. 

“I miss the rest of them,” Sam said. “Especially Merry and Pip. But all things considered, I’m glad it’s just the two of us the rest of the way.”

Frodo stopped at the top of the path, and looked like he was weighing something. Sam waited, patiently he thought, but Frodo didn’t speak so after a while he nudged him. “What?”

Frodo turned to look back the way they’d come, a line appearing between his eyebrows as he looked for - something.

“We’re being followed,” he said finally. Sam started at that, and put a hand on his sword. 

“By who? Not Boromir - ”

“No,” said Frodo. “Do you...remember Bilbo’s story of how he got the Ring?”

“Something about riddles with a monster. I never liked that part.”

“Not a monster exactly. Gollum . He bore the ring before Bilbo.” 

“Was he an orc?”

“No,” Frodo said, and his head looked heavy as he picked up the trail again. “He was someone like us once, before he found the Ring. Five hundred years ago, as Gandalf told it.”

Five hundred years . That was a weighty number. 

“So what about him?”

Frodo looked back at him and his eyes caught the sun so that they shone a pale bright blue for a moment. “He has been following us since Moria. I expect he’ll attack soon.”

Sam frowned, turning this over in his mind and thinking of what it meant. “Is there aught else I need to know?” He barely had a thought pass through his head without telling Frodo, and it felt odd that Frodo had been keeping this quiet.

Frodo sighed. “Gandalf said he will never stop trying to get the Ring. I don’t think he’s very strong, but we should be alert. I thought I heard scrabbling last night.” 

Sam frowned deeper, because all he had done last night was sleep. “I’ll tell you if there are any voices in my head, but will you tell me about things like this? I don’t think we should be keeping secrets from one another.” Frodo looked up at him, surprised.

“Oh - of course. I’m sorry, Sam.” But he seemed distracted, and they didn’t talk much for the rest of the day. And Sam thought as they walked about things left unspoken, and how strange it was to love someone so much but never be able to truly know his mind.

“What is it,” Sam said. They had stopped for the night, a meager dinner of lembas bread and no fire to avoid detection, and Frodo had sort of drifted off with his eyes open, hand on the Ring. Recently he always got like that when the sun went down.

Frodo blinked slowly and turned to look at him. “Hm?”

“There’s clearly something else on your mind. What is it?”

Frodo stretched and tucked the Ring under his collar. “Oh, just the usual wordless scream.” He smiled like it was a joke but Sam didn’t think it was very funny. Frodo sighed. “It’s the Ring. It just...dwells in my mind.”

“Can’t you, I don’t know, push it out?” Sam asked. 

“I do, Sam,” Frodo said, suddenly looking tired. “All day long.”

“Well, let’s think of a distraction,” said Sam, coming to sit next to him, trying to be cheerful.

Frodo squeezed his eyes shut and pinched his brow. “I need to think about it for a while or it won’t let me sleep,” he said eventually. “I need to give it some attention. It gets very... loud ...if I don’t.” 

He let out a tense breath and rested his head on Sam’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, I know that doesn’t make sense.”

Sam was quiet. He did not like this, did not like that things were happening inside Frodo’s mind he couldn’t stop or even see. It felt like there was a stranger coiled inside the person he loved most in the world. 

Frodo craned to look up at him. “Does it make you uncomfortable,” he asked in a small voice.

Sam swallowed. “I just wish you wouldn’t listen to it, that’s all.”

Frodo nodded and looked away. He dropped his head into Sam’s lap. “I’m sorry.” 

Sam stroked his hair. “I reckon it’s best to talk and think about it as little as possible. You just rest, Frodo.”

Frodo closed his eyes and curled one hand to his chest. Sam kept watch, leaning up against a rock and trying to remember everything Bilbo had said about this Gollum . Raw fish and riddles and great shining eyes. The stars appeared overhead, glinting coldly, and the wind howled through the canyons, but Gollum did not appear. 

Only when the sky started to lighten did he stir enough to lie down and wrap his arms around Frodo. If he couldn’t do anything else, at least he could keep him safe from everything that lived outside of his head.

When Sam had been very small, seven or eight, his uncle Andwise bought a piebald dog named Bes to guard his henhouse. She licked Sam’s face whenever he came to visit and followed Andwise everywhere. But one day she came home with a nasty bite on her side.

They’d cleaned it and let her rest, but the wound festered and a few days later Bes went mad. Sam remembered peering out the window of his uncle’s hole and seeing her tied to a post, baring her teeth and slavering and letting out a whine that made all the hair on his head stand up.

Bes was gone the next time he visited his uncle. But the sound she'd made showed up in his dreams for a long time afterwards.

It was the same sound Gollum made.

The attack happened quickly. He jumped on them from above at night, a wiry ball of energy and gnashing teeth and horrible, musty stench. He went for Frodo right away, hands scrabbling for the Ring, and Sam lunged at him. For such a skinny creature he was very strong.

When he realized Sam would not let him at Frodo he whirled and bit him hard on the neck, then wrapped a skinny arm around his throat and jerked it up in a motion that felt practiced. Sam’s sword was pinned under him and no matter how he twisted Gollum did not let go. He couldn’t breathe and black dots flickered at the sides of his eyes and all he could think was that if he passed out then Frodo was done for. 

But he was wrong. 

Suddenly there was sharp steel, very close to his face, and Gollum froze. Frodo’s eyes were fixed on Gollum and a bright, angry light burned in them that Sam had never seen before.

“Release him,” Frodo hissed, “or I’ll cut your throat.” He sounded as cold and imperious as a king. The Ring had come out of his shirt in the fight and it gleamed in the moonlight.

Gollum let Sam go and began an awful, keening sob. 

“Tie him up,” Frodo said curtly, not looking away from Gollum. 

Sam stared, breathing heavily and holding his bruised throat. They had not actually discussed what would be done with Gollum. 

“If we let him go, he will run right to the orcs,” Frodo said. “We must either capture or kill him.” Gollum cringed away from the sword that Frodo held steadily to his neck. 

“Orcs, no, we would never,” he said. “Don’t kill us, please, don't kill poor Gollum.”

Something in his whining voice was so untrustworthy that it jolted Sam to action, and he grabbed Galadriel’s rope - helpful after all - and looped it around Gollum’s feet. Gollum hissed and writhed where the rope touched his skin, and glared at Sam with huge luminous eyes. “Don’t touch us with nasty elf rope, we won’t lets it,” he said. 

“Quiet,” snapped Frodo. 

But when Sam looked around at Frodo uncertainly, Gollum used the chance to lunge at Sam, who toppled backwards in surprise. Gollum was on him in a second, hands wrapping tight around his neck - 

But Frodo yanked him back, and lashed his wrists together with quick and decisive movements. “You will not speak to Samwise,” Frodo said. “You will not lay a hand on him again.” 

Gollum turned and curled his lip at Frodo. “So noble, to protect ugly little servants this way,” he muttered.

“He is not my servant,” said Frodo. “He matters more than anything in the world to me, and you will treat him with respect.” He pointed Sting at Gollum’s throat again. “Or I will not hesitate.” 

Gollum flinched and curled away, shivering and receding into himself.

Frodo stood and sheathed Sting. He looked at Sam, and the cold light was still in his eyes when he offered him a hand up. But it faded when Sam took his hand, and he stumbled back. “Sam,” he said, in a very different voice, and Sam grabbed his arm and helped him sit back, far enough away from Gollum to keep an eye on him but speak without being heard.

“More than anything in the world?” Sam asked, feeling the words like a fire, and Frodo took his hand and held it to his cheek. 

“More than anything,” he said, and let out a long breath. Sam could feel his heartbeat in his fingers, rabbit fast. “I will not let any harm come to you either, Sam. But I’m tired now.”

“I’ll watch him,” Sam said, and the aftermath of the fight hit him all at once. He kept his body still and steady, but tears sprang into his eyes and slid down his cheeks uncontrollably.

It wasn’t just that Gollum was horrible and vicious - that hadn't been what frightened Sam the most about his uncle’s dog. It was the idea that a sweet and loyal creature could change. Looking at an animal he knew and loved, and seeing only a monster looking back.

Something about the look in Frodo’s face as he held the blade to Gollum’s throat just wouldn't leave Sam's mind.

He had taken control, done what needed to be done. He had saved Sam. It hadn’t been the wrong thing to do, not out here in the wilds with the fate of the world on their shoulders. Sam was certain that Frodo would have killed Gollum, if it had come to it.

The thing was, the Frodo he knew from the Shire would not have been able to do that. 

But he wouldn’t tell Frodo that, because it would only weigh on him. Sam’s job was to keep Frodo’s spirits up, to keep him from falling into darkness, and saying I have never before seen you look so cruel would not help with that. 

Sam supposed that he did have some secrets, after all.

Chapter Text

Frodo decided they needed Gollum to find the way to Mordor. Sam didn’t disagree, but that didn’t stop him from hating the whole situation. Sometimes Gollum would scamper quickly over the rocks and make them chase after him. Sometimes he would drag his feet and whine and pick apart every little thing that Frodo and Sam said to each other, until they stopped talking completely whenever he was near.

Frodo had commanded him not to touch Sam, and he didn’t; but he cast ugly looks towards Sam, and muttered about him under his breath. Strangely, he was eager to please Frodo, and started calling him Master. 

“I can’t pretend to like that much,” Sam said quietly to Frodo. They had found a little overhang of rocks that night and risked a fire; the air was pleasantly smoky and warm as they climbed into bed. Gollum was picking through the dirt looking for bugs outside the cave.

“It’s better that he sees me as his Master than his enemy,” Frodo said. 

“I suppose,” Sam said. “Oh, I just wish we could leave him behind.”

“I know,” said Frodo. He cupped Sam’s cheek. “Do you trust me?”

Sam nodded, and sighed and let himself just look at Frodo. It was rare for them to have a moment alone since Gollum had joined.

“Your hair is getting so long,” he said, tugging at the curls that threatened to cover Frodo’s eyes.

“I suppose I could try to cut it with Sting,” Frodo said. “Although I think the ancient elven smiths of Gondolin would disapprove.”

“No, I like it,” Sam said. With dark curls around his face, Frodo looked as pretty as any hobbit girl. “It must be very early Spring in the Shire,” he mused. 

Frodo curled up against him and nuzzled his nose into the hollow of Sam’s neck. “Tell me what we would be doing if we were there right now,” he said. He slipped his hand under Sam’s shirt so he could rest it on his side.

“I’d pick you a basket of bloodroot to wear in your hair,” Sam said. “That’s usually the first thing to bloom.” 

“Bloodroot doesn’t sound very nice,” murmured Frodo, lips soft against his skin.

“No, it’s lovely. The little white flowers that bloom under hedges. It likes the dark, but it has a yellow center like the Sun.” He closed his eyes. “False forget-me-nots, too. Brunnera. The leaves are shaped like hearts and the flowers are the same color as your eyes when it’s cloudy.”

“I wish you’d brought me flowers, back then,” Frodo said dreamily.

“I did,” Sam protested. “I went all the way to Eastfarthing to get new seedlings to plant in the garden. No one else in the Shire has purple primroses. Or hollyhocks as tall as the red ones at the north corner.” He smiled to himself, because he hadn’t quite realized it before he said it. “They were all for you.”

Frodo curled tighter into him, and Sam knew he was smiling. “It was a remarkable garden.”

“I hope someone’s tending it,” Sam said. “Bit of luck that it’s been winter while we’re away, I suppose. If we get back by June I might be able to have it right for the autumn harvest.”

Frodo looked up at him, searching for something in his face, and kissed him, slow and soft. “My dear Sam,” he said. “Tell me more about flowers while I fall asleep.”

So Sam talked, first describing flowers in the order they bloomed, and where they needed to be planted in the garden, then branching off into herbs and vegetables. Frodo dropped off after not too long, but he liked talking about these things. It was nice to remember that a world existed outside of the quest, a world that made sense to him. 

It grew dark, and Sam quieted. He heard a wet intake of breath and almost jumped out of his skin - but Frodo was sleeping very still, so he just lifted his head cautiously. It was only Gollum, of course, crouched close and watching them.

The expression on his face was strange. Hungry and oddly vulnerable. For the first time Sam could almost see the person Gollum had been once, five hundred years ago.

But then Gollum noticed him looking and winced, baring his sharpened teeth. 

“Leave us be,” Sam hissed. “He’s sleeping.” And Gollum curled his lip and turned away and huddled in a corner of the cave. Sam kept his eyes on him for a while, until Frodo’s smooth breathing pulled him into sleep too.

Talking about flowers had been tender, and Sam kept that moment alive in his heart for the next few days, because Frodo went into one of his bad spells and was quiet and withdrawn. His back started to hunch as he walked, and he often rubbed at the scar from the Dark Rider’s knife, but when Sam asked if he was alright he only had short answers. 

When he wasn’t looking, Sam transferred some heavier items from Frodo’s bag to his. And once when they camped near a stream he heated water so they could wash up. But until Frodo talked to him, that was all he could think of to do to make things easier. 

Gollum started calling Sam stupid and fat whenever he got the chance, and Frodo either didn’t notice or didn’t think it was worth telling him not to. So Sam started calling him Stinker under his breath. It was hard traveling with someone so untrustworthy. Boromir had been enough, but there had been others to keep him in line. And now Sam was the only one keeping an eye on Gollum. 

They reached the marsh eventually, smelling it before they saw it. “Softer on the feet than rocks, right?” Sam asked lightly. Frodo nodded, squinting in the sunlight that bounced off the water. 

“Yes, and we know the secret ways,” Gollum said excitedly. “Orcs don’t use it, orcs don’t know it. Only clever Gollum.”

Any time Sam said something to Frodo, Gollum had to interject. It was getting very tiring. 

Several days into the swamp, they passed through a horrible part where bodies were visible under the water. It must have been an old battlefield, though the bodies didn’t look rotted. Sam was very careful to only step on grass - he didn’t want to put his bare foot through the face of some long dead elf - and this was why he wasn’t paying attention when Frodo wandered off. Sam only looked up as Frodo stumbled into a pool with a splash, and suddenly toppled over like his feet had been cut out from under him. 

Sam made for him at once - the water wasn’t deep, thank heaven - but then he fell too, because Gollum had grabbed hold of him. 

“What are you doing,” Sam choked, as Gollum leapt on his back and yanked his cloak so it cut off his breath. 

“Fat hobbit is so clumsy ,” Gollum said with a leer, and then bounced off Sam - taking care to step on his head with one muddy foot - to where Frodo was. 

He pulled him out of the water and onto the shore. Frodo was gasping and trembling, and had seen something that he didn’t want to speak about. Sam hurried to him and helped him up and wiped the marsh scum off his dear face. 

But anger kindled in his heart, even though he was trying his best to be comforting. Because of course he wouldn’t trouble Frodo with this, but it had confirmed: Gollum was not to be trusted, and he didn’t care if Sam knew it. 

That was a bad day; after the fall, one of the Dark Riders appeared, now flying overhead on some nasty winged beast. It had a scream that grated against the bones in Sam’s head, but he could tell it was worse for Frodo, who swooned and clutched at his old wound. 

They hid, but Frodo very nearly put on the Ring. Sam only noticed at the last minute - his eyes rolling back and hands moving of their own accord. Sam grabbed Frodo’s hand and forced it away from the Ring, and pulled him close even though he struggled.

“It will be over in a moment,” he said in Frodo’s ear. “Just a moment. Just hold on.” Frodo thrashed, but Sam had always been stronger, and he kept him still. 

“Let me go,” Frodo hissed, but Sam didn’t; not until the Dark Rider wheeled away and did not return, and Frodo quieted, drawing in fast ragged breaths. Sam relaxed his grip and Frodo pulled away from him like he was angry.

“They are calling to the Precious,” muttered Gollum, who had also been struck down by the sound. 

“Well, they won’t get it,” said Sam. 

“No,” said Frodo. He stood, not looking at Sam. “Come on.”

They reached the edge of the marsh that night. Gollum told them the Black Gate of Mordor was very close, so they found a gnarled tree to hide under and planned to survey it in the morning.

Sam slumped into his bedroll. Frodo was lying on his side, facing away. He fell into a fast sleep, despite a rock digging into his ribs, and dreamed of endless walking through dark echoing tunnels. In his dream, he stepped in a hole and fell, and his eyes flew open, and he realized Frodo wasn’t next to him anymore. 

He was about to jump up, when he heard Frodo’s voice - soft, almost whispering. 

“How long did you have it before you went under the mountains,” he was saying. It sounded like nonsense and Sam almost slipped back into his dream. But then he heard Gollum. 

“So long ago it was, we don’t know. Why does Master ask questions? No one cares to know about poor Gollum.”

Sam could see Frodo sitting up on a gnarled tree root, and Gollum curled nearby, running long fingers over the scars on his back. 

“I care,” Frodo said. “Now think. You found it, and then what?”

Gollum cringed. “It called out to us as soon as we saw it,” he said. “A lovely birthday present, it was, and we took it, even if he didn’t want to give it to us.”

“Who,” asked Frodo, leaning close to Gollum. Sam stealthily moved to put a hand on his sword. If Gollum tried anything, he would be ready.

Gollum muttered and drew circles in the dirt and did not answer. Finally he looked up at Frodo with his odd glowing eyes. 

“Master is not the only one to have had a friend,” he said, and coughed with that horrible gollum, gollum sound. “But a true friend wouldn't keep the Precious from us, no, not on our birthday. So we took it.”

He stretched out a hand to Frodo, and Sam tensed to spring up and save him. But instead -

Frodo reached out, and gently took Gollum’s hand. “I know. You were very strong, to bear it for so long.” 

Sam felt like he’d swallowed a mouthful of ice-cold water.

“How did you stop from becoming a wraith? Was there something you did?” Frodo spoke kindly, as though chatting with a friend he hadn’t seen in a while.

“We’re always stronger than they think, yes,” Gollum said, tracing circles with his dirty finger on the back of Frodo’s pale hand. 

“We are,” Frodo said. “Sometimes it seems to work faster on people who have more...power than either of us, I suppose.” 

Gollum nodded. “We took it, and they cursed us and called us terrible names, so we went away. Slipped into the dark and the damp, and the years tumbled by. We didn’t want for anything, when we had the Precious. Only for fish, and sometimes goblin meat." He cackled. "And we could get those, yes we could.”

“Did you see the Eye?” Frodo asked him. 

“Not for many, many, many years,” Gollum said. “Only in dreams, sometimes, and we didn’t know Him then. But…” He cringed, and his hands jerked away from Frodo’s to spasm over the scars on his back like they were burning. “We know Him now.” Gollum grabbed the edge of Frodo’s cloak and kneaded it and stared up at him. “Master has seen. Master knows.”

There was silence, and Sam wished that Frodo would come back and lie down next to him. Wished Frodo would not speak of these things.

“I can feel it eating at my mind,” Frodo said, and he sounded small and vulnerable, speaking in a voice that Sam thought only he had ever heard. “Like moths getting at a wool coat. You open the closet on the first day of winter and take it out and it falls to pieces in your hands.” He sighed shakily. “I just don’t want to succumb before...before I’m done.”

Gollum didn’t say anything, just breathed in his hoarse wet breaths, and Sam didn’t know why but he suddenly felt like crying. It was just that Frodo was talking to Gollum more than he had to Sam in days, and the things he was saying were so frightening.

“Kind Master," Gollum said, looking almost bashful. "Could we, mayhaps, see it again?”

Frodo pulled back sharply and his voice went hard. “ No . It's mine. It has moved on from you.”

Gollum receded. Sam lay very still. Face buried in his bedroll, but ears pricked for any sound. 

Frodo stayed seated for a long time, as early morning mist filled the air. When he finally came back to bed, Sam pretended to be asleep, because he just didn’t know what to say.

Sam’s thoughts wound around and around as they picked their way up a ridge. He was beginning to see Gollum not just as a nuisance, but as a dark force influencing Frodo. Letting him feel like it was alright to listen to the Ring. Like it was normal. Sam felt suddenly outnumbered, the only one in the group of three who had not borne the thing. 

He kept his head down and trudged along and wished he knew what to do. 

“Are we close, Sméagol?” Frodo called, and Gollum stuck his head from behind a rock.

“Getting very close to the Black Gate, hobbits, hush. No more shouting!”

“Sméagol?” Sam asked Frodo under his breath. 

“It used to be his name,” Frodo said. “I thought it might be better to call him by it, to try and help bring him back to himself.”

Sam shook his head. He did not like Frodo growing so close to Gollum. “There’s naught to bring that one back to,” he said. “It’s not worth your time.”

Frodo jerked his head up and his gaze was so hostile Sam stepped back. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said tightly, and turned to follow Gollum.

The Black Gate was unlike anything Sam had ever imagined. It was huge, all made of dark metal, swarming with orcs and trolls, and sheer rocks rose on either side of it. It was clear that it was the only way into Mordor, but what a way. 

“Save us,” he breathed when he saw it. “My old Gaffer would have a thing or two to say if he could see us now.”

Gollum cowered at the sight of it. “Master says to bring him to the Black Gate,” he said, and Sam scowled. How like Gollum to be so useless. 

But there was nothing for it. The gate swung open to let in a long line of warriors, and it seemed as good a chance as any. They had to get into Mordor; and besides, Gollum would not follow them in there. Sam started forward, looking for a way down:

But the rock he was perched on crumbled suddenly, and he tumbled down a scree of gravel towards the gate. He thudded against a couple rocks - that would leave bruises - and ended up at the bottom of the hill, waist deep in gravel. A cloud of dust was choking him and he couldn’t pull himself out of the rocks, the breath knocked out of him. 

Several warriors separated from the long column and began marching towards him, and there was nothing he could do but struggle weakly. 

That would have been it - the absolute stupidest way to die - but Frodo suddenly rushed to his side. How had he gotten down?

“Don’t let them get you,” Sam gasped as Frodo tried to pull him out. “It’s alright, leave me - ”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Frodo hissed as the warriors got closer, and threw his cloak over Sam. 

The warriors came very close to where they were. Frodo held a protective arm around him as Sam tried not to breathe. But some elven magic in the cloaks must have saved them, because the warriors turned around.

Frodo got Sam out, and patted down his arms, looking for injuries. “You’re alright,” he said, and Sam nodded, and he really was in that moment. 

They huddled behind a rock and gazed at the gate, very close now. It would be the two of them together again, and the prospect of Mordor was terrifying but at least Gollum would be left behind.

The line of warriors entered Mordor and, with a groan of metal, the gates began to close. It was now or never.

“I do not ask you to come with me, Sam,” Frodo said, eyes fixed on the gate. 

“Very funny,” said Sam. “We settled this a long time ago.”

And Frodo turned to look at him and, despite everything, broke into a grin. “Glory. I don’t deserve you.” He squeezed Sam’s hand quickly and turned back to the gate.

“Now,” Frodo said, and they launched themselves forward - 

But were yanked backwards. “No,” screeched Gollum, and Sam’s heart sank. They would never be rid of him.

Gollum babbled about how they could not take the precious into Mordor, and pulled Frodo back when he tried to make for the gate again.

“There is another way,” Gollum told them.

Sam wanted to hit him. “Why haven’t you spoken of this before?”

“Master did not ask,” Gollum said, turning his attention to Frodo. Always Frodo. 

Sam shook his head. Surely Frodo would understand. They could not trust Gollum. They could only trust each other.

But Frodo agreed. “He’s led us this far, Sam,” he said, looking tired and drained. Sam shook his head silently, but the gate had closed and he did not have another plan. He just knew that they shouldn’t follow Gollum. He knew that Gollum was bad for Frodo.

They snuck south, and found a damp hollow with a trickle of a stream to spend the night. Gollum splashed in the water, seeming very pleased with himself. But tension ate at Sam’s heart until he could not bear it anymore, and he stood up decisively.

“I need to speak with you,” he said. “Alone.”

Frodo glanced at Gollum. “Stay, Sméagol.” They walked away from the cave, Gollum no longer splashing but watching them go with a sour look on his face.

“We can’t follow him,” Sam said once they were out of earshot. “Frodo, please, there must be another way.” 

Frodo frowned. “There’s not. I wish there was, but there’s just not.”

“But we can’t trust him.”

“We have to try.” They were at the top of a low ridge looking west, and Frodo gazed into the sky where the sunset hung like a bloody ragged banner. “I really think...I think he can be brought back, Sam. I want to help him.”

Sam felt very tired. “ Why ?” 

Frodo looked down, aside, anywhere but into Sam’s eyes. His hands fidgeted restlessly with the edge of his cloak.

Finally: “Because I see something of myself in him.”

This just made Sam angry. “What are you talking about?”

Frodo looked at him, and he was angry too. “Are you joking?”

“You have nothing in common with him. That sneaking, lying, murdering - ”

Frodo hissed in a quick intake of breath that made Sam stop. But Frodo bit his lip and seemed to rethink whatever he’d been about to say, finally talking slow and measured.

“I know it scares you, Sam, but we must speak of it. I might become like him. I will, if we don’t get there quickly enough.”

Sam wanted to cry. “No, you won’t, that's foolish.”

Frodo sighed, and his face was like a closing door as he turned away. 

Sam clutched at the back of his cloak. “You won’t go that way. I know because I love you.” He let go of the cloak and stepped back. Betrayal rang hollowly in his chest. “You’d know too, if you only trusted me.”

Frodo jerked around at that. “I trust you. Sam. I’ve trusted you with everything. But you don’t know how this works. Ancient magic, rings of power, you don’t know what it’s like . You're afraid to even talk about it.”

“None of that matters,” Sam said, biting the inside of his cheek. The only thing keeping him from tears was a stubborn bloom of anger. Bloodroot grew brightest in the dark. “I know you . You are noble, and kind, and brave, and you’re not going to fall to that thing.”

Frodo dug his fingers into his hair, pulling it back from his forehead. When he turned to Sam he looked less angry, but there were dark smudges under his eyes like bruises. “You are very confident in your own ability, then,” he said. 

“I’m not talking about myself,” Sam said.

“Yes, you are. You think that you can see me clearly, that you know me to be good, completely good. But you don’t.” Frodo caught his eyes. “You love me. It’s different.”

Sam did cry then, blinking hard so the tears streaked down his cheeks instead of blurring his vision. “Isn’t that enough?” He was embarrassed by how his voice cracked.

“Oh, Sam,” Frodo said, and looked at him softly, but that only made the tears come thicker. “It’s enough for some things. But not enough to stake the world on.”

If Sam had a ring of power, he would have made Frodo understand. But he didn’t. And he was never good enough with words. 

“Hush,” said Frodo, wiping at his tears and taking his hand. “Sam. Don’t cry.”

Sam just shook his head, unable to obey that. “If you could see yourself the way I do,” he said, but couldn’t finish. Frodo put his arms around him and held him tight.

“These things are bigger than the two of us. They’re bigger than love,” he said. 

Sam didn’t think anything was bigger than love. Not anything he’d ever seen, anyway. Not to him. He shook his head against Frodo’s shoulder.

“I know you want to fix all of this,” Frodo said. “I know you would if you could. But it is a hard and dangerous journey and I just need to prepare for...for what it will take from me. Love will be a comfort, but it won’t stop that.”

Sam didn’t say what he was thinking. I think that me loving you and you loving me is the thing that will let you fight it off. Frodo would have a clever counter, and he wanted to keep believing it. 

“You always find a reason to keep yourself apart from me,” he said instead, mumbling into Frodo’s cloak.

Frodo stroked his hair and kissed him on the temple, letting his lips linger there. “My Sam. I can’t be distant from you, even when I’ve tried. Loving you is so easy .” He sighed. “I’m just wary of anything on this journey that isn’t hard.”

And that was it, wasn’t it? They would never agree on this point. So Sam tried his best to stop crying, because he did not want Gollum to see any signs of it.

“Look,” Frodo said gently, after they had just stood with arms around each other for a while. “Do you know what they’re called?”

On the bank of the spring a sort of lichen clung to the rocks and put out tiny red flowers, barely bigger than a pinhead. Sam crouched to peer at them in the twilight. Four petals, with a white center. “Don’t think we have anything like this in the Shire,” he said, plucking one and holding it in the middle of his palm. 

“If you’ve discovered them, you get to name them,” Frodo said. 

“Rightfully you found them,” Sam said. He was not quite in the mood for games.

“Fine.” Frodo stooped and picked a few to put in his breast pocket. “I will call them Gamgees. Because even though they’re in a place that’s difficult to survive, they are unexpected and beautiful and I’m glad to see them.”

He smiled at Sam and took his hand.

“Beautiful is a bit much,” said Sam, blushing.

“Oh, don’t go listening to Gollum,” Frodo said. “He’s just jealous. You are the only beautiful thing out here.”

No, that’s you , Sam said, but only in his head.

Chapter Text

Beautiful , Sam thought, the word circling in his mind all night and into the morning. He tried to catch his reflection in the spring but the water ran too quickly. It wasn’t a word anyone had ever used for him before, even Rosie, and it made him feel shy and soft.

Frodo was beautiful, of course. Too pretty for a hobbit, almost more like an elf , as some had said when he’d first come to live with Bilbo, and it was true that his combination of bright blue eyes and black hair was rarely seen in the Shire. Most hobbits looked like Sam, brown eyes and sandy brown hair, stout and sturdy. Sam had never thought much about his body beyond considering if it could do a job properly, and it made him blush to think of beauty - something that made him decorative, worth existing just to be looked at.

Frodo had probably not meant much of anything by it but it still made Sam smile all morning. “What’s on your mind?” Frodo asked as they walked, and Sam realized he’d been quiet.

“Just silliness,” he said. But he caught Frodo’s hand and kissed it quickly.

His mind went to the Shire often these days, remembering odd little details and people he would like to speak to. Seeing a bird would make him think of his little sister Marigold, and how she fed the birds even though it made them into awful pests, and he’d have whole conversations with her in his head. And often he thought about what it would be like when they finally went back. They had been through a lot since Frodo had said they were ‘something sweet, for the road’. 

But the fact remained that Frodo was a gentlehobbit, wise and well read and the heir to a great fortune, and after this quest was done he would be a hero to boot. Sam would always just be a gardener. “A good solid boy, when he’s not lost in flights of fancy,” as he’d heard his Gaffer say on more than one occasion. 

Him and Rosie had made sense; she was sweet and quick witted and more sensible than he was. They’d been friends since they were children and everyone had expected an engagement. If people saw Sam with Frodo, would they think he was aiming too high? Or that Frodo had settled with him out of loyalty?

Those were the things he thought about, finding a way to worry about judgmental Shirefolk even in the deepest depths of the wilds. But today, the idea of being beautiful , of being two beautiful people together, was new and sweet. Maybe it was just a story Sam told himself in his head, but it made him happy. 

As they traveled south, Sam had a new determination. If Gollum was going to draw Frodo towards the darkness, then he would do his very best to draw Frodo towards the light. This meant a cheerful face, a strong heart, and no mention of anything related to the Ring. 

It also meant being kinder to Gollum, because that mattered to Frodo. Gollum seemed rather suspicious, but he’d mostly been in better spirits now that they were heading away from the Black Gate.

The land grew softer the farther they went, with more trees and springs and birdsong. “I wish Legolas was here,” Sam said wistfully. “Sméagol, that’s the elf we were traveling with. He would hunt us all sorts of game for dinner each night.”

“Don’t like elf food,” said Gollum as he loped along behind them. 

“It weren’t elf food,” Sam protested. “Though I agree their seasonings can be a bit odd. I was the one who cooked it, and I cooked it proper.”

Gollum wrinkled his nose. “Cooking. Bah! Hobbitses are too good for tasty raw meat.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “You must have had proper food before,” he said. “What kinds of things did you eat before, you know, you went into the mountains?”

Gollum peered at him. “ Fishes ,” he said. “Fish pie, fish soup, dishes of fishes, yes precious!” He cackled and galloped away, trying to catch a beetle.

“So you’re friends with Sméagol now,” Frodo said, casting a funny look in Sam’s direction.

“We’re stuck with him,” said Sam with a shrug. “Might as well make nice.”

What he didn’t say was that if he kept putting himself between Gollum and Frodo, it would be harder for Gollum to get at Frodo. And judging by his tired eyes, by the way he stumbled as he walked, Frodo was not doing well these days. He needed all the protection he could get.

For a very, very brief time, it seemed like this could work. But their fortune had a way of reversing itself.

The thing Sam kept coming back to, which really didn’t matter at all, was his iron cookpot. 

The pot was out because Gollum, being helpful for once, had caught a brace of coneys and brought them to Frodo. Sam had recalled everything Strider taught him about preparing game, and despite Gollum’s protests he sat down to make their first hot food in who knows how long. Something to refresh them, especially Frodo. 

While it was heating they heard horns nearby. They hadn’t seen anyone since the Black Gate, and curiosity got the better of Frodo and Sam; hiding behind trees, they followed the horns. They were being blown by a host of Men, armed and armored and riding on Oliphaunts - that was a marvel to behold! Sam thought that if he and Frodo only stayed quiet they wouldn’t be noticed and could go back to the camp.

But arrows suddenly flew at the company, killing the men and driving the giant creatures mad, and when Frodo and Sam tried to run they were grabbed by archers who seemed to appear out of the forest. Tall men, hooded, rougher-looking than even Strider when they’d first met him. 

One threw Frodo on the ground, and another held a sword to Sam’s throat. Then they called them spies, bound their hands, and dragged them away. 

It all happened so quickly that Sam didn’t remember to be scared, and just got angry. “I’ve left something!” he growled, trying to twist away. “Just let me go back and get it!”

“Don’t fight them,” Frodo called desperately, craning his neck to try and see Sam.

Frodo’s captor shook him like a dog with a rat. “Stop that!” 

Sam bit his lip and frowned and let the men drag them along. This was a bad situation and no mistake, but instead of taking note he couldn’t stop thinking of the cookpot. 

It had been his mother’s, til the winter she took ill. Then it had hung unused in the kitchen, then moved to the shed during spring cleaning, and eventually Sam had found it when he was packing for the journey to Rivendell. It was too small for most dishes one would cook in a kitchen, but the perfect size to hang off a traveling pack. 

The fire would burn down, then no doubt animals would pull the pot off its tripod and eat the stew from inside. Then it would lie where it had fallen and slowly rust, because what were the chances anyone else would stumble upon it all the way out here? And even if someone did, they would not know that Bell Gamgee had made porridge in it every morning for six hobbit children, ladling spoonfuls into each of their own special bowls. And they would not know that Samwise Gamgee had cooked a rich mushroom stew in it the first night of the quest when they were still in the Shire, and served it to Frodo and felt his heart flip over when their hands touched.

Sam felt very small and helpless, and the world far too big.

It was evening, and their captors blindfolded them then led them up what felt like a thousand stairs cut into rock. When their blindfolds came off, they were inside a cave lit by lanterns and candles. Men hurried to and fro, barrels and sacks lined the walls, and a tall Man with pale eyes stood surveying them.

“My men tell me you are Orc spies,” he said, one hand resting on his sword. 

“Spies?” Sam sputtered. He was still mad about the cookpot.

“We are hobbits of the Shire,” Frodo said, and said they were on a quest without saying what the quest was. Sam scowled at the Man, who looked oddly familiar.

That question was answered a moment later, when Frodo mentioned Boromir and the man blinked and frowned. “You’re a friend of Boromir?”

Friend was a rich word, Sam thought, but buttoned his lips. 

“It will grieve you, then, to know he is dead,” the man said. “His horn washed up on the riverbank, cloven in two.”

“Are you sure?” asked Frodo.

“I am his brother,” the man said. “My name is Faramir.”

He looked at the two of them, thinking. Sam stared back at him stubbornly. He didn’t have much grief to spare for Boromir, though it was strange and unreal to think of him dead

A soldier shouted to Faramir, calling him Captain, and he turned away. “Take their weapons and lock them in the cell,” he said, and two Men hurried to grab Sam and Frodo.

“Wait just a minute!” Sam yelled, but Faramir was already striding away. Sam thrashed, but he was grabbed by the back of his cloak and held up off the ground.

“Orc spies that look like children,” his captor said. “What will they throw at us next. Decent little knife, though.” And he took Sam’s sword, and tossed him roughly into a cave. 

Sam cut his lip when he fell, but he popped right up again, seeing red and ready to brawl. They were in a dark cave surrounded by barrels and wooden boxes, and their captors slammed an iron grate across the entrance and locked it. 

“Don’t be noisy, now,” one said with a scowl, and walked away down the corridor. They took the lantern with them, and Sam only saw Frodo for an instant - curled against the wall of the cave - before the light vanished. 

Anger boiled up in Sam and he yelled and rattled the iron bars until his throat hurt, but it did no good. “Worth a shot,” he said with a sigh, trying to make a joke out of it. He shrugged off his pack, checking by touch if anything important had been broken. “But we’ll find our way out of this, Frodo. We always do.” 

Frodo was quiet. In the gloom, Sam couldn’t tell if his eyes were open or not.

“Did they hurt you?” Sam asked, moving to check, and cloth rustled against stone as Frodo moved away.

“Just stop, Sam,” he snapped. 

Sam settled back. “It’ll come right in the end.” That was his role, wasn’t it? To keep Frodo’s spirits up?

“You have more brains than that,” Frodo said. “We are captured, they will discover what we have, and they will take it from us. It’s over.”

Sam frowned. There was a bitter edge to Frodo’s voice he had rarely heard. “I don’t see the use in giving up before everything’s over.”

“I don’t see the use in you when you won’t even speak honestly,” said Frodo, and then breathed in a sharp inhale like he wanted to pull the words back in.

Sam swallowed and turned his head away. His heart pounded painfully in his chest.

“I’m sorry,” Frodo said. “I didn’t mean that.” But Sam knew that he had, in some way. 

Frodo took off his pack and rummaged through it. “Where is it,” he muttered to himself. Sam bit his lip and then winced because it was already bleeding. Frodo’s words rattled around in his head, louder than anything else.

“Ah,” said Frodo, and took something out that clinked on the stone. “Well, never mind. I hoped it would shed some light, but why would anything work the way I want? I don’t know why Galadriel gave this to me.” And Sam remembered the glass phial full of starlight she had given to Frodo all the way back in Lothlorien. He had felt small and useless then, too.

There was a period of silence, and then Frodo spoke into the darkness, timid. “Sam? I didn’t mean it. I’m just tired and scared.”

“It’s more than that.” Sam frowned, thinking. “I owe you an apology, too.”

Frodo hunched up and sounded like he would rather be anywhere else in the world. “That’s foolish.”

“But I haven’t been speaking honestly with you,” Sam said. “There are...things you need to talk about, and I’ve been scared to hear them, so I’ve been pretending they don’t exist. I thought it might be helpful, but it’s not, is it?”

Frodo moved slightly and Sam knew somehow that he had reached up to take the Ring. “It makes perfect sense that you don’t want to hear about them,” he muttered. 

“But it’s you ,” Sam said. “Or, that’s not right, but it’s happening to you. And I love you, and I want to know.”

Frodo did not speak. So Sam crawled across the cave floor so as to be closer - and realized that it was not as dark as before, because he could actually see Frodo’s downcast eyes and twisted up mouth.

“What is that,” Frodo said, and Sam looked down and realized his hand was touching the glass phial, and a faint cool light was glowing from inside it.

“Got it working,” he said, picking it up, and the light sparkled and jumped. 

Frodo stared. “How are you doing that?”

“I don’t know,” Sam said. “It doesn’t matter. Listen, Frodo, I want you to say the things that have been going unsaid, and I will promise to be brave. Often things aren’t as bad when you speak of them.”

Frodo quirked his mouth in a sad almost-smile. “I don’t think this is one of those cases.”

Sam set down the phial - it glimmered gently - and took his hands. Ducked his head down so he could catch Frodo’s lowered eyes. “Talk to me. Tell me what it is like.”

Frodo bit his lower lip and slumped forward to hide his face in Sam’s chest. Sam rested his chin on Frodo’s head and held his hands gently, like they were two uprooted plants he had to protect until he could set them safely in the ground. He wondered if Frodo could hear how hard his heart was beating. 

“There are two voices,” Frodo finally said. “I think one is Gandalf. Or maybe it’s you, which I know doesn’t make sense. But that one tells me to resist, not to put it on, not to think of it. But the other…” He sighed, and Sam felt with a pang how thin Frodo had become on this journey. “It’s not that it feels good to wear the Ring. But when I put it on, it’s like I barely exist, like there’s nothing left for me to do and no more choices to make. And sometimes…”

He took Sam’s hand, tracing circles on the palm with his finger. His voice got quiet. “Sometimes that is a very tempting prospect.”

Sam swallowed and kissed the top of Frodo’s head, but did not say anything. He didn’t think Frodo was done, and a moment later he was proved right.

“Then even when it’s not speaking to me, I just...think about it. It’s like...oh, I don’t know, like there’s a burr caught in my shirt, and it’s scratching me, and all I need to do is take it out and the pain and irritation will be gone. So I find myself doing that, just reaching for relief, and then I realize I’m about to put on the Ring. So in order to not do that I have to pay attention to the pain, all the time, and remind myself not to do what feels like the easiest and most natural thing in the world.”

His voice had started quiet and gotten faster, more frustrated. He looked up at Sam finally. The elven light made his eyes a washed out blue-green. “You’re right. Everything you’re scared of, you’re right to be. I’m trying to fight it and I’m losing. But Sam, I promise, I promise I’m doing the best I can. Please believe me.”

Sam’s heart broke a little. “Of course I believe you,” he said. 

Tears jumped into Frodo’s eyes, sparkling in the light. “I wish I was stronger,” he said. “I think this has been a terrible mistake.”

Sam nodded slowly. Words jumped readily into his mouth: no, you’re strong, you’re brave, you can do this. But when he was really honest with himself, he didn’t know if any of that was true, and Frodo wanted truth.

“Maybe it is all a mistake,” he said. “Maybe you were never meant to be here. But you are, and you must do the best you can.”

Frodo nodded. It was odd - the light made him look transparent at his edges, and Sam could almost see the words settling into him like stones dropped into water. “Gandalf said something similar,” he murmured.

“But you will not be alone,” Sam said, also thinking of Gandalf. “So what do you need from me?” 

Frodo squeezed Sam’s hands, held them like he was in danger of being swept away. “I need you to be my hope,” he said. “I need you to be hopeful even when I cannot.”

Estel ,” said Sam, and the phial flared suddenly like a firework.

Frodo picked it up and turned it over in his hands. The light dimmed. “ Hope that cannot be broken ,” he said. “I’ve never figured out the trick of it, I can always find reasons for doubt.”

“You’re too clever,” said Sam, startling a laugh from Frodo. “I just set my mind that things will be a certain way and then I stop thinking entirely until they’re done.”

Frodo looked him in the face and cupped his cheek gently. “You are remarkable.”

Sam blushed. “Oh, I’m fine. But, estel. I can keep it for you, if you promise to listen to me. Because you don’t know how things will turn out any better than I do.” He needed Frodo to know this. “Having hope isn’t the same thing as lying.”

Frodo nodded. He leaned forward and kissed him. Sam could feel the tremble in his breath, the fear that was still there, and he tried to kiss it away. Through closed eyes he saw the light bloom like the full moon was there in the cave with them.

They broke apart and Frodo rested his forehead against Sam’s. “I love you,” he said, and then cocked his head when Sam squeaked. “What?”

“You haven’t actually said that before,” said Sam, feeling very warm inside and out. 

“I have,” Frodo protested.

“I think I’d remember,” Sam said. 

“Well, I’ve thought it!”

“I can’t see inside your mind.”

“No, you can’t, can you? Sometimes I forget.” Frodo linked his hands behind Sam’s neck. “I love you, Sam Gamgee. Even when I’ve tried not to, I've loved you. If I fade, that will be the last part of me to go.”

Sam kissed him again, his dear Frodo. “I wish I had some way to remember,” he said. “When things get confusing and hard again, as they are wont to do. But there’s not much use for tokens out here.”

“No, and I don’t think an exchange of rings would be appropriate,” Frodo said lightly, and Sam blushed and laughed to cover it. That was quite a concept, though he was sure Frodo was only joking.

“The dwarves make marks on their skin,” Frodo mused. “A sort of token that can never be misplaced. But I don’t know how they do it.” 

But this gave Sam an idea. “Does this come off?” he asked, taking the phial and fiddling with the top.

“What are you doing?!” Frodo gasped and smacked his hand. “Galadriel gave that to me! It’s very precious!”

“I’m being careful!” Sam said. The carved glass top twisted off smoothly, and for a moment the cave smelled exactly like the golden flowers of Lothlorien. “See?”

“Don’t spill it,” Frodo said nervously. 

“You’re such a worrier,” said Sam. “I just thought...maybe you could put a bit on me, as a token.”

“I’m not sure what it will do,” Frodo said, taking the phial gingerly.

“Me neither.” Sam rolled up his sleeve and stuck out his right arm. 

Frodo looked into the phial, and was very beautiful in the light spilling out. His mouth quirked in a half-smile. “Do you have anything to write with?”

So, dipping a roasting skewer of all things into the phial, he bent over Sam’s arm and traced a sentence in a flowing elven script. The liquid was cool and tingled against his skin. “I don’t know if it will stay put,” Frodo said, frowning, but when Sam rubbed at the letters they only glittered, looking rather like the silver moon-writing on the door of Moria. 

“It’s lovely,” he said, and meant it. Something to look at when things were hard. “What does it say?”

Frodo traced the lines. “ Im gwedhín na chín,”  he said, and squeezed Sam’s hands. “I am bound to you.”

Sam couldn’t see himself. But I’m that instant he felt really, truly beautiful.

Frodo frowned. “Although I may have conjugated that wrong. I was trying to use the aorist tense to denote timelessness, but - ”

Sam laughed and kissed him. “ You, ” he said, and couldn’t finish the sentence because his heart was so full of words. 

Frodo kissed him back. “I’m glad you love me,” he said. “Even though I worry about everything.”

They broke apart hastily at the sound of footsteps. Faramir was standing behind the iron grate. Frodo flicked his cloak over the phial to hide it. 

Faramir was looking at them oddly. Clearly he’d seen the kiss. “More than your gardener, then.”

“What of it?” Frodo snapped, defensive. 

“The Shire must be very different from Gondor,” Faramir said, shaking his head. “Come with me, then. Just you. Leave your partner behind.”

“No you don’t - ” Sam started, scrambling to his feet.

“We found your friend,” Faramir interrupted. “The pale, gangly creature.” 

Frodo started and turned to Sam. “I have to help him,” he said, looking torn. 

“Oh,” said Faramir. “And my men recovered this. It must be yours.” And with a clang he tossed Sam’s cookpot to the ground. 

“I’ll be back soon,” Frodo said, and Sam nodded and squeezed his hand and let him go. The gate clanged behind them and Faramir’s lantern vanished down the pathway.

In the muted light of the phial, the words on his arm glimmered and Sam sat down to knock the dents out of his cookpot and clean it as best he could. 

At least one thing had come out right. 


Chapter Text

Sam hadn’t thought he could feel the effect of the Ring. But there, hiding in Osgiliath as arrows clattered against the stone and Men ran to and fro with swords drawn, he became aware of it all at once and realized he had been feeling it for weeks, maybe longer. An ebb and flow of nastiness, of gut twisting, of doubt and questions and suspicions. 

And now its power was rising like a snake preparing to strike. Cold, full of intent. Unveiling itself. Calling out. And being called to in return. 

Gollum cringed to the ground and Sam pressed hands over his ears even though the awful feeling was inside every part of him. He wanted to curl into a ball but forced himself upright. But Frodo wasn’t next to him anymore. He was walking away, out into the open, and the Ring was burning him up like a beacon.

With the sound of wings and a sudden shadow, the call was answered.

Faramir made the wrong choice. He captured Gollum and learned that Frodo carried the Ring of Power. And instead of understanding that they had to destroy it, he chose to take it to Gondor. Just like Boromir. 

“Please,” Sam begged. Faramir had returned his cookpot. He was gentler than his brother, Sam could tell. “It’s such a burden. Will you not help him?” 

Faramir looked down at him with his odd pale eyes. “You love him, don’t you? You would do anything to protect him.” Sam thrust out his chin and tried to stare Faramir down. “So you should be able to understand that I love my city, and I would do anything to protect her. I cannot throw away such a powerful weapon.”

“But we can’t go to Gondor - ” Sam started.

“Not you,” Faramir said. “ You’re too much trouble. You stay here, and we’ll return your partner to you safely when the war is won.”

Frodo stumbled and clutched at the back of Sam’s cloak and Sam felt a wave of cold fear. “No, no, you wouldn’t. Please, sir, I’ll be quiet, I won’t be trouble, but you can’t - ”

Frodo stepped in front of him suddenly, and a hard angry light was in his eyes. Faramir was twice as tall, but he stared up at him as proudly as a king on a throne. “Sam stays with me,” he said. “You think I just carry the Ring like a beast of burden, but I know how to use it, and I will if I must.” Not that , thought Sam desperately. Never that.  

Frodo locked eyes with Faramir. “Sam stays with me.”

Frodo stared up at the Dark Rider, buffeted by the wind from its steed’s wings. “What are you doing?” Sam screamed at him from cover, but Frodo gave no sign of hearing. His hair whipped back as he lifted his face, and the expression there terrified Sam. A look of surrender. 

He raised his hands to his neck and took out the Ring. 

The hooded rider on the beast leaned forward, and time got very slow. Another one of those Weathertop moments. Sam fixed his sight on Frodo - if he vanished, he would know where he stood at least - and lowered his head, and ran like a charging bull. 

Things were getting confusing. Perhaps it was just that Sam had been so used to walking and only being with Frodo and Gollum, and now he was sitting on a horse in front of a Man like a piece of luggage. Frodo was riding with Faramir somewhere ahead in a long line, and Gollum was on a rope, stumbling to keep up. He had not spoken to them since his capture, only muttered to himself and caressed his scars.

They smelled the fires burning in Osgiliath before they saw it. A wide river flowed to the east, and to the west Sam caught glimpse of a white city carved from of a mountain. That must be Minas Tirith, the city Faramir and Boromir loved so much that they would make the wrong choice every time. 

Sam thought about the way Frodo looked, defending him to Faramir. He’d even threatened to use the Ring. Sam knew he should be grateful to be loved like that, but it only scared him. Would Frodo make a wrong choice in order to save him, too?

Osgiliath was under attack. Sam had seen goblins in the mines of Moria - spindly creatures, sort of like Gollum. But these were orcs, the size of Men, marching in ranks and wheeling along all sorts of weapons of war. 

“Let me get to Frodo,” he said to his captor, struggling. 

“Easy, little one,” the Man said. “Faramir will keep him safe.”

But when they made it to Osgiliath, it did not seem safe at all, in fact it was barely more than a ruin, and it was under attack. Sam struggled through the crowds to get to Frodo, but when he found him Frodo’s eyes were fixed a thousand miles away. 

“He’s getting close, Sam,” he said in a whisper, and Sam just ducked his head and tried to find a safe place for them to hide.

A horrible bone-deep coldness came off the Rider, worse even than the mountain pass. Sam crashed into Frodo and grabbed his hands, forcing them apart. They went over the wall together, Sam twisting to shield Frodo from the fall, slamming hard into stone. Sam knocked his head and saw stars but staggered up anyway, fighting to stay conscious. Frodo was writhing and Sam thought he was injured - until he threw him to the ground with unnatural strength and drew his sword.

Sting bit into his neck and Sam remembered that elven blades never went dull. Frodo was on him, breath coming ragged and angry, eyes blazing, something savage twisting his face so it was unrecognizable. 

Sam closed his eyes. If he was going to die, he didn’t want that to be the last thing he saw.

“It’s me. It’s your Sam,” he whispered. The sharp steel scraped his throat. He forced his eyes open, forced himself to look at Frodo. He had promised to be brave. “Don’t you know your Sam?”

The savage, blazing look disappeared from Frodo’s face like a snuffed candle flame. For a moment nothing replaced it, and that was almost worse. But then Frodo was back, his dear sweet Frodo, scrambling away and dropping the sword, eyes full of horrified regret. 

Sam stood up slowly. Checked to make sure he was really alright, that Sting had not broken skin. That no enemies were coming. Trying to push the heartbreak of that moment away, tried to make it so it had never happened.

“I can’t do this, Sam.” Frodo’s voice wasn’t more than a whisper, and his eyes were wide and distant. The Ring hung out of his shirt and seemed to Sam to be a living thing, eying him with malevolence. It wanted him dead, and it had almost succeeded. 

“I know,” Sam said. And he helped Frodo up.

Faramir had been watching. “I think I better understand what happened to my brother,” he said, crouching on one knee to be on their level. Sam stared at him. “The love between you...if it could turn that, it is more powerful than I knew.” His face was full of a kind of wistful sadness. “If you still wish to carry it away from here, I will not stop you.”

Frodo turned to Sam and buried his face in his shoulder. He clutched at his cloak in a way that reminded Sam of his little sister, how she had nightmares sometimes and would cling to him until morning. “I can’t,” he said in a soft breath, so only Sam could hear. “I wanted to give it to Him. I would have, if you’d been a second slower.” He swallowed. “I can’t do this and it’s better if it goes to Gondor at least.” 

Sam pulled back. Took his chin in his hand so he could not look away, so their eyes had to meet, even though it hurt to look in Frodo’s eyes just then. “You must.”

It was the hardest thing he had ever done, to tell Frodo that. It would have been so much easier to say Yes, let’s give it to Faramir, and then find a bed and sleep for a week . It’s time for someone else to take over the writing of this tale. To see relief dissolve across Frodo’s face and to know that whatever evil the Ring did, it would never again take hold of the person he loved most in the world.

But he didn’t. 

“What are we holding on to, Sam,” Frodo murmured, touching his forehead to Sam’s. 

“That there is some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for,” Sam said. Frodo shook his head.

“I don’t know how to believe that anymore.”

“But you love me,” Sam said. “So if you do it for no one else, then do it for me.” 

It was a gamble. But he could feel the elven words on his arm as a reminder, clean and true. 

Frodo’s mouth trembled. “You’re asking.” Sam nodded. “You never ask me anything.”

“I’ve been waiting for something important,” Sam said. “I thought I might ask to expand the vegetable garden back home, but this feels more pressing.” Frodo almost laughed and Sam clasped the back of his neck. “So carry it just a bit further. For me.” 

Frodo nodded, and - strong, he was so strong - his mouth firmed and turned to Faramir. “We will continue. Show us the way out of here.”

They made it out of Osgiliath, Gollum sullen and limping along behind them. Made it into the forest. Traveled far past sunset, in case Faramir changed his mind, though Sam was sure he would not. They were too tired for a fire or even food when they came across some ruins, mysterious in the darkness but better than the open, and threw themselves down to sleep.

Sam was drifting off when Frodo turned over next to him so their faces were close.  

“Are you awake,” he said in an almost soundless whisper. 

Sam blinked and rubbed at his eyes. “I am now.”

“Sorry.” It was full dark in the ruin but he could hear Frodo’s breath, tight and full of unspoken things.

“What is it?”

“What would you do if it took me over and I didn’t come back?”

Sam didn’t have to ask what it was. He took Frodo’s hand. “I wouldn’t let that happen.”

How, Sam,” Frodo asked, sounding angry or close to tears or maybe both. Sam squeezed his eyes shut and tried to think, even though he hated the thought.

“I would remind you of yourself. What you like. Who you are. I would take care of you until you returned.”

Frodo didn’t speak for a long time. When he did, his voice was small. A child asking for reassurance. “If you had to take it from me, for the quest...if you looked at me and didn’t see me looking back…would you do it?”

That’s already happened. “I suppose,” Sam said uneasily. 

“But I’d fight you for it,” Frodo said. “You might have to hurt me.”

This was where Sam quailed.  “But I couldn’t do that.”

“Ah,” said Frodo. They lay there quietly, and Sam tried to imagine what it would be like to really fight Frodo. Keeping him from hurting himself, from hurting others, that was one thing. Pinning him down until he stopped being stupid and admitted that love was real, well, he’d done that already. But the idea of raising a hand against him was impossible. 

“You know I couldn’t hurt you either, right?” Frodo asked. “It’’s not me. I would never do those things.”

“I know,” Sam said. And then, like a useless bandage on a mortal wound: “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Frodo said, and turned so his back was pressed up against Sam's chest, and took his hand and held it to his heart. 

Sam wished the words on his arm had stayed. He could still feel them, a tracery of lines, slightly cool under his skin, but they didn’t glow anymore and even in sunlight he couldn’t see them.

That was alright; it had just been a lark. But he would have liked to look at them, just then.

Chapter Text

Something had broken after Osgiliath.

Sam was pretty sure Frodo wasn’t sleeping. It made him feel guilty, because he was so tired from walking these days that he often was asleep before his head hit the bedroll. The going wasn’t particularly hard - easier than Emyn Muil by a long shot - but the weight of who-knows-how-many days on the road was dragging them both down.

Faramir had given them some supplies, but still they were getting low on food. Sam tried to forage as they walked, without much luck, so he buttoned his trousers tighter and pretended to eat lembas bread while secretly tucking it back in the bag. He could stand to skip a few meals, but Frodo could not, and Frodo wouldn’t eat if he knew Sam wasn’t. 

Maybe it was the hunger that made things get confusing. Because for all his love, for all they had been through and promised each other, Frodo felt as distant as he’d been in Rivendell when he was unconscious and fighting a deadly fever. After Osgiliath, Sam was more aware of the Ring than before. It did not like him, that was certain - and between it and Gollum, he found himself feeling nervous and paranoid. 

And he was right to be, because Sam woke suddenly one night and heard Gollum plotting to murder them. 

Something took Sam over then. A voice in his head said clearly Gollum must die . It was very obvious. He had been trying to kill them this entire time, he would never stop, and it would only end with death - so let it be Gollum’s.

He tried to do it with the cookpot (though his ma would have disapproved of such a use), sneaking up on Gollum and swinging at his head. But he was wiry and sprang away and shrieked and woke Frodo. And then it was ruined, because Frodo was up and pulling him back and no matter how Sam pleaded, no matter that he had heard Gollum making plans to kill them and take the Ring, Frodo would not listen.

He was so angry. Gollum cowered behind a tree and called him a liar and Frodo listened to him and if Frodo hadn’t held him back Sam would have beaten Gollum until he could not talk, until he couldn’t poison Frodo anymore. 

“I need you on my side, Sam,” Frodo said urgently, trying to catch his eyes. Sam was breathing heavy, his hands clenching and unclenching. 

“I am on your side,” he said, hurting now. That he would even question it made Sam’s anger recede like a flood, and it left behind a scum of horror and disgust. He’d never tried to kill someone before, except for those goblins in Moria. Would he have really done it?

Frodo took Gollum’s hand and led him away, speaking to him gently, and Gollum shot Sam an evil grin. Sam wanted to kick him, to pull him away from Frodo. To scrub Frodo’s hand where it had touched Gollum. But he held back. 

Later he thought about how, even though he was no longer Frodo’s servant, even though he did not call him sir, he still obeyed him. Maybe that was just what you did when you were in love with someone. But Frodo was in love with him too, and he’d begged Frodo to send Gollum away and he had not listened. 

Sam wondered if he would be able to disobey Frodo, if he ever had to. When it really mattered.

They were traveling with a creature that was planning to kill them, Frodo wasn’t doing anything about it, and Sam felt helpless the way he did in his worst dreams. So to keep Frodo from slipping away altogether, he started talking about the Shire, and plans for the future. He figured that having something concrete to return to would help Frodo resist the Ring. And it let him paint a world that Gollum was not a part of, which was a pleasant thought. 

“May I live in Bag End when we return?” he asked. Frodo was curled up against a stone nearby while Sam put away the dinner-things, not sleeping but not talking either. 

“Mmhm,” Frodo said. “‘Course.”

“We can move into the bedroom with the eastern windows, so the Sun wakes us up. I don’t have much, I’d just need a chest for my clothes and one outside for my tools.” He smiled, thinking about it. “I’ll pick flowers for all the rooms. If we don’t have enough vases we can put them in mugs and bowls. I always wanted to have flowers inside, but the Gaffer thought that was silly.”

Frodo looked at him, his face dim in the blue dusk, and Sam kept going. “I’ll expand the vegetable garden. We can even try to grow mushrooms, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? I think all you need is a shady spot and some logs. Merry and Pippin will be back by then, and we’ll have a dinner to celebrate. I’ll make a pie out of what we grew, and you’ll taste it and then go into the cellar and choose just the right wine to go with it. And we’ll stay up late into the night, and tell tales of when we went on the quest and how we came back. And then everyone will go to their homes, and we’ll go to our room, and…”

He noticed Gollum nearby, watching him balefully, and cleared his throat. “Go to sleep,” he finished awkwardly. He looked up at Frodo, who sighed deeply.

“That would be nice,” Frodo murmured, and Sam went and lay next to him. Frodo tended not to want to be held at night, these days, but Sam still slept near him in case he called out.

“Everyone in the Shire will call us the odd bachelors of Bag End, but we’ll be heroes so no one will give us trouble. Not even when I dance with you at the Spring Party. Not even when you meet me at the Green Dragon after I’ve been working and I kiss you in front of everyone. They’ll get used to us fast enough.” Frodo was quiet, and Sam fell into the tale he was spinning. It was so much nicer than where they were. 

“You’ll write this story down, and many other stories besides, and Strider will come to visit us sometimes, and Legolas and Gimli. Just like the dwarves used to visit Bilbo. Oh, and we’ll visit Bilbo in Rivendell of course, whenever you want. And one day…” 

He swallowed, and reached across the ground to take Frodo’s hand. He couldn’t see his face from this angle. “One day, there will be a child, one who needs a home and doesn’t have anyone else. I’ve always wanted a little girl but I’d be happy any way, really. It were mostly me taking care of Marigold when she was small, so I know what to do. You would teach her to read and tell her marvelous tales, and I would teach her gardening and baking and - ”

Frodo pulled his hand away and turned quickly so he was facing the rock. Sam stopped, the warm feeling from the story bleeding away.

“Frodo?” he asked, tentative. 

“Go to sleep, Sam,” Frodo said. His voice sounded strained like he was holding back tears, but Frodo almost never cried and Sam couldn’t figure out what would have upset him. Perhaps he was just tired. So he quieted, and lay on the hard ground with a lump of ice in his stomach until sleep did finally take him. 

He slept uneasily and woke a little later. Frodo wasn’t there. He was sitting a ways away, bent over and talking with Gollum. Sam could not hear what they said but their heads were close, like conspirators. Even though Frodo was dark and clothed, and Gollum was pale and naked, their poses were identical. 

Sam curled his hands into fists and lay still even though anger and grief and worry drenched him in waves. Even though tears leaked out of his eyes, for unlike Frodo he cried at everything. Frodo had told him to go to sleep, and Sam could not disobey him.

At last, Gollum led them to a secret stairway that would take them into Mordor. And even though they knew Gollum was plotting, even though they had not discussed how they would deal with it, Frodo followed him and Sam followed Frodo. 

The chain that the Ring hung on was beginning to wear pink welts on Frodo’s neck, but when Sam dug out a cooling salve the elves had given him, Frodo only snapped at him and buttoned his shirt higher. 

Everything was confusing, and every part of himself Sam thought useful was suddenly useless. He tried to get a straight answer out of Gollum and only got excuses. He tried to threaten him and earned a disapproving look from Frodo. So he buttoned his mouth, fixed his eyes on Gollum, and stayed in the back in case Frodo slipped. And they climbed. 

Gollum stole the last of the lembas bread and said that Sam had eaten it. It was such an obvious lie, the way he blinked with false innocence and rubbed his head. The voice came back to Sam’s head, clear as a bell. Kill him now , it said. This is your last chance to protect Frodo. 

And maybe he would have fought against it, but then Frodo looked at him as though believing the lie. With hurt and fear written across his face. An expression so unfamiliar Sam did not recognize him. 

Sam threw himself at Gollum, so he did not have to see that look a second longer. And once the rage really took him, once he was in it, he knew that he could kill Gollum. All he had to do was hit his face hard enough, bounce the back of his skull against the rocks until it cracked and all the evil spilled out, and if that didn’t work then he could return the favor of their first meeting and throttle him. 

Everything would make sense when the gleaming light was gone from his eyes. 

But Frodo gave a hoarse cry and threw Sam off Gollum. Thin as he was, he took Sam by surprise. And Sam wouldn’t have let that stop him, but Frodo swooned like all the strength went out of him and that was more important, that made Sam crumple too. Like all his limbs were tied to Frodo’s. 

“Oh, oh my, I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it to go so far,” Sam said, his voice cracking. The back of his fist was bleeding where he had hit Gollum’s tooth. He startled trembling, adrenaline bleeding away and a horrible guilt replacing it. “Let’s just, just rest a bit.”

“I’m alright,” whispered Frodo. Gollum coughed and retched nearby.

“You’re not,” said Sam. Desperate for honesty, desperate to say how things were and have Frodo agree with him, to realign whatever had broken between them even if it hurt. “You’re exhausted. It’s Gollum. It’s this place. It’s that thing around your neck.”

He thought of Frodo lying close to him at night. Speaking to him in a small, frightened voice. If you looked at me and didn’t see me looking back...would you take it?

“I think it’s time,” Sam said. “What we spoke of.”

Frodo turned to look at him, slowly, eyes wide and glazed.

“I could help a bit. I could carry it for a while.” 

That look slid over Frodo’s face again, like Sam was a stranger to him. Like he was a stranger to Sam. 

“Get away,” he hissed, scrambling backwards. Sam fell back and tried to make himself small, so Frodo would see he was not a threat.

“See?” hissed Gollum. His face was bleeding, and so was the back of his head, but he crouched behind Frodo and clutched at his cloak like a child. “He wants it for himself.”

“That’s a filthy lie,” Sam barked, anger flaring. “Get out of here!”

“No, Sam,” said Frodo. Slowly, as though realizing. “It’s you. You can’t help me anymore.”

A cold moment, a Weathertop moment. The world hung on what he said next.

“I can and I will,” Sam said, with a stoutness he did not feel. “We’re bound to each other. You said so.” But when he stuck out his arm, yanked at the sleeve, the elven words weren’t there. 

“Then I release you,” Frodo said. The cold, imperious look that Sam had come to tie to the Ring was in his eyes. “You can leave.”

“I won’t,” Sam said, sight going watery as he stumbled to his feet and babbled, grasping for whatever words would change this. “I’m with you, I’m your melethril , we’re going there together. There and back again. We’re going to go back to the Shire, and we’re going to - ”

“No,” said Frodo. He looked away, working his jaw. “I can’t be this person you so desperately wish me to be, Sam, and I don’t have the strength to pretend I am any longer.” He gestured at the awful stair, the evil fortress beneath them, Gollum lurking behind him. A bitter bite to his voice. “This is the person I am.”
You’re not,” Sam said, trying to catch Frodo’s eyes, trying to find the softness in them he knew was there. “Please, Frodo.”

“You want a life ,” Frodo hissed, like the words burned. “You want a child . Why would you say those things, when you know you can’t have them with me.”

“I want you,” Sam whispered. The only true thing. And Frodo did meet his eyes then, and his eyes softened, and he reached out and touched Sam’s wet cheek. Sam turned his face into Frodo’s hand, clasped it and meant to never let go. “Let’s just forget this and keep going,” he said. It had been a momentary madness, and they would never speak of it again. 

But Frodo shook his head, and took back his hand.

“Go home, Sam,” he said again. And this command was not imperious, but soft and pitying. 

For all his resolutions, for all his vows and plans, those words drained the strength from him. His knees buckled. The words between them a stone wall, a mountain, colder than the pass of Caradhras.

It felt unreal. Part of him tried to get up, to throw Gollum off the cliff and to follow Frodo, to force him to stop. To scream you are wrong . To scream you need me . To scream you promised.

But the command had stolen his voice, and all he could do was turn his face away. All he could do was grant himself the smallest of mercies, and stop himself from watching Frodo leave.

He stayed on that ledge for a long time. Wrapped his cloak around himself and tried to turn into a stone. But stones didn’t cry. Stones didn’t bite down on their knuckles so hard they tasted blood. Stones didn’t relive the moment and twist in agony and press their soft idiot faces into the rock and wish it would swallow them whole.

He was a servant. He always would be. Stupid and common and obedient to the end. Everything else had been a dream.

That was what got him up eventually, minutes or hours later. Frodo had told him to go home, and he would do as he was told. He would not break this last bond between them.

So he stumbled down the stair, careless and tear-blind and slipping. Gravel betrayed his feet and he fell, cloak tearing, cookpot clanging, and he almost wished that he would hit his head on a rock and be done with it all.

But he didn’t. And when he opened his eyes, a packet of lembas lay in front of him.

That was where it had fallen, of course. Gollum had thrown it away. Sam had known it was a lie but oh, how it hurt to see the evidence. The most childish of lies, and Frodo had believed him. He wrapped the bread up with shaking fingers - he would need it for the journey home - and sobbed.

Dark, evil clouds had gathered over the cliffside for the entire climb, so it was hard to even tell if it was day or night. But a cold wind was blowing now, scattering the clouds to rags, and Sam shivered and looked up and saw the stars.

How strange that he had traveled so far, but the stars never changed. It was an early springtime sky, the same as he would have seen in the Shire, and Sam blinked away his tears and found the Wagon constellation. The axle of the wagon’s wheel always showed true north. It was bright tonight, so bright it cast shadows off the rocks.

Might as well use the light to travel by. Sam picked himself up, and something glittered under his cuff.

The elf-words Frodo had written on him were shining in the starlight. 

Im gwedhín na chín , I am bound to you. He’d thought the lines had faded, but they were only waiting for the right kind of light, just like the moon-writing on the door of Moria. 

I love you , Frodo had said. If I fade, that will be the last part of me to go, and he had written on Sam so that Sam would never forget. That felt long ago and far away, but the words were still there. They would always be there. 

How could he stand to bear those words if he let Frodo go into Mordor without him?

Something was building in Sam, something that wasn’t anger or grief, or maybe was both of those things mixed together with a fierce love and a sudden realization.

He’d always looked to others to tell him what was right. Gandalf, Frodo. That felt like love, but maybe it was weakness too. He’d never made his own choices, had always let devotion lead him. 

But that wasn’t exactly true. He had told Frodo I love you , back when it seemed utterly impossible, just because he’d needed him to know. He had pinned Frodo to the ground and told him our love will be what saves everything , when Frodo wanted to leave him behind. Do it for me , he had told Frodo, when Frodo wanted to surrender the Ring. 

He could make choices. He could change the tale.

Sam looked back up the stair. Frodo was up there somewhere, walking into danger. And if Sam hurried, he could catch up.

Chapter Text

Frodo lay in the garden at Bag End, dozing with his back against a maple. A light breeze was in the air, the dancing leaves throwing light and shade across his closed eyes.

Sam sat nearby and transplanted seedlings from a growing bed into individual pots. They were all nearly identical sprouts of green, but they would turn into so many different things with proper care; sage and thyme and bay and rosemary and flowers, always flowers. It was grubby work, but satisfying, the rich black dirt under his fingernails so different from 

never mind that

He potted the last one and rocked back on his heels and just let himself look at Frodo. His hands folded in his lap. A book tucked beside him. His clean shirt, three buttons undone, rising and falling with slow steady breaths. It was important that Sam watched him, important that he keep breathing, because

don’t worry, little one

It was important because Frodo looked at peace, finally. How many times had he seen Frodo’s sweet dear face twist in pain? How many times had the world clawed at him, marred his perfect skin, left marks inside and out? Bilbo, Gandalf, Boromir, Sméagol; Frodo had chosen to trust them, and they had tried to suck the life from him. But Sam had stayed. Sam was the only one who did not care about power, or burdens, or doom; he only wanted Frodo to be at peace. That was love.

There was a bed of seedlings to plant in front of him, pots unfilled. Grubby work, but satisfying. And easy, so he could look up at Frodo whenever he wanted, and see his slow breath. It was important that he was breathing, because - 

A sudden urgent need to check that he was alright. To see his blue eyes. Sam reached out

let him sleep

But Frodo wouldn’t want to sleep the day away, not when they were back in the Shire and the bees were buzzing honey-thick and a cool fresh breeze floated on the air. Frodo would want to run through the fields, jump in the Brandywine, laugh and talk and eat and throw himself into the arms of people he hadn’t seen for

it’s easier to just let him sleep

Sam reached out to him. To his face, so still and calm, the dancing shadows making it look almost like he was under water

don’t you want him to rest

Sam reached out 

if he is asleep, you know he is safe, and you too can rest

Sam reached out 

don’t you deserve to rest, too

But Sam wanted to see his blue eyes, and maybe that was selfish, or maybe it was love, and perhaps those were one and the same. So he reached out to him


And touched his shoulder. And Frodo’s eyes flew open -

They had been open the whole time, of course, open and glazed and unmoving. Sam crouched next to him and his hands were not grubby with rich black dirt, they were dry and scraped and spattered with stinking blood and strands of spider-web. And in the center of his palm, cool as a Spring-time breeze in the Shire, sat the Ring.

He didn’t know how long he had crouched there, lost in the dream, but now he was awake and the doom had fallen to him. 

Because he had been too late. Because Frodo was dead.

He put the Ring around his neck, heavy and hateful against his breast. It had held him for a moment with its sweet promises. Frodo, safe and at peace and asleep forever. 

But the Ring was an idiot. That wasn’t the Frodo he wanted. He wanted Frodo’s eyes open, lighting with laughter or flashing with anger or going soft and dark or turning away and keeping secrets. He wanted the Frodo that he was sometimes afraid to look at, because he loved him so much but could never truly know his mind. 

He wanted any version of Frodo; even the one that had held a sword to his neck, or the one that he had only been allowed to catch glimpses of through the windows of Bag-End, or the one weeping silently in Lothlorien. He wanted to yearn , wanted the sweet agony of Frodo touching him but never allowing himself to be touched where Sam most wanted to. 

He wanted the gap between them, the wish to hold him so tight that they became one creature and the knowledge that the wish would never be fulfilled. Because the gap between them was where love lived. 

Not in a dream of peace. 

But there was no use for wants, because Frodo was dead, and the last thread connecting them was this inherited doom; to bear the Ring, and to destroy it. The quicker he finished it the quicker he, too, could rest.

He heard scrabbling in the pass towards Mordor and Sting glowed blue. He wanted to stay and defend Frodo, keep his body safe or at least die a fast painful death, but the Ring hung around his neck and he could not risk it being taken. 

So he hid from the orcs that came through the pass, too many for him to take on his own - and he thought at first he was inventing things when he heard them say “This one’s not dead.”

Not dead. Just spider-poisoned. Just sleeping. Not dead. Not dead.

Sam stuffed his fist in his mouth so he did not make a sound, but tears poured down his cheeks. He had not cried before. And when the orcs gathered up Frodo’s body he almost jumped out, a voice that was most likely the Ring telling him that he could take them all; but they were many, bigger than him and armed with wicked looking blades.

So he hid, seized with joy and terror, and followed them secretly into Mordor.

It was as barren as one would expect. The rocks were sharp and slid about underfoot, and flecks of ash rained from the sky and caught in his throat. Sam guessed it to be midday, but it was dark except for a red glow to the east like a fire.

He stayed a ways behind the orcs, the loud thudding of his heart making it hard to know if he was going quietly or not. He felt terribly exposed, torn between fear of being caught and fear of losing Frodo. The orcs followed a road into a ravine with no cover, so Sam pulled up the hood of his elven cloak and hoped it would hide him. 

And it did, except for when two of the orcs started quarreling over something. The big one carrying Frodo barked an insult and a small one with pitted white skin responded in anger. Their voices raised, the little one suddenly drew a blade, and the big one threw Frodo off his shoulders in readiness to fight.

Sam yelled out of instinct, because Frodo flopped bonelessly to the ground and his dear head missed a rock by inches. He realized what he’d done a moment too late.

Samwise, you ninnyhammer , his Gaffer growled in his head, and many more words besides. Sam dropped to the ground behind a low pile of shale. But the orcs had heard him, and they were tramping in his direction. Four, five walking over, one staying to guard Frodo. His hand shook as he took Sting’s hilt.

you don’t have to die here , a voice said in his head, the same one that had told him to kill Gollum. And he realized it was right, even as he realized that it had pushed him to make a sound, that it had wanted him to be discovered. It had tricked him and he’d fallen for it, and the orcs were very close, and now there was nothing for it.

He didn’t remember choosing to put on the Ring. But it leapt onto his finger, and the moment he was in swept away like leaves on a current. The orcs didn’t matter; the orcs couldn’t see him. Nothing mattered except Sam, his heart beating like a drum, and something opening its eye to him.

The Ring did not promise power this time. It had shown him what it thought he wanted and he had refused it. The Ring was calling out to its true master now, and 

turn and look at Me

The voice came from the East, from the fire lighting the low bellies of the clouds. It was the voice of every king that had ever lived, every person who had hoarded power and set the paths of others. It was a voice that spoke and was obeyed. And deep in his bones Sam was only a servant. Who was he to know what was right, when a voice like that spoke to him?

turn, the voice said, and Sam saw as though through veils of mist the orcs picking up Frodo, carrying him away. He tried to follow but his feet were rooted to the ground, pinned. A rabbit trembling in sight of the hawk.

turn and let me see your face, Ring-bearer, the voice said, in a language that tore at his ears. The way he could not have stopped himself running into the Anduin after Frodo; he couldn’t stop himself from turning then. Even though he was on his knees now, and his hands were pressed against his eyes, an awful light flooded in. 

The Eye looked at him.

It was wind shredding a banner to ribbons. It was fire reducing logs to embers and ash. It was being passed through a sieve, every tiny part of himself being held up and exposed and found to be lesser

Frodo. He tried to hold onto Frodo. He might be common, and slow, and stupid, but that was the one thing he knew to be good. He tried to remember how it felt to close the gap in Rivendell, to kiss Frodo for the first time, the way it had been new and familiar at the same time. 

But the Eye saw this, and sneered. so that’s how it is.

And it showed him how everything that had happened was the fault of his lust, unnatural and unwanted. He had seen Frodo, pure and clean and beautiful, someone who could have borne the Ring without corruption - if not for Sam. If not for his selfish desire. Sam had distracted him, pulled him from the quest and into his bed, risked everything for fleeting, fevered, greedy moments - and pretended all along that it was as beautiful as an elf-song.

I can’t be this person you so desperately want me to be , Frodo had said, and told him to go, and here he was disobeying. He was as low as Gollum, lower, because Gollum was corrupted by ancient magic and his corruption was so much simpler and more base. He was a clinging thing, fondling and whining and grasping at someone who did not want him, not really, who touched him out of pity but never let him touch, never would let him

“Enough,” Sam gasped or maybe screamed, and forced the Ring from his finger. 

His face was pressed into the ground. Dirt was in his mouth, gritty between his teeth. His muscles ached like he’d been brawling, and his breath came in fits and gasps. He lay there for a while before rolling onto his side and looking around.

The orcs were nowhere to be seen. Dark as it was, it was hard to tell how much time had passed; but it felt later. Sam wiped at his brow, and then at his eyes when he realized he was crying.

“You’re wrong,” he said to the East, and then looked away because he wasn’t sure anymore. The Eye had left a scum on his body. It had seen everything with Frodo and painted it all with disgust. What would your Gaffer think , stood sharp in his mind. 

Sam forced himself up. Forced himself forward, even though he didn’t see the ground and didn’t try to be quiet.

He wanted so badly to throw the Ring away. It felt loathsome, bumping against his chest with every step. But Frodo would be upset if the Ring was gone; and he still needed to save Frodo. Even if Frodo did not want to see him. No ancient power could change his mind on that.

Most of the orcs inside the tower were already dead, or mortally wounded. Sam didn’t look, didn’t know what had happened, didn’t care. The aftermath of the Eye made him careless and desperate. He stabbed three orcs on the stair, fought down the wave of dizzy nausea, plugged his ears to their death cries. This place was so ugly, so cruel, but it made sense after the cruel and ugly things the Eye had said to him.

He killed one more orc at the top of the tower, Sting’s blue light flickering away with his last breath; and behind the orc was Frodo. 

He was naked, pressed up in a corner. His hands were tied with a thick rope. He looked pitifully thin, skin rubbed raw around his neck, countless bruises and half-healed scrapes on his knees. But his eyes were open, and clearer than they’d been for a long time.

“Sam,” Frodo gasped, and Sam knelt and untied his hands and tried not to look in his eyes, because he was dirty and he had disobeyed. 

“Let’s get you out of here,” he said, but as soon as Frodo’s hands were free he threw himself on Sam, holding him like he would never let go.

Sam dropped his head. He was afraid to hold Frodo. Afraid to touch his skin. Afraid of what the Eye had shown him.

“I’m sorry, Sam,” Frodo said. “So sorry for everything.” And when Sam just sat there like a stone, too afraid to move, he pulled back and looked searchingly in his face. There were dried tear tracks down his face, and Sam lowered his eyes.

“Why do you look like that,” Frodo whispered. He touched Sam’s cheek, and when Sam flinched he gasped in sudden understanding. “You took it.”

“I thought I’d lost you,” Sam said, guilt seizing at him. Frodo fumbled at his shirt, grabbing desperately for where the Ring hung.

“Give it to me, Sam, you must - ”

Sam pulled back, caught Frodo’s hands. Frodo couldn’t take it back. He wasn’t strong enough. “It’s - it’s so much worse, Frodo. So much worse than I thought.”

“It’s been speaking to you,” Frodo breathed. He looked terrified. “Please, Sam. Give it to me. I can’t bear to see it hurt you.

“I would deserve it,” Sam said. 

“Is that what it has been telling you,” Frodo said, and something flashed in his eyes, and though Sam held his wrists he bent his head and kissed the back of Sam’s hand. The kiss shocked Sam, tenderness amidst so much pain. So he let go of Frodo’s wrists, lowered his head and stayed still as Frodo pulled the Ring from around his neck. 

Frodo gasped putting it on like he was dying of thirst and it was a glass of water. A heavy numbness lifted from Sam then, and he hid his face from Frodo and sobbed once into his hands. “I’m sorry.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Frodo said shakily. “You came for me. You saved me.”

“Did they hurt you?” Sam asked, swallowing his tears.

“Just threw me around a bit. Took my clothes and searched, but I think they had orders not to damage me.” Frodo shivered, and pulled at Sam’s hand. “Sam, why won’t you look at me?”

Sam shook his head. “I put it on. It tricked me. And it - the Eye - it saw all we’ve done. And it made it seem…” He scrubbed the heel of his hand against his eyes, hard, trying to push it all away. “Wrong. Very wrong. I’m so sorry, Mister Frodo, that I - that I pulled you down, dirtied you, seduced you - ”

Frodo grabbed Sam’s chin, forced him to look at his face. Oh, but he was beautiful, the only beautiful thing in that hateful tower, and Sam felt bloodstained and monstrous in his gaze. 

“It is a liar ,” Frodo said, and he kissed Sam, tasting of salt and ash and under it the flavor of his mouth that brought Sam back to the very first time. Sam withdrew, because everything the Eye had told him was still in his mind.

“How do you stand it,” he whispered, and Frodo shook his head.

“Not very well,” he said. He swallowed, shook his head sharply. “It told me such horrible things about you. And I believed them, for a bit.” He sucked in a shaky breath. “But as soon as I woke up without it whispering in my head - oh, everything came clear.” He kissed Sam’s nose, his cheeks, his ears and neck.

Sam let his hands come to rest on Frodo’s back, soft skin and sharp shoulder blades. “You used to say this was a mistake.”

“The Ring is afraid of this,” Frodo said. He grabbed Sam’s hand. “But the two of us is all that’s let me hold on this long.”

“Really?” Sam asked, and Frodo climbed into his lap and Sam couldn’t look away from his gaze anymore. It was like being looked at by the Eye, just as flaying, every part of him laid bare; but this was Frodo, and Frodo loved him.

“Believe me,” Frodo said. “Please. My Sam.” And he cupped Sam’s cheek, pulled him up for a kiss. 

Sam had a choice; to believe the Eye, and all its scornful guilt, or to believe Frodo.

Or really, the choice was between the Eye and himself. Because he knew what was right. He only needed the courage to stand by it.

Sam opened his mouth to the kiss. To Frodo.

The wish to hold Frodo so tight they became one creature. He’d thought it impossible, felt wrong for wishing it at all. Certainly one could not live like that. The gap between them was where love lived. 

But for a moment, the two of them like that - both Ring-Bearers, together in a land that wanted them dead with all their choices made and the path ahead clear. In that moment, for the space of a breath, the wish was granted.

To experience it just once was enough.


Chapter Text

They escaped the tower wearing orc armor, sighted the mountain of fire burning angrily against the ever-present clouds, and set off. They had no food, only a little water, and the going was very hard. But something had shifted, and Sam felt closer to Frodo than he ever had before.

It was partly that he understood now how the Ring worked. He wasn’t sure what it said to Frodo, but he knew the certainty, the feeling of inescapable truth. When Frodo stared at the marching armies of orcs in dismay, Sam knew that the Ring was telling him it was impossible. And he knew it would not help to offer reassurances, so he didn’t. 

“Let’s just make it down the hill for starters,” he said, and reached out and took Frodo’s hand. Small steps in the right direction. That was all they could do.

Frodo began to get delirious, swatting the air as though bugs were flying in his face. Sam gave him the last of the water to drink. 

“There will be none for the journey home,” Frodo murmured, and Sam’s heart broke because he knew Frodo only was saying that for his benefit.

“I don’t think there will be a journey home,” he said gently. No more lies between them. And Frodo looked at him with something like relief, and walked a little lighter for a while. 

Sam wasn’t sure if days or nights were passing. It was always kind of the same. Though once, as they were resting, the clouds scattered and he saw stars and the writing on his arm glimmered, very faintly. 

“See?” he asked Frodo, showing him. “It only shows up in star-light. Fine bit of elvish magic. Remember writing it, there in the cave?” And Frodo nodded, and lay his head on Sam’s chest.

Stolen moments of grace, in the worst place in the world. That was all they had now.

“Will you promise me something?” Frodo asked him a while later. Sam wasn’t sure if they’d been sleeping or no. 


“Try to make it out of here,” Frodo said. “I know I won’t.” 

Sam blinked. He was so thirsty but tears still jumped into his eyes. “You don’t know that. We might make it yet.”

“I don’t think I’ll survive it being destroyed, I mean,” Frodo said. “I just have a feeling. Too much of me is tied up in it. But Sam, my dear Sam?” And he threaded his fingers through Sam’s and looked up at him, and Sam blinked away the tears, because Frodo was telling him something important. “If you have a chance to make it out, once it’s done, do you promise you’ll take it?”

Sam swallowed. No lies between them. “I don’t know.”

Frodo sighed, and his brows knitted together like they were having tea at home and Sam had just told him they were out of cream. “You just have so much,” he said. His eyes had gone a bit unfocused. “You want so much. I never wanted all that much, you know, I think that’s why they gave it to me.” He rubbed his thumb in circles across Sam’s hand. “It would make me very happy to know that you had a chance at having, oh, everything you want.”

“But you’re what I want,” Sam said, his voice cracking. Frodo nodded as though considering this, as though it was still a new concept to him.

“Not everything, then. But Sam, you could make it out. You could marry Rose. You could have a big family, and a garden. Mornings in the spring, and winter nights by a fire, and laughter and talk and flowers. You could write down this story so no one forgets it. If there’s any chance of that at all…”

He trailed off, looking confused now. “Shouldn’t we be walking?” 

“We should,” said Sam. “You need a bit more rest, though.”

“Rest won’t help,” Frodo said, and stumbled to his feet. Sam leapt up to catch him in case he fell. He didn't, but he leaned against Sam and looked up at him and linked his hands behind Sam’s neck.

“I love you with my whole heart, Sam Gamgee,” he said. “Do you hate me for wanting you to have a chance at happiness?”

Sam shook his head. Those things felt so far away, marriage and Rosie Cotton and children and home. “Of course not.”

“Then promise me, dearest,” Frodo said. “If you have a chance at a life, you will take it.”

So Sam promised. 

And they kept going.

When it came down to it, there in the narrow hall at the top of the mountain where molten rock boiled and scorched the air, the Ring was too strong for Frodo. 

Sam understood, even as his heart crumpled in on itself. Frodo was so tired, and the Ring so strong. So certain. Perhaps Sam should have kept it from him, perhaps Elrond should have sent someone else, perhaps they should have done a thousand different things. 

Sam forgave Frodo even as he turned from the ledge with the Ring held tight in his hand.

“The Ring is mine,” he said, or something said - because that was not Frodo anymore. There was no part of him there. And when he put on the Ring and disappeared, Sam fell to his knees because that was Frodo dying.

He didn’t realize at first he had been hit - but a crack echoed in his ears and wetness trickled down his neck before drying in the hot air a moment later. It was Gollum, sneaking up on him with a rock like a bad dream. Sam forced his eyes open as Gollum threw himself at the empty air that had been Frodo.

A moment later, Frodo reappeared, screaming, blood pouring from his hand. Sam didn’t understand at first, trying dizzily to get to Frodo even as the ground kept pitching up to meet him. Gollum was leaping about and something shone from his hand with a hot vicious light -

And Frodo rushed him. And they both went over the edge.

Sam forgot his promise. Forgot everything but Frodo. 

Something seemed to hum in the air, a great tension like a fiddle string about to snap, and Sam suddenly couldn’t hear anything at all. He threw himself to the edge and saw Frodo, hanging by one hand above the molten rock.

Sam screamed at him, he didn’t know what. Grasping and grabbing for him. Why wouldn’t Frodo reach up?

There was a look in Frodo’s eyes, then. Let me go too , he said, whether with his words or his face Sam wasn’t sure. 

The tension grew until Sam felt like his ears would pop. Everything was shaking, or maybe it wasn't. He bared his teeth at Frodo like a wild beast, love and anger all mixed up together. He forgave Frodo for succumbing to the Ring, but he would never, ever forgive him if he let go. 

Reach ,” he screamed. And as the fiddle string snapped, as sound flooded back in, as something changed in the very air and as the mountain began to fall in on itself - Frodo reached for his hand.

A desperate scramble, dodging rockfalls, and they were out on the mountainside. Tired beyond belief. But Frodo felt light in his arms, and he turned his face into Sam’s shoulder and laughed

“It’s gone,” he said, sitting down. Molten rock, so hot it had turned Gollum into smoke, so hot it had melted the Ring itself, poured from the hall. Eventually it would rise to meet them. “It’s done.”

Sam stayed standing, turning back and forth on the little peak they found themselves on. He couldn’t look away from the fire, though it burned blind spots on his eyes. 

A horror was rising in him, choking him. Tears sprang to his eyes and turned to vapor. This was it, the very last moment, the last thing he would ever see. 

He’d thought he was ready to die like this. But then again, Frodo had thought he was ready to give up the Ring, and he hadn’t been. 

Frodo’s hand found Sam’s. He tugged him down, and Sam stumbled and sat heavily next to him. “I really thought we’d make it out,” Sam said, his lips feeling thick and numb. All the things he hadn’t done yet. The loss flooded him, trampled him, left him breathless.

“I can see the Shire again,” Frodo was saying. “Brandywine River. Bag End. Gandalf’s fireworks.” Sam let out a strangled sob. 

“Rosie Cotton dancing with ribbons in her hair,” he said, thinking of times far away and long ago. “I thought I would marry her once.” Once that had been his future, clearly laid out, a promise of reliable and simple happiness. He didn't know when exactly that future had become impossible, but it was now. 

“Rosie?” Frodo asked, turning on his side and looking deep into Sam’s face. He smiled at Sam. How could he smile? “What about me?”

“You never would have agreed,” Sam said. “You would have had a thousand reasons why we couldn’t, like you always do.”

“Oh, probably,” Frodo said, and ran a hand through Sam’s hair. “But it’s not like you ever listened to them, and I’m glad you didn’t." Sam sniffed, and Frodo wiped at his eyes. "Maybe it’s selfish, but I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee. Here at the end of all things.”

The molten rock had reached the peak they were on, flowing around them like a river. How long until their island went under? Sam couldn’t stop himself from watching it, from trying to figure out if there was any way out.

Frodo cupped his face, made Sam turn away from the fire. “But I would have, you know. Married you.”

Sam blinked, really looking at him. Frodo’s face was sweaty and grimy and so, so beautiful. It was worth all the lost futures to get to spend the rest of his life looking at him, wasn't it? “You would?” 

Frodo smiled, despite it all. “In a heartbeat. I can see it, finally.” He pulled Sam into an embrace, and Sam rested his head on Frodo’s breast. No Ring between them anymore. He could hear Frodo’s heart beating strong and steady, and love wracked him like a sob. It had never been a choice. He would have followed Frodo anywhere, and he had. 

“Tell me what it would have been like,” he said. He thought of being a child, sitting at Bilbo’s feet while he told stories with happy endings. Frodo perched on a chair, mysterious and unknowable. He’d always loved him, even back then, even before he knew.

An explosion shook the mountain, and hissing drops of rock landed near Sam’s feet. He felt the hairs there curl and crisp.

Frodo stroked Sam’s head. “The party tree is all hung with lights,” he said. “It’s a summer night. There’s a cool breeze and a new Moon, just a sliver.” Sam closed his eyes, breathed in the smell of Frodo. “Bilbo is there. So is your whole family, and Merry and Pippin and everyone we love, even Gandalf. And we’re both wearing white.” 

“And you have flowers in your hair,” said Sam, fitting his arm around Frodo’s side. The way Frodo’s hip dipped down, like it was made for Sam to lay his arm there. How had they ever not known? Why had they wasted so much time ?

“Yes, flowers that you grew just for me,” Frodo said. “And so do you. Blue cornflowers.” He smiled. “The ceremony is quick. We just make the same promises we’ve already made a thousand times. And you kiss me, and everyone claps.” 

“Then what?” asked Sam in a dry croak, because the air was so hot at this point he could hardly draw it into his lungs.

“Then there is music,” Frodo said. “Flutes and fiddles. And we dance.” He scooted down so his face was next to Sam’s, so they were looking at each other. His breath on Sam’s lips the only moisture left in the world. His eyes, clear like a cloudless day. In this place that was all fire and ash, Sam would have forgotten the color blue altogether, if it wasn't for Frodo's eyes.

“I’m not very good at dancing,” Sam whispered. 

“I am,” said Frodo. He tucked his chin down to cough, and then looked back to Sam. “I can lead. I’ll show you what to do, my dear, and I know you’ll pick it up quickly.” 

“Thank you,” said Sam. Drops of molten rock spattered his arm, so hot it was somehow cold. “It sounds lovely.”

He ran a hand along Frodo’s cheek. No one would know they had lain here, or what they said. No one would know how this love had felt except for the two of them, and soon it would all be over. If there were songs, they would be about grand deeds and heroes and battles, not how the two of them were in love. Sam knew that.

But it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered outside this island, shrinking into the river of fire, and the two of them, and the quickly passing moment. The future dwindling like a spent candle. Dying with love, dying together; that was better than a song.

He wanted to say this to Frodo. It felt important; like he had discovered the point of everything, the biggest secret in the world, something not even the Ring, not even Galadriel, not even Gandalf knew. But the heat was making him so tired, and Frodo’s eyes were already closed. He was clever. He’d probably already figured it out.

So Sam just touched his brow to Frodo’s and waited for the next thing.

Chapter Text

Death was the ground becoming distant. Death was a cold rushing river of wind. Later, death was being carried in someone’s arms, and voices around him that he couldn’t quite make out. One sounded like Gandalf. 

Death was lying in bed, alone, with morning sunlight filtering through curtains. 

Slowly, Sam began to realize that this might not be death after all. After all, one would hope that dying meant an end to pain, but various parts of him ached very badly. And he was hungry. 

He tried to piece together his memories, but the last thing he could remember was being with Frodo, and Frodo was not here.

He half-fell out of bed, feeling as weak as a kitten. There was a little table next to the bed, and a silver pitcher, and Sam grabbed it and gulped at clean water and spilled half of it down his front. 

“Frodo,” he called out, voice raspy, and then noticed a door and rushed it. A second before opening he turned back and grabbed the pitcher; it was not a good weapon but he felt vulnerable without something in hand.

Outside the room was a long white hallway with many doors. “ Frodo ,” he yelled, and took off running down the hall and clanging the pitcher on the stone walls, because he couldn’t think of what else to do. Everything tilted dizzyingly so that he almost ran head-first into an archway, but he caught himself, turned a corner - 

And Gandalf the wizard was standing there. He seemed taller than Sam remembered; but maybe that was because Sam’s legs were wobbling concerningly. 

“Now I know I’ve gone and died,” Sam said, black spots flooding his eyes. And he would have fallen, but Gandalf swooped in at the last moment and scooped him up.

“Back to bed with you, Master Gamgee,” he said with definite amusement. Sam squeezed his eyes shut because the motion made him dizzy, and the next thing he knew Gandalf had dumped him back in the bed.

“Frodo,” he mumbled. 

“I see you have not changed,” Gandalf said.

“But did he die too?” Sam asked, thickly now because exhaustion was tugging at him again.

“Remarkable creatures, hobbits.” His voice was from far away now. “There's still hope for him.” And Sam didn’t remember anything else for a while. 

“It’s going to go cold, and then it will be wasted. Might as well.”


“He won’t know if a bit is gone!”

“How can you still be hungry?”

Sam frowned. He definitely recognized those voices, but his eyelids felt so heavy.

“Hsst! You’ll wake him!”

“Isn’t that why we’re here?”

There was a smell, too. Broth and herbs and warmth. This, more than the voices, made Sam struggle up in bed, rubbing at his eyes. There were two gasps. And when he blinked away sleep, he saw it was twilight, and Merry and Pippin were perched at the end of his bed.

Pippin was holding a steaming mug. “Good morning!” he said brightly. “Well, evening.”

“We brought you broth,” Merry said, and elbowed Pippin, who set the mug down on Sam’s bedside table guiltily. “We told the Healers that you’d want something a bit more substantial, but they insisted. They don’t know about hobbits here.”

Sam stared at them. He opened his mouth to say something - he didn’t know what - and burst into tears instead.

“Steady on!” said Pippin in alarm. 

“Am I dead ,” Sam said thickly, and Merry scooted down the bed so he could pat Sam’s shoulder. 

“You’re in Minas Tirith, and you’re quite alive,” he said kindly. “And you’ve been asleep for, how long has it been, Pip?”

“Two days,” said Pippin. “Gandalf mentioned you were running about this morning, so we’ve been waiting for you to get up properly.”

“But Gandalf died in the mines,” Sam said. He didn’t know how to believe that anything was going right when he was so used to everything going wrong. 

“Yes, we thought so for a while too,” Pippin said. “But he’s definitely alive, and as grumpy as ever! Quite a lot has happened while you and Frodo were traipsing across Mordor.”

“Frodo,” Sam said, scrubbing at his eyes so he could look at them. “Sirs, where is he?”

Pippin looked down, and Merry bit his lip. 

“He hasn't woken yet,” Merry said. “He was in a bad way when they brought him here. Much closer to dead than alive, if you must know.”

“But Gandalf is taking care of him, and so is Aragorn,” Pippin interrupted. “And the Healers are very clever, for tall folk. They got him to drink some water this morning and his heart is finally beating right.”

Sam swallowed. “Can I see him?”

“They won’t let us in,” Merry said. “They just say he needs to rest.”

Tears trickled from Sam’s eyes. He wanted to believe them, but he wouldn’t until he saw Frodo for himself.

Merry picked up the mug and thrust it at him. “Drink up, and we can tell you all you’ve missed.”

Sam realized he was very hungry. The broth was thin but full of good herbs, and he tried to stop from gulping it as Merry and Pippin talked. Oliphaunts, walking trees, wizard battles - it all seemed like a bedtime story, but he could tell from the details that they had really been there. And they looked different - both taller, Merry with a mostly-healed scar on his forehead, Pippin’s face thinner and older somehow. Sam wondered if he looked different to them too. 

“...then there was a terrific rumbling, and the tower with the Eye on it began to fall, and all the orcs started running away! And the mountain exploded in fire, and we were sure that meant you two were done for, but Gandalf got that look in his eyes and spoke to the main Eagle, I think his name is Gwahir, and sent him flying off into the cloud of smoke,” Pippin was saying.

“Gandalf wouldn’t answer any of our questions, but as we were riding back here we saw two Eagles flying overhead. And by the time we got to Minas Tirith, you and Frodo were already being tended to. And that about wraps it up,” Merry finished. “Oh, but we should let you rest, shouldn’t we?” 

Sam shook his head. “It’s very good to hear friendly voices,” he said. He didn’t think he would be able to sleep, not with worry for Frodo biting his insides. “So things really are alright? We did it?”

“That’s what you’ll have to tell us, Sam lad,” said Merry, resettling on the bed. Pippin looked curiously at Sam.

“Yes, now it’s your turn,” he said. “We’ve heard a bit from Faramir, and Gandalf has guessed some more, but only you and Frodo know what really happened.”

Sam looked down. It all felt like a box that he wanted to keep locked. Frodo telling him to go home. Finding him and thinking he was dead. The spider, and the tower, and the way the Eye had looked at every part of him, and the long thirsty climb.

And how Frodo had failed when it mattered most. How Sam had been sure he was gone forever. Gollum, and the sound he made when he hit the molten rock. The place where they’d lain and waited for death. It had been horrible, and messy, and not right for a tale. 

Sam cleared his throat and rubbed his eyes on the shoulder of his nightshirt. “Ah, I’ll wait for Frodo to wake, if that’s alright,” he said. “I’d only bungle the telling.”

“Oh, give us a hint,” said Pippin with evident disappointment.

“I actually am a bit tired,” Sam said. “So, Frodo is near here?” 

“Right next door,” said Pippin. “You’ll be the first to hear if he wakes.”

Sam thanked them, pretended to yawn, and curled up in the bed. But as soon as Merry and Pippin had left, he snuck into the hall. 

The door was unlocked and the room was very dark, except for a window covered in a thick curtain. Sam crept in quietly and went to the bed. The blankets were bunched up and it hardly looked like anyone was in them, except for a few dark curls peeking out of the coverlet.

His heart pounded hard in his chest. He didn’t want to wake Frodo, but he needed to hear him breathing, as badly as he’d needed water in Mordor. So he bent over the bed and put his ear close to the blankets.

“Ahem,” said a voice, and Sam near leapt out of his skin. A shape stood up from the darkest corner of the room and drew back the curtain on the window, and Sam saw Gandalf’s bushy eyebrows.

“Sorry, sir,” he whispered, backing towards the door awkwardly. “I just - ”

“Settle down, Samwise,” Gandalf said quietly. “I was wondering when you’d find your way in here.”

Sam stepped forward again. He could see the tip of Frodo’s ear poking out of the blanket and wanted very badly to climb into bed and hold him. But that wouldn’t be helpful.

“Is it alright if I stay for a bit,” he whispered. “I’d just like to make sure he keeps breathing.”

“I think you’ve earned that privilege,” said Gandalf. “That’s why I’m here, after all.”

So Gandalf sat back down in his corner, and Sam settled on the floor and propped his chin on the bed. He could see the coverlet moving up and down slowly. 

"When will he wake?" he asked quietly. Gandalf only sighed deeply, so Sam asked the real question. “And will he be himself?” Gandalf did not respond for so long that he wondered if he’d actually spoken aloud or just thought.

“The Ring is corrosive, and these events are unprecedented,” he said at last. “Only you know how much Frodo lost himself. And only time will tell if he is able to come back.”

Sam swallowed, thinking of Frodo’s eyes when he took the Ring. The way all the blue had gone out of them. “I just want him to wake. I know it will come right, as long as he wakes.”

City light shone through the window, but the moon and stars did too, and after a while the words on his arm began to glow faintly. If Gandalf noticed he didn’t say anything. And eventually, lulled by Frodo’s smooth breath, Sam fell asleep where he sat. 

Frodo woke several days later. Sam was in his room, having his bandages changed, when he heard laughter from next door. 

His Healer was a kind Man with grey eyes and gentle hands, and he raised his eyebrows at the sound. “Sounds like someone is up,” he said. Sam looked pleadingly at him and he laughed. “Go on, then.”

They were all in there, Merry and Pippin perched on the bed babbling something and Gandalf laughing and Legolas and Gimli and Strider standing quiet and smiling. And Frodo, sitting up in bed with color in his cheeks.

Sam paused in the doorway, suddenly shy, because he didn’t know what he would see when Frodo looked at him. But Frodo spotted him, and grew quiet as their eyes met, and Sam couldn't help but smile because that was him, his Frodo, returned to him and awake and alive. He patted the bed with a bandaged hand and a nervous smile, and Sam was at his side in an instant. And ignoring everyone else, Frodo threw his arms around Sam and buried his face in his neck. 

“You’re well?” he murmured in his ear. 

“Better now,” Sam said, and Frodo pulled back and kissed him in front of everyone. 

“Oh, get a room,” said Pippin, as Sam blushed and stared at the blankets. Frodo batted at Pippin with a pillow. 

“This is my room,” he said. 

“Yes, and this has been enough excitement for the young lad,” said a Healer from the doorway. “Out! All of you!” 

“She thinks I’m a child,” Frodo muttered to Sam, as the rest of them trooped out.

“Even you, Mithrandir,” said the Healer, and Gandalf winked at them and walked out. 

“Should I go?” Sam asked, feeling awkward. 

“No,” said Frodo, grabbing his hand. “Please, Elwing.” 

The Healer rolled her eyes. “Mithrandir warned me about you two.” She pointed sternly at Sam. “Make sure he drinks some broth, then some water, and then let him sleep.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Sam said nervously, and she left them alone. 

Frodo curled into Sam’s chest at once. He was so thin, the bones of his back standing out through the white nightshirt, that Sam was afraid he would do damage if he hugged him as tight as he wanted. So he contented himself with running his hands over Frodo, checking his head for cuts and then the healing skin around his neck. “What are you doing,” Frodo murmured into his neck.

“Making sure you are all in one piece,” Sam said, fingers skimming feather light over the scabs and scars on Frodo’s shins. 

“I’m not,” said Frodo, and Sam pulled back. “My hand, I mean. I seem to have lost a finger.”

Sam dropped his head and kissed Frodo’s bandaged hand, very gently. “Does it hurt?”

“Yes,” said Frodo. “But not as much as you’d think.” He looked at Sam’s face searchingly. “They say it looks like a bite, but I can’t remember what happened,” he whispered, and suddenly his mouth trembled and his eyes grew scared. “Sam, Gandalf told me I destroyed the Ring and we won and the war is over, but everything on the mountain is terribly confused in my mind. All I remember is fire, so much fire, and - was someone else there? It’s all muddled.”

“Ssh,” said Sam, the knowledge settling into him heavily. He was the only one who knew what happened on the mountain, and he did not want to burden Frodo with it.

“I remember lying on the rock with you, and realizing it was done,” Frodo said. “And...I remember what we talked about.”

“Good,” said Sam, and kissed Frodo on the forehead. “Now, you must drink something, or that Healer will have my hide.”

Frodo nodded, and reached for the bedside table, and yawned into the mug of broth. “Will you stay with me?” 

Sam nodded. He didn’t quite have words to say how he felt. “I’ll always stay with you,” he said simply, and that would have to be enough.

He settled against the headboard with a pillow, and Frodo curled up in his lap. “Just like in Rivendell, when you were so bold,” Sam said, running his hand through Frodo’s hair. “Do you remember that at least?”

“Of course,” Frodo said into his leg. He sucked in a shuddering breath. “But Sam, won't you tell me what happened? I can’t shake the feeling that - that something went wrong.”

Sam bit his lip. He wouldn't tell Frodo. Not yet, at least. 

“Naught went wrong,” he said. “I carried you part of the way to the top, and you threw the thing in, and it melted to nothing. The songs will tell the tale better than I ever could.”

Frodo nodded. “You must be right,” he murmured, sleep in his voice now. “Because we’re here now, and everything is well.” 

And that was the truth of it, even if Sam kept a few details back. He smoothed Frodo’s hair and let himself watch Frodo until they both fell into sleep.


Chapter Text

The days that followed were hazy, slowly healing injuries and endless naps curled against each other interrupted only by Healers and visiting friends. Being close to Frodo, and clean, and quiet, and safe; it was so sweet that sometimes Sam still wondered if he was dead or dreaming. 

He avoided the question of what had happened on the mountain, and hoped he would never have to tell the tale. He couldn’t say why, except that it had all been so awful and he did not want to see Frodo unhappy. And why did anyone need to know that Frodo had given in to the Ring, back when it had mattered most? The thing had been destroyed, one way or another. 

“I wonder if Gollum made it out,” Frodo wondered aloud one day as they were tucking into elevenses. The Healers seemed to think that injured people needed only broth, but Merry and Pippin had snuck them a meat pie.

“I bet that spider ate him,” Pippin said excitedly. Sam looked at his lap and folded his napkin in half, then in quarters.

“He was too clever for that, I think,” Frodo mused. “But I don’t know if he could have survived the Ring going into the fire.”

“Wouldn’t it have been good for him to have it gone?” Merry asked. Sam did not like how Merry and Pippin talked about Gollum, like he was just a character from Bilbo’s stories. They didn’t know what it had been like. 

“I don’t know,” Frodo said. “But it’s a nice thought. That he’s out there somewhere, and finally free.”

“It’s not,” Sam blurted out, and blushed and took a big bite of pie. Frodo raised his eyebrows at him, and he swallowed hastily. “I just don’t like to think of him sneaking back and bothering you. That’s all. I’m pretty sure he’s dead.”

“You’re probably right,” said Frodo, and Sam resolved not to mention Gollum again as the conversation turned to lighter things.

He felt guilty. But it never seemed like the right moment. Maybe when they were back in the Shire, away from Mordor. When they’d stepped out of the story and gone back to normal life. He would tell him then.

It should have been all relief. But after many months of looking for enemies everywhere, Sam had trouble letting the instinct go. When Frodo was elsewhere, even just in the washroom, he felt uneasy until he came back. When he was sleeping, he studied his breathing. When he was awake, he carefully watched his face. Sometimes Frodo laughed and talked like normal, and sometimes he stared into the distance and touched the place where the Ring had hung and didn’t hear when Sam spoke.

Loud noises and raised voices made both of them startle. And Sam would wake at night to find Frodo’s breath hissing through clenched teeth as he struggled with something in his dreams. Sam was pretty sure he fought in his sleep too, because often he would wake with an angry yell on his lips and his fists clenched. 

This happened once, a dream of Gollum leering and cavorting just out of reach, and when Sam woke properly Frodo was not there. Fear gripped him, but he tried to quell it. They weren’t on the road anymore. They were safe. 

But anxiety got the better of good sense, so he got up and went looking. The Houses of Healing were built in a ring around a grassy sward, and eventually Sam discovered Frodo pacing back and forth in the hazy light before dawn. 

“I can leave if you want to be alone,” he said, startling Frodo, whose eyes looked a thousand leagues away. But in the next moment he smiled at Sam.

“That’s alright,” he said. “It’s just that I find myself wanting to walk. Isn’t that strange? We walked across Middle-Earth but my feet are still restless.”

Sam fell into step alongside him. “A body gets used to a certain way of doing things,” he said. “But we’ll have plenty of walking on the road home.”

“Hm,” said Frodo, looking up at the sky, stars winking out as light grew in the East. “I can hardly remember home. Is that strange?”

Sam’s heart sank but he tried not to show it. “It’s been a while. But you’ll remember quickly enough once we’re back.”

Frodo nodded, thinking, then turned and linked his little finger around Sam’s. “Do you know what day it is?”

“Lor’,” said Sam, frowning. “I’ve gone and lost track. They use a different calendar here.” Frodo smiled to himself, rather mysteriously. “Why, what day is it?”

“I’ll tell you later,” Frodo said. “Would you like to watch the Sun rise with me?” 

So they sat on the outermost wall of the sixth circle of the city and dangled their legs over the edge. Outside the city was a vast field, still showing signs of a battle that had been fought there. Beyond was a river, and then a line of jagged mountains. Though Sam had seen them much closer and from a different angle, he still recognized the border of Mordor.

Sam did not like seeing Mordor, in fact had made a point of avoiding East-facing windows in the city. The memories were too much. But sitting here with Frodo as the sky lightened, it looked almost peaceful.

Frodo rested his head on Sam’s shoulder and took his hand. “Do you remember how you said once you wanted to stop and just stay in a moment? Before Moria, by the river, when we…”

“Yes,” Sam said, blushing as he remembered. Mithril shining in the sunset, a distraction, Frodo’s hands on him.  

“I wish we could stay in this moment,” Frodo said quietly.

“I don’t,” Sam said. “For the first time in a long while there’s naught but good to look forward to.” Frodo was quiet, and Sam put an arm around him. 

“You’re right, of course,” he said finally, and sighed. 

“You’re still recovering,” Sam said, rubbing Frodo’s back. “And it’ll get easier when we’re out of these strange parts, and back somewhere familiar. Now come on, let’s find some early breakfast.”

“I can think of something better than breakfast,” Frodo said. He grabbed Sam’s hand and, if there had been a troubled look in his face, it was replaced with a mischievous smile. 

“Interesting,” Sam said, allowing himself to be pulled. “Now what could be better than breakfast?”

Back in the room, they fell into bed and Frodo nuzzled up against Sam’s neck and slipped an arm around him. “Wait,” said Sam, and got up and put a chair in front of the door, since it did not lock and Elwing had a habit of checking on them at unexpected times.

When he turned back, Frodo had shrugged out of his nightshirt and was looking at him with an odd light in his eyes. He was still so thin, and the scar on his shoulder stood out darkly. Sam felt flustered. They had not done anything like this since before Mordor. “Are you sure,” he asked, climbing into bed.

Frodo bumped his forehead against Sam’s. “Things are a little confused in my head right now,” he murmured. “But I know I love you. And I want you to feel good.”

He tilted his head to kiss Sam, deep and somehow thoughtful, and Sam gave into the aching sweetness of it. He sat back to strip off his nightshirt, and Frodo ran a hand down his chest and across his stomach. “Strong hobbit,” he said, and flopped against the pillows and pulled Sam on top of him. 

Sam was still unsure. When they had done this in the past Frodo took charge, and Sam had held back because he knew there were ways Frodo did not want to be touched. But now Frodo was soft and pliant under him and he wasn’t sure what was right.

“What do you want,” Sam asked uncertainly, after kissing Frodo so that they both were flushed and his heart pounded in his chest. 

“Just to not think for a bit,” Frodo said against his lips. And when Sam still hesitated, Frodo guided his hand to the small of his back and pressed himself up against Sam. “I want you to take what you want from me. Please.”

Sam grinned, and growled against Frodo’s neck. “You don’t have to tell me twice.” The memory of the Eye echoed in his mind, scornful, but it was faint and easily pushed away. The Eye was gone, and Frodo was here, and if Sam only held him tight enough he would stay.

Morning bells were ringing in the city when Sam finished. His desire, what Frodo called his fire, had been dormant for a long time, but now it was awake and he could have stayed in bed all day. But there were people moving about in the hall outside and he was nervous of someone coming in.

Frodo, flushed all over and bitten in several places, twisted in his arms and kissed behind Sam’s ear. “Was that good, my love?” 

Sam nodded. “Mm-hm. I missed that very much.” He felt suddenly nervous. “But if I went too far - ”

“Ssh,” said Frodo, and put a hand to his lips. “I just want to give you everything today.”

“Why today,” mumbled Sam against his fingers. His stomach rumbled loudly. 

Frodo laughed. “Poor thing, and all you wanted was breakfast. Come on, let’s find something.”

What is so special about today?” Sam asked doggedly, pulling on his trousers. The Healers had thrown out their ragged journeying clothes, and his new garb fit a bit oddly - Sam suspected they were meant for children - but were certainly better than nightshirts. 

Frodo just smiled, fixing Sam’s collar and kissing him on the nose. “Wash up and come with me.”

Frodo led him by the hand, not to the dining hall but outside. And on the grass, a woven blanket had been spread and piled with all types of food, and Merry and Pippin were waiting for them. 

“What’s all this for,” said Sam. He hadn’t seen a feast like this since they’d left the Shire.

“Happy birthday!” Merry and Pippin shouted together, and Frodo turned and kissed him on the cheek. 

“Happy birthday, Sam,” he said. 

“It is?” Sam asked, feeling disoriented and counting on his fingers. 

“The sixth of April, by Shire calendars,” said Frodo. Sam felt shy and pleased and embarrassed, and sat down heavily on the blanket. Pippin poured him a mug of milky tea from a canteen and he sipped at it. “I haven’t misremembered, have I?” Frodo asked worriedly. 

“No, you’re right,” said Sam. “I’m forty today. I didn’t know you knew.”

The truth was that no one had done anything like this for him before, and he didn’t know how to respond. But he mumbled thanks and set into the spread, feeling tender and taken care of. 

They stayed there for most of the day, putting away food in the way that only hobbits were capable of. Legolas and Gimli came by around noon, Gimli toting a cask of ale on his shoulder. “As thanks for all the meals you cooked us, lad,” he said, setting it at Sam’s feet. “These Men don’t brew proper malt, but it’s better than naught.”

“You enjoyed it well enough last night,” Legolas said, raising his eyebrows. “That’s why we weren’t here earlier,” he said, leaning towards them with eyes sparkling. “The dwarf had to sleep it off.”

“Ach,” grumbled Gimli, settling himself on the ground. “What’s the point of fighting battles but to celebrate after.” And to Sam’s surprise, Legolas folded to the ground and leaned against Gimli’s legs affectionately. 

“Looks like they became friends after all,” he muttered to Frodo, who nodded and patted him on the back. 

They told traveling stories, and Merry taught them a war song from Rohan that also worked as a drinking song, and then Elwing heard their singing from a balcony and yelled at Frodo and Sam to get back to bed. But they were feeling rambunctious, so instead they ran into the city. The Men gave their group odd looks, but with Gimli and Legolas accompanying them Sam felt quite safe. 

Pippin had signed up for the tower guard at some point, which seemed ridiculous but meant he could access the mess hall. So as the afternoon grew old, they ended up gathered around a long table with Men, drinking wine and toasting each other.

“To Frodo of the Nine Fingers,” Pippin called, splashing half his glass on the floor. Merry laughed and clapped Frodo on the back. 

There was an instant where Sam saw Frodo’s face flash to fear and confusion and anger. Where he looked like he might turn and hit Merry. But he must have imagined it, because in the next moment Frodo just shook his head and lifted his own mug. “To my dear Samwise the Brave, who is forty today,” he called. Sam grinned. He had imagined it, and the drink rushed to his head all at once and made him feel silly and cheerful and free of worries.

“And to the happy couple,” bellowed Gimli, with a guffaw that ended in a hiccup. Legolas shook his head at Gimli, covering a smile with his hand. Pippin grabbed one of his guard friends and tried to convince him to arm wrestle, and Frodo slipped his hand into Sam’s.

“Was this a good birthday?” he asked. 

“The best so far,” Sam said. “But for one thing.”

“What’s that,” Frodo asked. “We can go back to the room, if you want to - ”

“Not that,” said Sam with a laugh. “I was just remembering. It’s just a tradition I started with my ma when I was small, planting a sunflower on my birthday. A sunflower for a sunny year , as she used to say, and I usually bring one to her grave as well.” Frodo blinked and looked down. “Don’t worry,” said Sam. “I’ll just plant one when I’m back.” 

Merry grabbed Sam from behind. “We need you out there!” Sam turned and saw Pippin cradling his arm and the guard looking guilty. 

“Two halflings against one Man this time, it’s only fair!” Merry called. “Me and Samwise, the most fearsomest of hobbits!” 

“Go,” said Frodo, flashing a smile. “Uphold your reputation.” So Sam let himself be pulled away. He and Merry did win against the guard, although Sam suspected he let them. And they toasted again, and one of the guards took out a flute and started playing a dancing song, and Gimli broke into a dwarvish jig while Legolas laughed at him. It was so much happiness, all at once, that Sam felt light headed, and he spun back to the table resolved to pull Frodo into a dance even though he did not know how.

But Frodo was nowhere to be seen.

The sun was going down and the streets of Minas Tirith were already in shadow as Sam stumbled out of the mess hall. Drink made his feet clumsy and pushed him forward, sure that Frodo would be around this corner, or the next. 

It was not very long before he got lost. Piles of houses on top of each other, everything made of white and black stone, tall folk looking at him with frowns, and not a scrap of green anywhere to be seen; he began to feel rather nervous. He leaned against a wall and tried to assess and avoid being noticed. He had the horrible feeling that he was somehow back on the stair into Mordor, trying to catch up with Frodo, and that once again he would be too late. But he dug his hands into his eyes, trying to push away those thoughts, and when that didn’t work he found a horse trough and dunked his head in it.

Cold water cleared his head somewhat. Had Frodo gone back to the room? Perhaps, but there was another place Sam wanted to check first.

He hadn’t realized how afraid he actually was until he did see Frodo, perched on the battlements and looking out at Mordor as the sunset painted the mountains with golden light. He jogged down to him in relief.

“Very sneaky, Mister Baggins,” he said, trying not to let the fear into his voice. “Was it a bit loud for you in there? I needed a breather too.”

Frodo looked at him, and smiled distantly, and looked back out. Birds floated on the air, casting long shadows that stretched like pillars to the plain. It was quiet after the mess hall, and Sam wondered if they were still dancing, wondered if he could convince Frodo to go back.

“Would you like to live here?”

Sam frowned. “In Gondor?” He thought of the chilly stone city he’d just hurried through. “No one has a proper garden. And everything’s too big.”

Frodo nodded, and bit his lip, his eyes far away. Lingering on the mountains of Mordor. “Do you...want to live here?” Sam asked, scared of the answer.

“Oh, not here specifically,” Frodo said lightly. “We could travel. Rohan, Mirkwood, those caves Gimli keeps talking about. Anywhere you wanted.”

“But I just want to go back to the Shire,” said Sam. 

Frodo nodded again, and still wouldn’t look at Sam. And it was only when Sam caught a hitch in his breath that he realized Frodo was crying.

“Frodo,” he said, fear rushing into his throat. “Frodo, please don’t cry, please, what is it?”  

Frodo just shook his head, sunlight catching on the tear-tracks. Sam tried to pull him into a hug.

“I don’t think I can go back,” Frodo said finally. 

Sam bit his lip. This was what he’d been afraid of, all of it, and found himself wishing he had stayed in the hall with the laughter and music. But that would have meant Frodo would have been sitting out here thinking these thoughts all alone.

“I know it doesn’t make sense,” Frodo said, struggling to speak clearly. “But I feel as though I died in Mordor. And I can’t quite figure out how I could ever go home, because the person who used to live there is gone.”

Sam kept very still. He didn’t want Frodo to say this aloud. But not wanting it to be so didn’t change it. 

“Sam,” Frodo said, and dug his hands into his hair. “I keep having dreams that don’t make sense. I know there’s more that happened on the mountain.”

Sam swallowed. “” He was unwilling. If he never spoke the truth, and he was the only one who knew it, it was easy to pretend it wasn’t real. But something was tearing Frodo apart, and hiding the truth had not protected him from it.

“I’m sorry I haven’t told you earlier,” he said, clearing his throat as Frodo wiped his eyes and pulled back to look at him. “I hope you can forgive me.” 

So he told the story, and hoped he would never have to tell it again. Gollum, and the Ring, and how Frodo had failed. How he had turned from the ledge, and his eyes had been empty, and his lip had curled until his face was unrecognizable. How he had put on the Ring. How Gollum had gnawed it from his finger. How even then, all Frodo had tried to do was kill Gollum and reclaim the thing.

“I remember lying on the rock,” Frodo said in a cold small voice when he was done. He wouldn’t look up from his lap, from his poor injured hand. “How did I get there?”

Sam cleared his throat again. This part was the hardest. “You wanted to go into the fire,” he said. “But I wouldn’t let you.”

“You never give up on me,” Frodo said, shaking his head. He didn’t sound angry as Sam had feared; just tired and sad and old, which was somehow worse.

Estel ,” Sam whispered, his heart hurting. “I’m not about to start.”

“I just don’t think I can go back,” Frodo said again. 

“What about all this,” Sam said, trying not to sound like a petulant child. “Everything today, birthdays and friends and kindness. Wasn’t this lovely? We could keep doing it like this for the rest of our lives.”

But Frodo shook his head. “I was trying to give you one really good day,” he said, voice wavering. “Because you deserve it. I suppose I couldn't do that, either.”

“But,” said Sam, and his voice cracked so that he had to whisper the last part. “But you said you would marry me.”

“I know,” said Frodo. He looked up, finally caught Sam’s eyes. “I meant it. But I also thought I was dead.” Sam squeezed his eyes shut. Frodo shuffled closer on the battlement and pressed his cheek to Sam’s. “I just need you to know how it is,” he said. “I’m sorry. I wish it wasn’t.”

Sam nodded. Pulling himself together. Frodo was telling him the truth, but no one, not even Gandalf, could see the future. Frodo couldn't know for sure how things would be until they happened.

“In the mountain,” he said, clearing his throat. “When it came down to it, when you wanted to let go. I asked you to reach for me, and you did.” Frodo was quiet. “So won’t you at least try?”

Frodo slumped so his forehead rested on Sam’s chest. Let out a long and weary sigh. “Alright,” he said. “For you, Sam. But I can’t promise forever.”

Sam nodded. Letting certain things that he had dared hope for fall away, become impossible. Looking at what was left behind. “It’s like when I loved you from afar,” he said finally. 

“How so,” Frodo murmured. Sam looked at the mountains, at the land that had stolen so much from them both. 

“I suppose I never truly believed I could have you, have all of you,” he said, realizing the truth as the words came out. “But I will take whatever you can give me. Every time.”

Chapter Text

Strider was crowned King. He married Arwen in front of the assembled Fellowship and all of Minas Tirith; and Sam felt a sting of jealousy even though it was a beautiful ceremony. Then all the gathered people knelt to honor the hobbits, and Frodo looked caught and trapped and reached for Sam’s hand. 

And finally, they began to pack for the long road home. 

Gimli and Legolas came with them part of the way, and Gandalf too. Sam had not been looking forward to more traveling, but Strider gave them a wagon and ponies so they were well provisioned, and without a dire quest or enemies to avoid it was actually quite pleasant. They sang as they walked, and told stories, and only went as far as they felt like each day. 

“This is nice,” Frodo murmured into Sam’s chest one night, the fire embers next to them and Gimli’s snores rattling the campsite. “Seeing the country now the Shadow has been lifted. The birds are singing louder, and the sun is brighter somehow.”

“It’s going to be a lovely summer,” Sam said. “Thanks to you.”

“And you,” Frodo said. “You were a Ringbearer too.”

“For a bit,” Sam said. “Do you think they’ll care about all that back home?”

“I hope not,” Frodo said. “I hope they never know how much danger they were in.” He sighed, and settled deeper into Sam’s arms. “We are the only ones who will ever really know.” 

And Sam tried not to think about the future, because Frodo was in his arms and it was sweet to hold him. Sweet to watch his face during the day, eyes sparkling as he watched the changing road. He was better traveling than he had been idling in Minas Tirith, brighter and talkative and full of laughter. So although Sam wanted to be home very badly, he set a slow pace, because this was sweet. 

Legolas and Gimli split off from their party at a crossroads to fulfill some promise they’d made to each other. “We’ll be stopping by the Shire eventually,” Gimli told them. “My father had much to say of the hospitality of Bag End.”

“You will be welcome,” Frodo said formally, kissing him on the cheek and then Legolas. 

Sam waved goodbye from the wagon, where he was picking a rock out of one of the ponies’ shoes, but to his surprise Legolas ran over on light feet and crouched next to him so they were at eye level.

The elf rarely spoke, and almost never to Sam, but he put a hand on Sam’s shoulder now and looked at him with bark-brown eyes. “I owe you thanks,” he said.

“Oh,” said Sam stupidly. “Begging your pardon, but for what?”

Legolas looked over at Gimli, who was struggling to get up from where Merry and Pippin had tackled him with a goodbye hug. “The two of you reminded me of a kind of love I had long forgotten. And you sent my dwarf to speak to me, many months ago.”

Sam remembered suddenly getting Gimli to ask Legolas to hunt for them, when they had just left Rivendell, and laughed. “I just wanted something hot in the pot.”

Legolas smiled so his eyes crinkled. “Little do we know how our deeds will unfold. The favor of the Woodland Realm is with you, should ever you need it.”

And he took Sam’s hand in his, and put something in it - a flat leaf carved out of bone, or maybe a light hard wood. “Show that token to any elf, and they will understand,” Legolas said, and stood and went swiftly back to Gimli. 

Sam put the leaf in his pocket and buttoned it. He wasn’t sure what it was but he intended to keep it safe. “You know,” he said to Frodo as they watched Legolas and Gimli vanish into the distance, “I think they might be together. The way we are.” He laughed. “An elf and a dwarf, fancy that!”

“Oh, my dear Sam,” Frodo said, looking at him with a funny smile. “How I love you.”

They passed through Bree, and stayed at the Prancing Pony again, and Pippin finally got to finish a Man-sized pint of ale. Sam sipped at his own and sighed happily; a fine stout, better than the thin bitter stuff they drank in Minas Tirith. “We’re almost home. You can tell from the quality of the ale.”

“And that is my cue to leave you,” Gandalf said. “I can rest easy knowing you’ve made it to the bounds of your land.”

“Oh, no ,” said Pippin in dismay. 

“Will we ever see you again?” Merry asked, equally distraught.

“I’m sure you will,” Gandalf said. “Someone must keep an eye on the Shire, especially with its chief fool returning.”

“That’s not a very nice thing to say about Samwise,” Pippin said.

“He’s not talking about Sam,” Merry muttered. 

Sam didn’t pay them attention; he was looking at Frodo, whose eyes had dropped to the table at this news. 

“Frodo?” Gandalf asked. 

“I’d hoped you’d come all the way back with us,” Frodo said, almost too quietly to hear over the rowdy bar.

“I know,” said Gandalf kindly. “But you must go the last step without me.”

Must it be the last?” Frodo asked, unhappily, and Merry and Pippin turned to look at him. 

“For now,” Gandalf said, and put his large hand over Frodo’s small one. “But let’s not spend the night in grief.”

So they ordered another round of ale to take back to their rooms, and opened the windows and smoked the good pipe-weed Merry had picked up in town, and Gandalf taught them how to blow shapes with the smoke. Frodo leaned against Sam on the small daybed and sang an old silly song of Bilbo’s. Sam’s eyes were drooping even though he did not want to sleep, when Frodo and Gandalf went out for a stroll under the stars. 

“How are you doing, Samwise,” Merry said, hopping on the daybed next to Sam.

“Well enough,” he said. “Very ready to be home.”

“We were wondering,” Merry said, and Pippin caught notice of them and came over too. “Will you two be together when we go back, or not? If you want we can be discreet about everything, or at least I can.”

“I have never spoken out of turn once in my life,” protested Pippin. 

Sam looked down at his hands. He knew Merry meant well enough, but anger and frustration rose in him like a tide. 

“Just tell us what you prefer, lad,” Merry said amiably, patting him on the shoulder, and Sam stood up quickly. They were almost home, and Merry and Pippin were not just companions on the road but Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took , future Master of Buckland and Thain of the Shire. They were his betters, and he could not speak against them.

“I am not worried about that,” he said finally. “Nor is Frodo.”

“He seems worried about something,” Pippin mused.

“Not that.”

It was just that the world had seemed so big when they were out in it, but as they got closer to home it became smaller, and so did he, and so did his hopes. Of course he would never marry Frodo under the Party Tree, or if he did his family would not be there and it would not go in the record-books. He knew that. He’d always known that.

But still he wanted to go back; wanted so badly to feel the grass under his feet and the garden dirt between his fingers and the voices of people who were familiar. Wanted to wake up in a proper size bed with a list of chores he knew how to accomplish and to fall asleep in the same bed at the end of the day. 

He couldn’t explain how it felt, being torn apart like that. How the two dreams of being with Frodo and being home had merged into one dream when he was far away and dying of thirst and pain; but the closer he got to home the farther apart they grew.

“You can tell people whatever you like,” he said finally, thickly. “I intend to be with him as long as he lets me, and I will not lie about it.”

“Right,” Merry said.

Pippin put a surprisingly gentle hand on Sam’s shoulder. “You know we’re there for you, for both of you, no matter what.” Sam turned to look at him. Pippin had grown on the journey, more than Sam realized. His face was serious now, and kind. 

“Thank you,” Sam said, touching Pippin’s hand. “It will be odd to go back, won’t it?”

“Indeed,” Pippin said. “Now, what do you all say to some sleep? We can rise early-ish and be in Buckland by night tomorrow.”

Sam waited in the parlor for Frodo to come back, but sleep must have caught up to him because he woke to the fire burning low and Frodo touching his shoulder. “What are you doing out here?”

“M’waiting for you,” Sam mumbled, and let Frodo lead him to bed. “What did Gandalf say?”

Frodo climbed into bed next to him and pulled the blankets over them. “Take off your trousers, silly hobbit. We just talked about the future, what he's doing now. Things I’m afraid of. He had some...words of comfort.”

Sam snuggled his head under Frodo’s chin. He liked to listen to his heartbeat. “Will you still love me when we are home? Merry’n Pip were asking.”

“Of course,” Frodo said, and planted a kiss on the crown of his head. “I will always love you. Wherever I am and wherever you are.”

Joy built in Sam as the landscape turned familiar. Oh, but he’d missed home. Of all the places he’d seen, even the forests of Lothlorien, nothing made him happier than the rolling hills and quiet woods of the Shire. 

They rode to Brandy Hall, dressed in all their finery - Pippin’s idea - and uncharacteristically silent for the last few miles of the trip. People eyed them and whispered to each other, but no one seemed to know where they’d been or what they’d been doing. And it was such a relief to be among people who were the correct height. 

There had been a time in Sam’s life when Brandy Hall had been the height of strangeness; far at the east end of the Shire, where the odd hobbits lived, somewhere he certainly never expected to go. But after everything it felt familiar - a low roof, rounded doors, a long table lit with wax candles and piled with food. They were greeted warmly - well, mostly Merry and Pippin and Frodo, whose relatives lived there, but a few people assumed Sam was a distant cousin and gave him happy hugs too. 

They didn’t really say where they’d been. “Adventuring,” Pippin said loftily, waving a hand in the air, and no one seemed that curious. But they were more than eager to fill them in on the goings-on of the Shire.

“And the Spring Party is next week,” a young Brandybuck who looked like a rounder Merry said excitedly. “I suppose that’s why you all came back now?”

“Definitely,” said Merry, nodding seriously. “Couldn’t miss it.”

They spent the night there, and in the morning Merry and Pippin decided to stay. “We’ll come to Bag End the day of the Party to meet up with you,” Pippin said. “But the list of aunts and uncles and cousins who want us to visit and entertain them is already getting quite long, so it won’t be ‘til then.”

So at the end it was just Frodo and Sam, retracing the very first steps of the journey. They got an early start, passing through Frogmorton by lunchtime and crossing the Bywater as the Sun was just starting to sink. Sam glimpsed hobbits that he thought he knew, but up on a pony he knew they did not recognize him, and that was a relief somehow. 

Finally they reached Bagshot Row, with Bag End on the hill up above. Sam felt rather like he was floating outside of his body when he saw it. The smial where he’d always lived, the hill he’d climbed more times than anyone could count. Everything was the same but different too, smaller and more precious.

Sam tethered his pony to the well, heart hammering. He looked up at Frodo, who had not dismounted. “You go in,” he said. 

“Are you sure?” Sam asked. 

“Your family always stands on formality when I’m there,” Frodo said, and smiled. “I’ll just check in on Bag End.” 

“I’ll meet you up there,” Sam said, and Frodo ducked his head and rode away up the hill.

Sam drew in a breath, and did something he’d never done before: knocked on his own front door. 

He would have thought no one was home, but there was smoke in the chimney; and after a minute the door swung open. “Who’s - ” he heard his old Gaffer say, and then he was in the doorway, looking Sam up and down. “We was beginning to think you weren’t coming back, lad,” he said, and that was as warm as he ever got so Sam went and gave him a hug, which was another thing he hadn’t done since he was very small. “You’ve missed most of the spring planting,” he said gruffly. 

“I know,” Sam said, and pulled back and looked around the smial. There was a kettle almost boiling on the fire, and it looked like his da was fixing a dented shovel at the kitchen table, and what hit him most was how everything smelled the same as it had smelled when he was four, and fourteen, and now forty. “But I’m back now.”

His da bustled to the fire and took off the kettle, and Sam knew from the way his eyes were crinkled that he was smiling. “What’ll it be?” he said. “Will you rest and wait for Marigold to come home, or can you sit up and tell me where you’ve been? Put down your gear, for starters.”

“I can tell you the tale,” Sam said, shrugging off his pack. 

“You'll have your old room, of course,” his da said, rummaging in the linen chest. “Though we’ve been using it to store the roots from last year’s harvest, so - ”

“I don’t need my room,” Sam said. 

“You’re not staying?” his Gaffer asked, frowning, and Sam had the odd feeling that he was shrinking, down from a hero who had been honored by all of Minas Tirith to just Sam Gamgee, the Gaffer’s youngest and most foolish son. 

“In the Shire, yes,” Sam said, and swallowed. “But I’ll be living with Frodo. We’ve become close on our journey, you see, and I don’t want to be parted from him.”

His heart thudded in his chest, and he tried not to stammer as the Gaffer’s frown deepened. “But I will just be up the hill, da, and ready to get back to work as soon as I’ve settled in.”

The Gaffer nodded, sinking into his favorite armchair by the fire. “I see.”

“But I can stay for a bit now,” Sam said, and sat stubbornly down on the stool with a wobbly leg.

“You can tell Mister Baggins that I’ve been tending the garden, but not knowing his travel plans it’s not in its finest state,” his da said.

“Frodo will not care about that,” Sam said.

“Perhaps you can tidy it, if you’re not too high and mighty now,” he said stiffly. And Sam was ready to be hurt, but it seemed suddenly very silly to be bothered by his da’s grumpiness after everything that had happened. So he laughed instead, and poked around in the kitchen for a snack, and then sat down and started to tell a very simple version of their journey.

“The elves give you that pony?” he asked, when Sam described getting to Rivendell.

“No, the Men in Gondor,” he said, and realized how much more there was. And how he was anxious to see Frodo. “Listen, it’s a very long tale and I’d like to tell it proper. Maybe we could have a big supper in a day or two? Invite Daisy and May and Marigold, and Halfred and Hamson?”

“And young Rosie Cotton,” his da said, nodding. 

“Not Rosie,” said Sam, flushing. “Just family, and Frodo. I’ll go into town and get a goose and some of Old Toby’s finest. But just now I must go to Bag End.”

“In and out so quickly,” his Gaffer grumbled, but accepted a quick hug from Sam. “At least take some bread and sausages up the hill, I doubt there’s anything in that kitchen.” So Sam wrapped up some food.

“Let me know about the supper, alright?” he said. “I’m excited to see everyone.”

“Right,” his da said.

“Marigold still lives here, yeah?” Sam asked, feeling oddly guilty. “It’s not just you?”

“‘Course,” he said. “For the time. Now get off, afore you lose the light.”

Sam stepped outside and breathed in deeply. Grass clippings, spring flowers, the sun going down all hazy and golden over the hedge. He couldn’t tell what felt more like a dream, being home or everything that had happened since the last time he was here.

He led the pony up the hill - it somehow felt wrong to ride this last bit - as the Sun cast long shadows around him. When he finally reached the round green door of Bag End, he was surprised to see a small shape sitting on the front stoop, resting his head on his knees.

“Forgot the key?” Sam asked, and Frodo looked up at him, sun catching in his eyes so his face was unreadable.

“I was just working myself up to go in.”

“And here I was hoping you’d have run a bath,” Sam teased. “What do we do with the ponies?”

“Let them graze in the meadow and fill a trough, I suppose,” Frodo said, and pulled himself up with Sam's offered hand. “How is Hamfast?” 

“Very much the same,” Sam said. “Shall we go in?”

Frodo bit his lip and nodded. “Of course. That would make sense. I’m just a bit - hm.”

He turned, and traced over the faded lines on the door - an old rune that, as the tale told, Gandalf had scratched there long ago. “Bilbo always talked about how the Road would sweep you away if you weren’t careful, but not about what to do when it dropped you back on your stoop. I’m...different, Sam.”

“I know,” said Sam, wrapping his arms around him from behind. “So am I.”

“The thing is,” Frodo said, and cleared his throat. “It doesn’t feel like home.”

“We can work at that,” Sam said. And Frodo nodded, and turned in his arms to kiss him. 

“It’s yours as much as mine,” he said. “If you want that.”

“Our home,” said Sam, and he liked how that sounded. “So this is not you going back to your old home. This is us, moving into our new home. Together.”

Frodo nodded thoughtfully, and Sam surprised him by stooping and picking him up. “Hey now!”

“I’m supposed to carry you over the threshold,” Sam said, grinning and panting a little because Frodo was, wonderfully, so much heavier than he’d been. And Frodo linked his arms around his neck, and Sam kicked at the door so it swung open, and they went into the familiar unfamiliar darkness of Bag End.

Chapter Text

They had their work cut out for them. Frodo had left Bag End in a hurry, and everything needed to be swept and tidied and aired out. A nest of squirrels had settled in the chimney and several things in the kitchen had spoilt. It took days of burning sweet beeswax candles and keeping the windows open to get rid of the musty smell. 

The first night, they camped in the living room. Frodo didn’t explain why and Sam didn’t ask. But sitting on the floor lit by candle-light, eating the Gaffer’s cold sausage and bread and talking in whispers for some reason, it felt like an in-between. Not quite the Road, but not quite home either. 

The next day, they moved into the master bedroom of Bag End. Frodo had always kept his childhood room, even after Bilbo left, so it was new for both of them. Frodo found some white cotton curtains and hung them in the windows so the Sun filtered through in the mornings. Sam picked armfuls of flowers from the garden - which was blooming happily, despite what his da said - and put them in mugs and vases all around the room. 

Room by room, they would make it their own. Even though Sam caught himself several times about to call Frodo ‘sir’ - being here brought back the old habit. And he found Frodo more than once standing in doorways, his eyes seeing something other than the room in front of him.

They had visitors in the next few days as word spread that the Baggins of Bag End had returned. Frodo answered the door at first, but Sam saw what a strain it put on him to sound normal and cheery and answer a barrage of questions. So he started answering, and if people gave him odd looks for acting like he owned the place, well, they could just get used to it. 

“Everyone will say I’ve gone and gotten airs,” he said the second night after supper, sleeves rolled up and elbow-deep in the dishes. “If this lot even know who I am. Lor’, but your family is fancy, aren’t they?”

“Extended family and co,” Frodo said with a groan. “They never talked to me when Bilbo was here. I expect they’re disappointed I returned.” He set down his wineglass and went to rest his chin on Sam’s shoulder. “But you must have people you want to see, Sam. I don’t want to keep you cooped up in here with me.” 

“It’s actually a bit odd none of my family has come,” Sam said. “I told my Gaffer I was here. I suppose I should pay them visits, there’s just been so much to do.”

That was the truth; but also he hadn’t wanted to leave Frodo alone for too long. He set the last plate to dry and toweled off his hands. “But I expect I’ll see everyone tomorrow.”

Frodo cocked his head. “At the Spring Party,” Sam explained. He grinned. “I am glad we made it back in time.”

“I might sit the party out,” Frodo said, pouring himself more wine. 

“Hey now,” Sam said, touching his arm. “Why? You love dancing.”

Frodo sighed. “It will be a lot of people, and a lot of questions about where we’ve been and what we did. I’d just rather...I just don’t want to be paid attention to right now.” He bit his lip and looked down. “Did you tell your da about us?”

“Sort of,” Sam said. “I’m not sure if he understood.”

“I don’t know how to do this right,” Frodo said. “I don’t want to keep you from the people you love.”

“You’re not,” Sam protested. “They just need to get used to us. Might as well start now.”

Frodo looked unhappy, but leaned into Sam’s chest. Sam sighed. He understood, of course. He’d heard plenty of gossip about Bag End and the Bagginses, from the Gaffer’s friends down at the pub. A queer place, and its folk are queerer , as they said. Well, now he was one of them. 

“You don’t have to come,” Sam said. “I expect people will stare. I suppose I could tell my family, and let the news spread like that.”

Frodo looked up at him with something like relief, and Sam kissed him on the forehead. “I’m not scared of town gossip,” he said.

“Samwise the Brave,” Frodo whispered. And leaving his wine on the kitchen table, he took Sam by the hand and led him to bed.

Merry and Pippin rode in the next day, and seeing them seemed to cheer Frodo - but he still politely declined the party. He kissed Sam goodbye, and they set down from the hill. The two of them were still wearing finery from Minas Tirith, but Sam just had on an old shirt of Bilbo’s that Frodo had dug up - white cotton, with sunflowers embroidered on the collar. 

It was twilight. Lights were hung in the Party Tree and music spilled from the Green Dragon. Trestle tables had been set up in the field, beer was flowing, and all the girls had flowers in their hair.

Sam spotted his little sister Marigold at once - she was the only one of them with true blonde hair, and she had a loud laugh. He hurried over, but before he even reached her there were shouts of delight and his big sisters May and Daisy threw themselves on him. “Steady,” Sam yelled, laughing. 

“We heard you were back,” Daisy said, and shoved his arm. “Why didn’t you come visit us, Sam?”

“I asked Da to plan a supper,” Sam said. “Didn’t he tell you?” Daisy frowned and shook her head. 

“Samwise is back!” Marigold yelled, jumping into his arms so that he almost fell.

“Try this,” May said, pushing a flagon at him. “Ivy took up brewing, she’s quite good.”

Being surrounded by all of them was almost too much love for Sam. He grinned, set Marigold down with a kiss on her head, and took the beer. 

“You cut your hair,” he said, seeing May properly for the first time. “It’s lovely.”

“Lots has changed since you’ve been gone,” Daisy said with a proud smile, putting a hand on her stomach. Sam gasped. 

“Typical Sam, not to notice first thing,” Marigold laughed.

Sam swiped at his suddenly misty eyes. “When are you due?”

“Three months,” she said, beaming. “Good thing you got home in time.” He nodded, overcome, and kissed her cheek. 

They sat at a table together. Merry and Pippin were the center of a small crowd, and Sam felt a flash of gratitude that they were telling the story to all of Hobbiton so he didn’t have to. 

“Are Halfred and Hamson coming?” he asked, looking around the party.

“Don’t think so,” Daisy said. “I know Halfred wanted to get the parsnip harvest in, and Hamson went to help.”

Sam nodded and sipped his beer. He’d always been closer with his sisters anyway; his brothers had been out of the house before he was in his tweens.

“Where are you staying?” Daisy asked. 

“At Bag End,” Sam said. 

“I thought I saw you up there!” Marigold exclaimed. “But Sam, why?”

Sam took a gulp of beer to steady himself. Best just to say it all at once. “Frodo Baggins and I are living together now, because while we were on our journey we fell in love.” He realized that he’d been talking loudly and blushed. “And when we have the hole fixed up it would be nice to have you all come visit,” he finished in a hurried mumble.

“So that’s why da didn’t tell us where you were,” Daisy said, and Marigold elbowed her sharply. 

“He’ll get used to it,” Sam muttered, and May reached out and took his hand. 

“I love you,” she said. He smiled at her gratefully. “Is he here? Frodo?” 

“He felt shy,” Sam said. “The journey was hard on both of us. But mostly on him.”

“I’d like to see him,” she said. “We used to get in the worst trouble, do you remember?”

“Until da forbade us from seeing him,” Daisy said. “Well, maybe he had a point after all.” Sam looked up at her, and there must have been hurt in his eyes because she stammered. “I didn’t mean - oh, Sam, I just, are you absolutely sure ?”

Sam bit his lip. How to explain what it had been like, to know they both were going to die and there was nowhere else he would rather be? Couldn’t they see in his face how that had changed everything?

“Is that Sam Gamgee?” came a voice from behind him, and his heart dropped into his toes as his sisters all looked up and over his shoulder. He stood up and turned.

“Hello, Rosie.”

They sat on the bank of the Bywater, where lights reflected in the water and the party was a happy tangle of music and laughter behind them. Rosie’s reddish hair was half tied up, and she paddled her feet in the water and looked at him thoughtfully.

“You seem different.”

“Really?” Sam asked. “No one else seems to think so.”

“I quit tending the bar to apprentice with Mistress Brockbridge,” Rosie said. “You know, the traveling healer? So we go all about the Shire. People have been talking about some kind of war, off to the East.”

So news had come here, after all. “I didn’t fight in the war, exactly,” Sam said. “Though Merry and Pippin - Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took - did. Frodo and I had another job to do.”

“And did you do it?”

“Yes,” Sam said, and smiled at her. He’d been afraid to see Rosie, but it was good to talk to her after all. “And we had all kinds of adventures. Mostly not the enjoyable kind, but we met a King, and a dwarf, and lots of elves. And I fought a spider the size of a horse.”

She raised her eyebrows. “If you’re pulling my leg - ”

“I’m not,” Sam said. “What have you been up to besides apprenticing?”

“Just that,” she said. “Learning a lot, and it’s nice to travel. Ted Sandyman has not stopped trying to court me, so it’s good to have a reason to leave town.” She laughed, and bumped him with a shoulder. “I’m...glad you came back.”

“Right.” Sam sighed. “There’s more I must tell you.” 

It was harder with Rosie than his sisters, but he told her anyway. She was quiet when he was done. “Well, I can’t say I’m all that surprised,” she said finally. 


She smiled at him, and if there was a little sadness in her face it was quickly gone. “Anyone with eyes could tell you loved him in one way or another, Sammy. I’m glad you both figured it out.”

“That’s very nice of you to say,” Sam said, and cleared his throat. 

“I suppose you don’t want this, then,” she said, laughing and taking a tart out from her pocket. A courting tart, because it was the Spring Party. Sam felt guilty.

“Probably shouldn’t,” he said. “Although I am hungry.”

“Then maybe it can be a friendship tart,” she said. “I really have missed you.”

“Of course we’re friends,” he said, and took the tart from her and broke it in half so they could share.

“He’s here,” she said, looking over his shoulder. “Your lad.”

Sam jumped up. “Oh, I thought he wasn’t coming. Do you mind - ”

“Go on,” she said, and flapped her hand at him. “The Spring Party is for lovers.”

So Sam hurried back to the party, feeling much lighter than he had when he’d left. Frodo was picking his way through a crowd, shaking hands and smiling and waving. His hair was long - Sam hadn’t realized how long until he saw him next to other hobbits - and he’d tucked a flower in it. Sam felt his heart close to bursting.

“I felt bad,” Frodo said to him as he came up. “Leaving you to deal with everyone by yourself. I promised to try, after all.”

“’M glad you came,” Sam said, slinging an arm around him. And he just had time to tell him about the conversations he’d had when May came up and threw her arms around Frodo, and then Merry and Pippin had to drag him onto a table to toast him as the hero of the Shire (Frodo quickly hopped down), and then they all settled down with beers and food, and if Frodo was quiet he still laughed and smiled along with everyone else. 

The evening was older, and Sam many beers deep, when he got an idea in his head. Tilda Proudfoot had taken up a slow, sweet song on the fiddle when he bought a tart and brought it back to the table where Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and May and her friend Ivy  were sitting.

“For me?” Frodo asked, smiling and shy, and he took it and had a bite. 

“They are always like this now, it’s insufferable,” Merry said to May and Ivy, who laughed into their mugs. 

“You said you would teach me to dance,” Sam said.

Frodo’s eyes darted around the party. “Are you sure?”

“What do we have to be afraid of, after everything?”

“Oh, alright,” Frodo said, and Merry and Pippin toasted them as Sam led Frodo to the trampled area of grass that was the dance floor. 

“You be the lass, and I’ll be the lad,” Frodo said, putting hands on Sam’s waist. “Just so I can lead.” And they stepped into the dance, Sam stepping on Frodo’s feet more than once before he figured out the rhythm of it. 

“People are looking,” Frodo murmured. “Your sister Daisy, for one. And, what’s his name, Ted Sandyman.”

“Let them look,” Sam said. “You’re beautiful tonight.”

Frodo laughed, and Sam didn’t care if anyone was looking, because all he could see was Frodo’s face. It would be complicated, but maybe, just maybe, he could have everything he wanted. 

The song ended, and Sam leaned in and kissed Frodo, quick and light. “I think that’s enough for one evening,” Frodo said, flustered.

“I’ll get us a last round,” Sam said, letting Frodo go back to their table. He bought beers at the Green Dragon, and stepped out onto the bank of the Bywater, focusing on balancing six mugs at once.

“Double duty, eh?”

He turned to see Ted Sandyman and a few other hobbits gathered nearby. “How are things, Ted?” Sam asked politely. Ted wasn’t much older than him, but always acted as if he knew everything; and he kept trying to court Rosie after she’d turned him down. One of Sam’s least favorite hobbits.

“Seriadoc and I were just wondering,” Ted said, and Seriadoc frowned and shook his head. “Are you getting paid double?”  

“What?” Sam asked.

“For services rendered ,” said Ted, with a nasty smile. “Looks like you’ve taken over quite a few more duties for Mister Baggins since the two of you went off.”

Sam didn’t realize he’d dropped the mugs until he felt beer splash on his feet, but he was already jumping at Ted by then. His hand went to where a sword had hung for months, but there was nothing there, so he settled for a solid punch instead. As easy as hitting Gollum had been, knuckles to the cheekbone, anger hot and pulsing.

“Sam,” people were yelling, and he didn’t realize one of them was Frodo until his arms were around him and he was wrestling him backwards.

Ted popped off the ground with an ugly look in his eye and swung his flagon wildly, catching Sam on the brow. “You think you can come back and do whatever you like,” he spat, and then Frodo and Merry and Pippin pulled Sam away and Ted’s friends did the same. 

Sam stared at them as they retreated to the banks of the Bywater. “Sam,” Frodo said again, urgent, and Sam pulled his eyes away with an effort. “Why did you do that?”

“I,” said Sam, and looked down at his hands, which had started to shake. “He was insulting - he said - I - oh, I just got angry. He’ll be fine.”

“I don’t need you to fight for me,” Frodo said, frowning. 

Sam dabbed at his brow and winced. There was blood. “I’ve fought for you plenty and you didn’t complain.”

“Not here , Sam,” Frodo said with a crack to his voice, and the anger mostly bled out of Sam and he pulled Frodo to him.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Really.”

His head jerked up at laughter, echoing across the Bywater. Ted, of course, who just couldn’t learn a lesson. 

“Leave it,” Merry said with a low growl, and Sam looked away - but in the next moment there was a huge splash and shouts and laughter.

He looked up, and saw Rosie standing where Ted had been - and Ted gasping and bobbing in the lake. She had hands propped on her hips and a scowl on her face. 

“Listen up,” she yelled, with the commanding voice she usually saved for drunk hobbits who stayed too late at the Green Dragon. “Anyone else got a problem with the lads of Bag End, you can take it up directly with me.”

There were mutters, but no one said anything else. “Let’s go back,” Frodo said. 

Frodo didn’t talk on the walk back up the hill, and he threw himself onto the couch with a glass of wine as soon as they got in. 

“I am sorry,” Sam said. “But he was being nasty.”

“I’m sure he was,” Frodo said. “But we’re not on the road anymore. You can’t solve problems for me by fighting.”

Sam nodded, and dropped to the ground next to the couch. “To be fair, I’ve been wanting to clock Ted Sandyman for years.”

Frodo just sighed, and rested one hand lightly on Sam’s curls. “Are you hurt?”

“A bit,” Sam said. It had bled rather a lot, and was drying on his cheek. “It’s funny. I caught much worse than this from orcs and goblins. But this hurts in a way those didn’t.”

There was a knock at the door. “Are Merry and Pippin staying here?” Sam asked, and Frodo shook his head, so he got up and went to the door.

It was Rosie, standing on the stoop with a leather satchel. “Hello,” she said brightly. “I hope it was alright that I did that. I figured you might need some help.” When Sam just stared at her, she lifted her satchel. “With the cut. You look a bit frightful.”

“Ah,” said Sam, and let her in.

“Hello, Mister Baggins,” she said loudly, and Frodo scrambled up off the couch. “Let’s just pretend this is less awkward than it is, and say how nice it is to see each other,” she said, sticking out her hand, and to Sam’s surprise Frodo actually laughed at that.

“It is nice to see you, Miss Cotton,” he said, and kissed her hand. “Can I get you anything?”

“Hot water, and brandy if you have it,” she said, taking bandages and ointment out of her bag.

“It’s just a little cut,” Sam protested, but Frodo and Rosie both shushed him, and then laughed again. 

“It will bruise something awful if you don’t take care of it now,” Rosie said. “And I’m assuming Mister Baggins likes your face as it is.” Sam blushed and didn’t say anything.

“Just Frodo is fine,” Frodo said, coming back with a kettle and a bottle and three little cups. He went to sit on one side of Sam, and Rosie sat on the other and cleaned up the blood, then smeared a cooling ointment on his brow and covered it all with a bandage. 

“Thank you for your, ah, announcement,” Frodo said to her. “I was hoping to be a bit more subtle, but Sam…”

“Sam always tells the truth,” Rosie said fondly. 

“Yes he does,” Frodo chuckled. 

“I’m right here,” Sam protested. 

Frodo stood, and looked down at the two of them with a half-smile. “I’m a bit tired,” he said. “Thank you again, Rosie.”

“Of course,” she said, and Frodo kissed Sam’s cheek quickly and went to bed.

“Let me help you clean up,” Sam said, gathering up the damp bloody napkins and water. He was setting them away, and tidying the kitchen (which was in some chaos after Merry and Pippin’s visit) when he became aware that Rosie was standing in the doorway watching him. 

“I have to ask you a rude question,” she said, fiddling with the strap of her medicine bag.

“’Course,” Sam said, plopping down into a chair and feeling a bit nervous.

“Was it all a lie with me?” she asked, talking quickly. “I’d just, I’d hate to think that I pushed you into anything that you didn’t want. Because I know there’s some as prefer only lads, and some prefer only girls - I mean, your sister for one - ”

“What?” Sam asked, because he sensed Rosie would keep talking if he didn’t interrupt.

“May, and Ivy - wait, did you not know?” Rosie hid her face and groaned. “Oh dear.”

“Setting that aside,” Sam said, because it was late and he didn’t quite know what to do with the information. “No, it wasn’t a lie. I’m not - I suppose I don’t really have a preference.” He worried at the edge of a napkin, looking down. “Truth be told, Rosie, I would have married you happily, but for that I knew I’d always been in love with Frodo and it wouldn’t be fair. And I should have told you then, but it wasn't quite clear in my head until later.”

She nodded, looking at the table. “I see.”

“You’re just lovely, and you deserve someone who can give you all of himself,” Sam said. 

Rosie looked at him finally, and her brown eyes were smiling. “You’re too good for this world, Samwise,” she said.

“Foolishness,” Sam said, and gave her a hug. “You should get home, it’s late.” And she nodded and gathered up her satchel.

“You two are sweet together,” she said at the door. “I really am glad for you.” And she squeezed his hand and turned and jogged down the hill.

Chapter Text

It was a summer like no other. Flowers and crops burst into bloom, honeybees hung in the air, and the trees were heavy with fruit. Old Toby grew what was widely considered the best quality pipeweed ever smoked, and wine from grapes that summer became a prized vintage for decades after. 

Down in the pubs and in the town squares, everyone in the Shire talked about what a good summer it was, and Sam listened, and smiled, and knew it was because Frodo had saved the world. 

Sometimes he wanted to tell everyone. Frodo Baggins, who you all think came back a bit cracked? He’s the one to thank . But Frodo didn’t want that. He was writing the story down in Bilbo’s red book, and maybe when he was done people would know what was what.

Frodo wrote all day and sometimes all night, so Sam would go out on his own, walking wherever his feet took him and falling back in love with the Shire. And he tried to bring it back to Frodo, riding all the way to Frogmorten to get the first elderberry pie of the season, learning the latest gossip, and trying to put the pretty things he saw into poems that he would recite in the evening, if they were good enough. 

“All that’s to say that you should come walking with me tomorrow,” Sam said after finishing a bit of nonsense about the sun rising over the hedge and the way it set all the birds to singing. 

But Frodo just looked at him and smiled. “I like hearing about it from you,” he said. The bit of color he’d gotten from their travels was fading, he went outside so little these days. Sam kissed his pale hand and didn’t press the matter.

But the next day they got a letter that changed things. Because Daisy had had her baby, a little lad named Theodoric, and they were invited to meet him. 

“Now you must come out,” Sam said, unable to stop smiling, he was that excited to meet his nephew. He was an uncle several times over to Halfred and Hamson’s children, but it was different with Daisy.

“Are you sure it’s alright?” Frodo asked. 

“She invited you, see, right here,” Sam said, pointing. He cocked his head. “Is that why you never leave? You’re worried what people will think of us? I thought we settled that.”

“You settled it by punching someone, and Rosie settled it by yelling,” Frodo said, picking the crust off his breakfast toast. “I’m settling it by staying home and working on the book.”

“Well,” said Sam, and he knelt next to Frodo’s chair so that he could look up into his eyes. “Please come with me to meet the baby. You’re family now. It would mean so much.”

Frodo’s cheeks colored at family , and he bit his lip and touched Sam’s chin. “Alright. My Sam.”

Truth was that getting it all out at the Spring Party had caused a wave of gossip, but by the end of the summer it died down - at least wherever Sam could hear. There was plenty of other talk, and all of it more interesting than Sam Gamgee living with Frodo Baggins. The only painful thing was that Sam’s Gaffer continued to be curt with him, and turned down his offer to help with work; but there wasn’t much to be done about that.

May and Ivy lived in Hobbiton in a little house , of all things, and Sam often went to visit them on his rambles. He’d never known Ivy that well before, but she made May happy, so he loved her right away. Rosie was rarely in town, but she was a friend too; and if his other friends from before laughed at him, well, folk had always found some reason to tease him. 

Daisy lived all the way in Tuckborough with her husband Topher Twofoot, so they made plans to stay the night at her smial, and met up with May and Ivy to walk together. And though Frodo looked around nervously as they passed through Hobbiton, blinking in the Sun like he wasn’t used to it, by the time they were really on their way he seemed to cheer up. 

May, who was wearing trousers to travel in, linked arms with Frodo and asked him about his book. Sam got Ivy to tell him her recipe for brown bitter, in exchange for a promise to help her cultivate her own hops. 

All was well, except for once when Frodo stumbled and fell. The road was smooth and Sam couldn’t tell what had tripped him. “I’m alright,” he said, but very quietly, and he took Sam’s arm and held it tightly, and Sam was surprised by how cold his hand was. “Just a twinge,” Frodo said when Sam tried to find out what was wrong, and wouldn’t say more.

Topher and Daisy lived in a little hole with flowers planted on the roof and a flock of sheep. A pony Sam didn’t recognize was cropping the grass outside. Topher met them at the gate. He was red-cheeked, cheerful, and talked a lot; a good match for Daisy.

“Now this is a pickle,” he said, when he saw how many of them there were. “We’ve but one guest bed - which you shall have, of course, Master Baggins.”

“Oh no,” said Frodo. “Just Frodo, please. And the ladies should take the room.”

“Both?” Topher asked.

May nodded. “As usual, Topher,” she said with a little sharpness to her voice.

Topher shook his head. “If my ma knew I wasn’t offering proper hospitality to a gentlehobbit, well, she would have words,” he muttered to himself. 

“We’ll camp outside,” Sam interrupted. “That’s fine, isn’t it, Frodo?”

“Sleeping outside,” Frodo said with a far-away smile. “I’ve almost missed it.”

So Topher, shaking his head like he had never heard of such a thing, led them into the hole, where they could hear a baby crying in the next room.

Sam was surprised to see Rosie Cotton in the kitchen, stirring a big pot of something herbal. “Oh!” she said when they came in. “Hello, lads. May, Ivy. I wondered when you all would make it down here.”

“Is everyone healthy?” Sam asked at once, seeing her medicine bag open on the counter.

“Just a colic,” she said, sniffing at her pot. “Quite common, but I was in the area so I thought I’d leave them with a batch of soothing tea.” She wiped her hands and turned to Topher, all business. “I will need a large bottle. Daisy can drink this twice a day and it should help with the crying.”

“Yes, miss,” he said, and rummaged in a cupboard. 

“They’re in there,” Rosie said, tipping her head to a closed door. “But maybe not all of you at once. Master Twofoot’s a bit fussy.”

So May and Ivy went in, and Sam and Frodo perched at the table and Topher cut up half a lemon cake for them and then went outside to tend to something. Frodo looked shyly around the hole and fiddled with his vest buttons. “I’m not very good at family things,” he whispered to Sam, who put a hand on his knee.

Rosie finished bottling the tea and came to sit with them. “I’ve been hearing stories about you, Frodo Baggins,” she said.

Frodo flushed. “Oh, dear.”

“I’m not sure what to believe. The big folk in Bree say that a hobbit, or several, is credited with winning the war and setting all to right. Now, it is nice getting respect from those who don’t usually spare it for our folk - but I was wondering about the whole tale. I know Meriadoc and Peregrin were in a sort of battle, but Sam said you two were doing something else.”

Sam was about to jump in, because the whole time they had been back Frodo had dodged those questions. Even when it was just the two of them, he’d hardly spoken of their journey. 

But to his surprise Frodo nodded thoughtfully. “I’d like to tell you, Rosie,” he said. “Perhaps not here, because it’s a long tale. But Bilbo - you remember him, don’t you? - gave me something as an inheritance that turned out to be magical and very important. And there was an enemy who wanted to take it and use it for evil, and the only way to stop him was to destroy it.” 

He put a hand on Sam’s shoulder, and something about the afternoon light made Sam notice how thin his face was, worn and lightly lined. “So we had to go to Mordor. There was a group of us at first, but for most of the journey it was just me and Sam.”

Rosie nodded, her brown eyes wide and fixed on Frodo. “That must have been very hard,” she said.

“It was,” Frodo said, almost too quiet to hear. 

Rosie’s eyes dropped to his left hand, his missing finger. “Is that how you lost it?”

Frodo sucked in breath, and Sam watched his face. “That part I’ll tell you in its time,” he said. And Rosie touched his arm, a quick kind gesture, and then May and Ivy opened the door to Daisy’s bedroom and the sound of Theodoric screaming came out. 

“That is a loud baby,” Ivy said, dropping into a chair and taking a slice of cake.

“Just like Samwise when he was little,” May said, ruffling Sam’s hair. “Go see them!”

Daisy was in a rocking chair, looking rather tired, but she smiled at them. “Sweet of you two to come,” she said. “Here’s the bobbin.” And she held out a very small, very pink baby to Sam, who took him with delight.

“Oh Daisy, he’s lovely,” he said, bouncing the baby up and down, which only made him scream.

“He is a terror,” she said, and yawned. “But he’s also the most perfect thing in the world. Funny, that.”

“I hope it isn’t presumptuous,” Frodo said nervously, and Sam looked up as he walked to Daisy’s chair. “But I brought you a gift.”

“Oh!” she said in surprise as he took out a little box from his pocket.

“Oh indeed,” said Sam, who hadn’t known about any gift. Theodoric grabbed onto his vest, and Sam grinned and plopped down on the floor with him. He loved babies, even ones that were rather damp like this one.

“Now that’s - well, that’s very kind of you, Mister Baggins - but I’m not sure - ” Daisy sounded flustered, and Sam glanced up to see her holding a necklace set with gems that sparkled in the light.

“It’s alright, of course, if it’s not to your taste,” Frodo said, looking very embarrassed. “It’s just a trinket Bilbo brought back from the Mountain, long ago, and I thought you might like it.” 

“It’s very beautiful,” Daisy said uncertainly, holding it up. “Though I’m not sure where I would wear - ” Theodoric started shrieking and kicking his legs and she winced. “Oh, Theo, why won’t you be quiet!”

“It’s just a gift,” Frodo said faintly, and dropped down to sit next to Sam, his face beet red. 

“It’s pretty, Daisy,” Sam said, bouncing Theodoric and annoyed with her for making a fuss when Frodo was trying to be kind. “And he’s a baby. They’re meant to be loud. Isn’t that right, Theo?” He puffed out his cheeks at the baby, trying to catch his attention. 

“I’m going to try Rosie’s tea,” Daisy said, getting up. “Can you watch him?”

“‘Course,” Sam said. “Put on the necklace, go on.” 

Frodo squeezed his eyes shut as Daisy left. “I told you I don’t know how to do family things.”

“Gamgees aren't used to treasure,” Sam said. “But it was very sweet of you.” Theo stopped shrieking to catch his breath. “Try holding him,” Sam said, tipping the wiggling baby in Frodo’s arms. 

Frodo held him stiffly, and Sam showed him how to support the baby’s head as he started to wail again. But when Frodo looked down into his face, he quieted suddenly. 

“Hello,” Frodo said with a tentative smile, and Theodoric tried to grab at his curls with fat sticky hands.

Sam rocked back on his heels and looked at them, feeling soft and tender. “I’m Frodo,” Frodo said, letting the baby pat his face. “I hear you’re Theodoric. That’s a very respectable name for a young hobbit.”

Sam wanted to speak, but the words stuck in his throat. Something about Frodo holding his nephew made him want to cry.

“I don’t think I’ve ever held a baby before,” Frodo said. He untangled Theo’s hands from his hair gently, and widened his eyes in a way that made him laugh. “Would you like a song, Master Theo?” 

“I’m sure he would,” Sam said thickly.

Frodo looked up. “Don’t cry!”

“Happy tears,” Sam said, sniffing and wiping at his eyes. “You just look lovely like that. It makes me think that you and I - ” 

But he stopped, because Frodo was staring at him, and something trembled in his face like a candle flame about to go out.

Daisy came into that odd, tense moment. “You got him quiet, oh glory,” she said in amazement. “That’s worth a dozen gold necklaces. I’m going to put him down for a bit.” And she bent and scooped up Theodoric, and the moment passed, and Frodo looked away. 

They ate dinner all crowded into the little hole, and it was nice to be at a full table again even if Frodo was very quiet. Rosie left after dessert, riding her pony into Tuckborough proper, and Daisy fell asleep sitting in her chair, which was the cue for all of them to go to bed. 

“I was surprised you told Rosie all that,” Sam said, stretching out on his bedroll and looking at the stars. There was a pleasant, earthy smell in the air; probably the sheep. 

“She’s easy to talk to,” Frodo said as he unrolled a blanket. “Most people just want the exciting parts. And if they heard the real story, they’d pity me. But I don’t think she would.”

“No, she’s not like that,” Sam said, and rolled over to wrap his arms around Frodo. “Lor’, your hand is like ice .”

“I’m just a bit cold,” Frodo said, and Sam rubbed his arms to warm them. “I can see why you like her. Rosie.”

Liked ,” said Sam. Frodo was quiet. 

He had almost dropped off, lulled by the sound of frogs in a nearby pond, when Frodo spoke again. 

“I don’t think I’m meant to be here.”

“’Course you are,” Sam mumbled into his back. “You’re family.” And when Frodo didn’t speak again, he fell properly asleep. 

Sam woke in the very early morning to the sound of birds. It was cold and he was covered in dew and Frodo wasn’t there. 

If he was thinking properly he would have assumed Frodo had gotten cold and gone inside; but sleeping outside felt too much like being on the road, and he was on his feet in a flash and thinking of danger. 

He looked all around, and saw nothing but the sleeping figures of sheep and a few deer at the tree line. “Frodo,” he said, breaking the early morning stillness, and the feeling of danger just got worse. 

He checked inside, where everyone was still sleeping. He checked the road. He started walking in ever-widening circles. He remembered the time Frodo had left on the banks of the Anduin, how he’d left a token, and checked his pockets. Nothing; nothing; nothing.

Topher saw him walking in circles and called out. “Frodo’s gone,” Sam told him, trying not to sound frantic.

“Ah,” Topher said, frowning as he scattered feed for his chickens. “Is that...unlike him? He is a Baggins.”

“He wouldn’t have just left ,” Sam snapped. Topher raised his eyebrows and muttered something. Sam sighed. “Will you tell May and Ivy when they’re up? I’m going to look for him.”

He strode away, almost running. He would go to Tuckborough proper first; if Frodo had passed through, someone might know. And if he hadn’t, then he would be home. Surely when Sam got back to Bag End he would be there.

But no one in Tuckborough, which was a collection of low houses and smials and one inn, had seen Frodo. Sam felt like he was losing time as the Sun got higher in the sky. He had just turned back to check Daisy’s again when he ran into Rosie, leading her pony out of the inn’s stable.

“Hello,” she said brightly. “How’s Theo doing?” And then she saw him properly and the smile slipped from her face. “What happened?”

“Frodo left in the night,” Sam said, and tears he’d been too frantic to shed suddenly spilled from his eyes.

“Oh dear,” Rosie said, and started unstrapping saddlebags. “You can ride, yes? It’ll be faster.”

Sam nodded and she stowed her bags in the inn, then climbed on the pony. “Can she carry both of us?” Sam asked, sniffling. 

“She’s used to carrying me and a patient,” Rosie said. “Come on.” So Sam scrambled up behind her and Rosie kicked the pony into a fast walk. 

“Do you have any idea where he could be?” she asked, businesslike, as Sam tried to figure out how to hold on without being improper. 

“He wouldn’t just leave,” Sam said. “Not without saying something.”

I don’t think I’m meant to be here.

He bit his lip. “Maybe seeing the baby - he might have felt - oh, I don’t know. It’s the first time he’s been out of Bag End since the party. Still. He wouldn’t have just left .” 

It sounded like he was trying to convince himself. But Rosie didn’t remark on that. “You both went through something very hard, didn’t you?” she said finally. 

“I suppose,” said Sam. “But it’s over now.”

“But it changed you,” she said. “You, Sam, are very different. And Frodo - well, I never knew him that well. But it doesn’t seem like it is over for him.”

They checked at Daisy’s, and everyone promised to keep an eye out, and then they rode to Bag End as quickly as possible. Sam’s heart was thundering in his chest as he tried the door - locked - and found the spare key hidden in the gardening shed. 

It was quiet inside and he knew right away that Frodo wasn’t there. Rosie lingered in the front hall as he tore from room to room, because he still had to check. But nothing had been taken or touched since they’d left the morning before, except that the flowers in the bedroom were shedding petals all over the floor. 

Sam sank onto the couch, squeezing his eyes shut. Trying to think of what he had missed.

“Was he odd yesterday?” Rosie asked. 

“He fell,” Sam said, suddenly remembering. “And his arm was cold.” And he thought of Frodo lying in Rivendell, locked in the fever, and how Sam had stayed up and held his hand and promised himself that he would tell the truth if only Frodo woke. His hand had been cold then, too. “The one that the Dark Rider stabbed. But that happened - it would have been a year ago. And I know the elves said it was a sort of magical hurt, but it healed up like a normal wound.” He knew he was just confusing Rosie. There was no one to ask, no Gandalf or Strider or elves to help, only Sam and his slow brain that couldn’t see when something was wrong right in front of his nose. 

“Well, he can’t have just vanished,” Rosie said. 

“Not without the Ring, and that’s gone,” Sam said. 

“And he’s not here,” Rosie said, talking over him. “So let’s organize a search party. Someone will have seen your Frodo.” Sam looked up at her gratefully. “I’ll take my pony and put out a proper call all along the East Road. I have friends in Waymoot, and we’ll ask around at Tookbank and Michel Delving. And you find someone in town who can go to East Farthing to get your friends.”

“Then what,” Sam asked helplessly.

“Then you stay here,” Rosie said. “Because when he gets back, he will need you.”

Sam swallowed. “What if - ” He didn’t want to say it, but he had to. “Maybe he doesn’t want to see me.”

“Don’t be foolish,” Rosie said brusquely. 

“He didn’t want to come back to the Shire,” Sam said, looking down. “But I asked him to try. So what if - ”

“You think he would just leave without a goodbye?” Rosie asked, and her face looked stormy. “Because if he would, then he is not treating you properly.”

“No,” Sam said. “Even - he left once, before, but it was for a reason, and he still found a way to say goodbye.”

“Then stop speaking ill of him.”

Sam blinked. He’d never thought of it quite like that. “But if he didn’t leave, then something happened.”

“Yes,” Rosie said. “And he needs help.”

She knelt and hugged him, tightly and quickly, and then was up and out the door like a whirlwind. Sam stared around the empty, echoing hole for a moment longer; then took off running towards Hobbiton. 

Messages were sent to Merry and Pippin. Sam got a few people to search, and more to promise to report if they saw anything. And then he went home, hoping against hope Frodo would have come back, and was disappointed.

He made tea, and didn’t drink it, and made more tea that he also did not drink. He started bread, and threw himself into cleaning the bedroom, then picked more flowers, then rediscovered the dough, which had been left to rise for too long and was dry and ruined. He climbed onto the roof of the hole and looked everywhere. He pressed his face into the couch cushions and tried to sleep to make time pass faster. 

Twilight made him feel like a fire was burning at his feet. He needed to go out and look. He’d just made up his mind, had pulled on his vest and was writing a note, when a pony appeared at the base of the hill. 

He ran down to meet it. “I found him,” Rosie called through the dusk and Sam almost toppled over in relief. Frodo was a hunched figure sitting in front of her, wrapped in a blanket. “Here, help me with him,” Rosie said, slipping off the pony. 

“Frodo?” Sam asked gently, and Frodo looked down at him through his hair and his eyes were wild and confused.

“Sam,” he whispered, and Sam lifted off the pony. He was shivering. 

“I don’t know what happened,” Rosie said. “He’s not making any sense.”

Frodo’s head was down, his left arm crabbed against his side. Sam walked him up the Hill - but when they got to the doorway he balked and tried to turn in Sam’s arms.

“I’m sorry, but you must,” Sam said, wanting to cry. “Come on, love.” And he hoisted Frodo in his arms, even though he struggled, and carried him into the house. 

“Not meant to be here,” Frodo said, sounding like his heart was breaking. 

“Hush,” Sam said, carrying him to their room and laying him on the bed. Touching him all over with gentle, shaking fingers to see if he was injured.

“I found him walking over the Downs,” Rosie called from the kitchen. “Westward. It was hard to get him to stop.”

“Now why were you doing that,” Sam whispered to Frodo, brushing his sweat-streaked hair back from his face. But Frodo’s eyes were far away and filmy and reminded him, suddenly, of being in Mordor. Of how confused Frodo had gotten by the end. 

Frodo was shaking his head, and trying to form words. “Gandalf,” he finally said, as Sam sat next to him and tried to rub warmth into his arm. 

“What’s that?” Sam asked. “What about Gandalf?”

“Told me where to go,” Frodo said. He turned his face into the pillows and shuddered, or maybe he was crying. 

Rosie came into the bedroom with a hot kettle and some rags. “Get him under the covers,” she said. “That’s a nasty fever, he’ll have to sweat it out.”

Sam tucked Frodo under several layers of blankets and took his left hand. It was cold, shockingly so, and on a hunch he gently unbuttoned Frodo’s shirt and bared his shoulder.

The wound stood out darkly, and the skin all around it was whiter even than the rest of the Frodo; white and puckered and cold like a dead thing. 

“You said that’s a year old?” Rosie asked with a frown. Sam nodded. “Does it always look like that?”

“No,” said Sam, trying to think. Frodo had been staying up late writing each night, slipping into bed in the dark. When was the last time Sam had seen him without a shirt? Had he been hiding it?

“It’s not infected, but it’s - odd. I’d have to ask Mistress Brockbridge.”

“It’s magic,” Sam said. “Let’s just warm him best we can.” 

So they wrapped the kettle in rags and tucked it against Frodo’s left side, and laid a cool cloth on his forehead. Frodo’s eyes were closed, though his mouth still moved, forming words Sam couldn’t understand. 

“Have you eaten today?” Rosie asked, and Sam shook his head. She left, and he lay next to Frodo on the bed and held his hand between his palms. 

“‘M sorry,” Frodo said quietly. His eyes were closed, and his eyebrows furrowed like he was in pain. “Promised I’d try. Sam.”

“Hush,” said Sam, and kissed his hand. “You sleep.”

Rosie came back in with some bread and cold meat and perched in the windowsill as Sam sat on the bed and ate. He was actually very hungry.

"We can handle the fever, but I don't know what brought it on, or what medicine he needs," Rosie said eventually. "Or why he's so confused."

“I'll figure it out," Sam said stubbornly. “I’ll do whatever he needs, I always have. Through worse than this.” He looked back at Frodo. How had he been laughing and talking yesterday, and now he was like this? “I always take care of him.”

Rosie sighed, stood, and gathered the plates. “I’ll be in the bedroom down the hall. Just knock if he gets worse.” Sam nodded, watching Frodo’s breathing. He seemed to be sleeping. 

“But, Sam?” Rosie paused in the doorway, and her eyes were sad when they met his. “Not everything heals.”

Chapter Text

Frodo shivered and sweated through the night, and several times sat up frantically like he was being attacked. His arm stayed cold. In the early morning he winced and hid his eyes from the Sun, so Sam hung a blanket over the window, then sank to the floor and buried his face in his hands. 

It was like Rivendell again except that there were no wise elves who knew what to do. Wondering about that, and if there was a way to get a message to Elrond, made him remember the phial of Galadriel. He dug it out of the chest where Frodo had stored everything from their journey and set it on the bedside table. It shone, faint in the dim room. 

Frodo looked almost translucent in the light, like he was made of ice or glass - except for his left shoulder, where the skin was puckered and clouded. But he seemed to calm a bit in the light. He tossed and turned a few times, then curled on his side facing the phial and fell into sleep. 

Sam stood looking down at him; and he wouldn’t have moved except that Rosie cracked the door open. “How is he?” she whispered, and Sam wiped at his eyes and sucked in a shuddery breath.

“He’s finally sleeping,” he said, going to the door. 

“Misters Took and Brandybuck came by,” she said. “I sent them into town for some food, they’ll be back any minute.”

“I should stay with him,” Sam said. Rosie stood on tiptoe to see into the bed.

“He does look better,” she whispered. “He just needs to sleep.” So Sam left, reluctantly, to splash water on his face. 

He heard Merry and Pippin come in, but didn’t quite have the energy to talk to them yet. So he snuck into Frodo’s study and sat at the desk and closed his eyes. Frodo had left a sweater over the back of the chair and Sam put it on even though it was too small in the shoulders. 

The red book lay open on the desk. Frodo had read him a few passages, checking details, but Sam hadn’t sat down with it. Leafing through pages of Frodo’s strong flowing hand, Sam found the description of Rivendell and sounded out the words. 

‘The truth is, Mister Frodo, I love you, sir,’ said Sam. He blushed and turned hastily away. Frodo smiled, for this, more than the kingsfoil or the ministrations of the elves or even seeing Bilbo, made him feel well again. 

“Sweet fool,” Sam muttered, and sat back so he didn’t spill tears on the page. Feeling tender that Frodo had put that part in the book. 

Then a moment later the rest of it hit him, and he scrambled out of the study. Merry and Pippin were unpacking groceries, and Rosie was sorting her medicine bag. To his surprise, Merry crossed the room and gave him a tight hug. 

“How are you?” he asked. 

“Never mind me,” Sam said. “ Kingsfoil . Do you remember? It helped him last time.”

“Strider’s favorite plant! I’m on it,” Pippin said, and ran outside. A moment later he stuck his head back in. “Sam? I have no idea what it looks like.”

They found some kingsfoil growing at the bottom of the garden, and Rosie - though dubious - showed them how to make a poultice from the leaves and a tea from the little white flowers. Sam stuck some blossoms in a vase, and brought it all into the room on a tray. 

Frodo was still sleeping. Rosie checked his temperature and changed the bedwarmer. Merry and Pippin hovered in the doorway nervously until she ushered them out, leaving Sam alone again.

Gently, Sam bared Frodo’s shoulder and smeared the still-warm poultice on his arm. He was always better with a task. The room was stuffy, the sheets sour with sweat; but the smell of kingsfoil filled the air and made it all clean. 

He changed the pillows, cracked the window, and checked Frodo’s brow. It seemed a little cooler, and he bent and kissed him lightly between the eyes.

“I tried,” Frodo mumbled hoarsely, and Sam gasped. Frodo’s eyes were half open, and clearer than they’d been the night before.

“Frodo,” Sam said happily, his voice breaking. “Good morning.”

Frodo smiled at him faintly, and then winced. Sam climbed into bed, laying outside the covers, and took his hand. “What happened to you, my dear?”

“The old wound...” His eyes fluttered down to the bedwarmer tucked next to his arm. “You saw.”

“You should have told me it was hurting you,” Sam said, his heart aching.

“Didn’t want to worry you,” Frodo said, and lay back on the pillow, his eyelids drooping. “Did we go somewhere?”

“To Daisy’s,” Sam said, wanting to cry. “We met her baby. And you left in the night.”

“Little Theo,” Frodo said, and smiled a little. “I remember now.”

“But why did you leave?” Sam asked.

“Gandalf said I could,” Frodo whispered. “If it all got too hard. I told him I was worried.” His brows drew together. “But I don’t remember going. Did I say goodbye? Was I rude?”

Sam choked down tears. It was frightening how little sense Frodo was making. “Don’t worry about that,” he said. “Just rest.” Frodo sighed, and drowsed.

Sam lay next to him and cried, swallowing the wracking sobs. Trying not to make a single sound.

It was just that it wasn’t fair. That it wasn’t as neat as going there and back again. That Strider was a King now, and Legolas and Gimli were off on adventures, and Merry and Pippin were the toast of the Shire; but Frodo, who had done the most and saved all of Middle-Earth, was curled in a bed, scared and sick and miserable.

He didn’t realize Frodo had woken again until his hand brushed Sam’s cheek. “Don’t cry,” Frodo whispered. “I would see you happy.” And Sam nodded, and folded his hand around Frodo’s and pressed it to his lips.  

The sickness lasted. Merry and Pippin stayed as long as they could, but they had business in East Farthing and Frodo was too tired to spend much time with them, so they left after a few days.

But Rosie stayed. She sent a message to Mistress Brockbridge that she would be occupied for the foreseeable future, and moved her things into the guest bedroom. Sam hadn’t asked her to, but he was grateful. Rosie always knew how to make Frodo comfortable when he was ailing, she sang when she did chores around the house, and she could hold up both ends of a conversation when Sam was too deeply sad.

And Frodo seemed best when both of them were in the room with him. Even if he didn’t talk much, he would smile brighter, and laugh when Rosie made jokes. So they spent his waking hours in there - Sam took up whittling to pass the time, and Rosie picked herbs from the garden and made them into poultices that filled the bedroom with fresh green smells. It was a rainy October, and spending afternoons by the fire with light conversation and freshly baked applecakes at hand would have been perfect, if Sam could only have forgotten his worry.

As Frodo’s confusion cleared, he began to talk more - and true to his word, he started telling Rosie the story of their journey. At first Sam was quiet; but he noticed that Frodo would leave out important details concerning his own role in the story. He made it sound as though he’d been swept along on the quest like a piece of luggage, so Sam made sure to correct him. 

“He really didn’t have to go,” Sam said, when Frodo was talking about the Council of Elrond. “There were lords and heroes from all across Middle-Earth who wanted it. But Frodo was the only one who could carry the horrid thing without being corrupted.”

Frodo looked at him fondly. “Yes, and I wouldn’t have gotten far without everyone else. And especially Sam. Who is the true hero here.”

“Ridiculous,” Sam said, and Rosie laughed at them.

“I agree to be equally impressed by both of you,” she said. “Now keep going, please. This is better than a bedtime tale.”

She didn’t seem shocked or horrified by any part of the story, although several times when Frodo talked about them being in danger she curled up so only her eyes were visible over her knees. “I’m more and more amazed you all came back in one piece,” she said when they were telling her about Moria and the goblins and the fire demon. Which made Frodo look at his hand, missing a finger, and sigh.

“Why are you telling her?” Sam asked Frodo that night. He had let Frodo have the bed during the worst of the fever, curling up on the couch in the living room; but tonight he was back in the room.

“I just think she should know,” Frodo said. “She’s been a good friend. To both of us.”

Something in his voice sounded off and Sam wondered what he wasn’t saying. “Is it alright that she’s here, Frodo? You don’t feel like it’s...odd?”

“On the contrary,” Frodo said. “It’s nice. Bag End has always been too big for two people, and she makes you smile.”

You make me smile,” Sam said, sleepy.

“I make you worry,” Frodo responded. “But I’d rather see you smile.”

A few nights later Frodo reached the end of the tale. It was later than normal, but he was talking steadily. The tower where Sam rescued him, the long and thirsty walk, Gollum attacking them at the door of Mount Doom. Even what had happened inside the mountain, which Sam had never heard him discuss with anyone else. Rosie just listened, leaning against Sam on the bed and watching Frodo’s face.

“And now there’s the part even Sam doesn’t know,” Frodo said, and Sam sat up from the pillow where he’d been nodding off. “But it will hopefully explain why you found me wandering over the Downs.”

Rosie looked uncertainly at Sam, who shrugged. Frodo rubbed his shoulder, frowning like he was thinking of what to say. The wound had not gotten any worse, but it hadn’t gotten better either.

“The Morgul Blade,” he said at last. “The Witch King stabbed me with it, and the tip of it broke inside me. It’s old magic, meant to do that, meant to turn its victim into a wraith. Elrond couldn't get all of it out, and Gandalf explained - oh, it’s complicated, but essentially that little shard, that piece of evil, became a part of me.”

“You never told me this,” Sam said, frowning. 

“I did,” Frodo said quietly. “That first night in Rivendell. I told you I didn’t think I’d ever feel truly warm again.”

Sam swallowed. He remembered, of course. He remembered everything about that night.

“I hoped it would heal. Bree, Gandalf warned me about this,” Frodo said, looking at his lap. “That the illness might come back.”

“Well, what did he say to do about it?” Sam asked, and there must have been a tense edge to his voice because Rosie put a hand on his shoulder.

“Let him tell it,” she said softly.

“It spread its evil through me, strengthened by the Ring, I’m sure. Like a tree that has gotten rot all through it.” Sam bit his lip. “So when the Ring was destroyed...all those parts of me that were touched by it died too. More than I realized at first.” Frodo looked up at Sam and took his hand. “I know you don’t want to admit it. But I can tell, I’m not all here, I’m not like I used to be and it’s not getting better. It’s hard to, to focus, and to speak to people, and to be in the Sun. And it’s harder in a way to be home than it was to be abroad, because I remember being happy here but I don’t know how to feel that anymore.” 

Sam wished he could stop up his ears. He couldn’t quite look at Frodo’s face, his gaze kept going off to the side like if he didn’t see it it wouldn’t be true. 

Frodo squeezed his hand. “And mostly it’s hard because I want to give you everything you deserve, Sam, but I feel more like a shadow every day.”

Rosie sucked in a breath. “I should go,” she said. 

“Please stay,” Frodo said, looking at Sam only. So she settled back onto the bed.

“Sam?” Frodo asked gently. 

Sam’s eyes were fixed on the bedspread, his jaw set. “So what is there to do about it?” he asked again, stubborn. 

“Gandalf told me,” Frodo said, and sighed heavily. “But you won’t like it. As a Ringbearer, I could go into the West with him and the elves. There’s magic in the Undying Lands that could help. That could ease the pain, make me whole again. Or something closer to whole.”

Sam bit the inside of his cheek. He was angry, angry at everything and unable to express any of it while Frodo’s hand rested soft in his. 

“Do you want that?” he asked finally.

“That’s where I was trying to go when Rosie found me,” Frodo said. “I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I knew there was some kind of hope for me across the Sea. So...yes, I do want it. Very much.” He started talking quickly. “I - I don’t want to go just yet though, I was just confused, and if we can manage this illness then I want to stay and finish the book - ”

“And when you are healed,” Sam interrupted. “Would you ever come back?” Frodo sighed, and Sam pulled his hand away. “Don’t answer. I already know.”

“Sam - ” Rosie said sharply, and Frodo touched her hand.

“I need a little time,” Sam said thickly, and blundered out of the room, feeling hot and cold and clumsy and too small for everything inside of him. 

Frodo was sad and gentle, and Rosie was sad and kind, and Sam wanted to scream and be ugly and angry and not have either of them know. So he went out the front door, ran until his legs hurt, and dropped to his knees and pummeled the ground so hard the bones in his arms rattled. 

Maybe the ground was everything he wished were different. Or maybe it was his own foolish self, his idiot heart that had thought hope and love could save everything. That had been wrong. 

After a while he felt ashamed. He’d never used to get angry like this, but these days it was always close to the surface. The story was unraveling, things weren’t making sense, and anger was the only solid thing to fall back to. But that didn’t excuse it. He slunk back to Bag End guiltily, dirt and little stones caked into his knuckles. 

Rosie was in the living room. She stood up quickly, but he thought she’d had her head in her hands.

“Are you alright?” she asked at once, touching his back gently. 

“Oh, no,” Sam said. “Not at all.” And the anger was gone, with an echoing sadness in its wake, and he dropped his head onto Rosie’s shoulder. “I shouldn’t have gotten upset like that.” 

She tensed, then put her arms around him cautiously. “Frodo and I talked,” she said. “He understands. It’s awful, there’s not a right way to act.”

“He will never just let me love him,” Sam said into her shoulder. “He’s always finding reasons to leave.”

“That’s not fair,” Rosie said. “He would stay if he could.”

Sam sighed. “I know.” He pulled back to scrub at his eyes. He was always crying these days. “Thank you for being here, Rosie. You’ve been wonderful. I don’t know what I’d have done otherwise.”

Rosie was looking up at him, her eyes bright with some emotion, and Sam realized he had been holding on to her for too long and let go. He turned aside, went to wash his hands and splash water on his face. “Is he sleeping?” 

Rosie nodded. She was wandering around the living room, tidying things, folding blankets that didn’t need to be folded. She drew in a big breath. “Sam,” she said, walking over to look him in the face. “I’ve something to say.”

“What is it?” He asked, glancing down the hall towards the bedroom. When he looked back Rosie had dropped her gaze and was worrying at the buttons of her vest. 

“Oh, just…” She sighed. “Never mind. I just hope you know that you deserve healing too, for all you went through.”

Sam shook his head. “It’s in the past. No use thinking of it now.”

“And the future?” she asked. “What will you do when he leaves?”

“No use thinking of that either,” Sam said, even as the hot press of tears behind his eyes put a lie to that. “All I can do is care for him as long as I can.”

Rosie nodded. “Of course. But Sam?” He caught her eyes then, sad and serious. “Who cares for you?”

Later Sam went into the bedroom, trying to be quiet, and eased into bed next to Frodo. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, and Frodo turned into his arms.

“We saved the world, but we were never promised a happy end,” he whispered. 

“I know,” Sam said. Trying to figure out when he’d gone from being satisfied with the tiniest of glances to wanting more than Frodo could give him. 

“This is what I was so afraid of,” Frodo said. “At the beginning. But I’m selfish, and I wanted you more than I was afraid of hurting you.”

“That’s not it,” Sam said, remembering. “I wouldn’t let you be afraid.” All the times Frodo tried to turn away and he hadn’t let him. 

“Do you regret it?” Frodo asked, his voice tiny. “This would be easier if we never had.” And the force of that struck Sam, that the choice had only ever been whether or not to love, and he’d made it long ago. He shook his head and gathered Frodo closer in his arms. 

“Never, never, never.”

The next day they stayed in bed late. It wasn’t until Sam was making luncheon that he realized the hole was quieter than it had been for weeks, and Rosie’s medicine bag wasn’t hanging in the hall. He stuck his head into Frodo’s study.

“Did Rosie go into town?”

Frodo frowned, looking up from his book. “She went to Tuckborough. She didn’t tell you last night she was leaving?” Sam shook his head. 

“Right,” said Frodo, and took Sam’s hand and pulled him down to sit. “You haven’t discussed it with her, then.”

“Discussed what,” Sam asked nervously. 

Frodo looked at him fondly and sadly, putting down the book and running his thumb across Sam’s palm. “That she is in love with you, of course,” he said. “I’ve been able to tell for weeks now, but I suppose that’s because I know what it feels like.”

Sam blinked and looked down, flushing and confused. “She knows I’m with you,” he mumbled.

“Yes, and that’s why she left,” Frodo said. “But, Sam? Maybe you should go after her.”

Sam looked at Frodo sharply. “What are you saying?”

Frodo took both his hands. “I’m going to leave. When I've finished the book, I will go into the West.”

Sam drew in a shaky breath. “I know, but do we have to talk about it?” he asked unhappily.

Yes ,” Frodo said fiercely. “You promised me. Do you remember, back in Mordor? You promised you would lead a full life if you had the chance. And seeing the two of you together…”

Sam looked up, and to his surprise Frodo was smiling, sweet and sad. “It makes me happy to see you laugh with her.”

Sam let himself think it, just for a moment. He knew what it was like to kiss Rosie, knew what her small, strong hand felt like in his. Her quick grin, her brown eyes that flashed when she laughed, the freckles that peppered her shoulders every summer. 

But more than any of that, spending these weeks with her in Bag End had felt easy and light despite his constant worry. It had felt more like home than anything else since they’d returned.

“I wouldn’t betray you,” he whispered. 

“It wouldn’t be a betrayal,” Frodo said, and touched his cheek. “I’m offering. Because I will not be here for much longer, and instead of feeling like I’m dragging you into sorrow and then abandoning you...I’d rather get to see you happy. I’d rather go to the Undying Lands knowing you had a family, and someone to love who loved you back.”

He wiped away Sam’s tears with his thumb. “I told Rosie she could ask you, but I suppose…”

“You already talked with her?” Sam asked, startled. 

“Yes,” Frodo said. “But I think she was afraid you’d hate her.” Sam dropped his head, and Frodo ran a hand through his curls. 

“The thing is that I’ll always love you,” he said quietly. 

“That’s never in doubt,” Frodo said. “I’ll always love you too, with everything I have. But you deserve more than that. In my personal opinion.” He leaned back in his chair, looking at Sam. “It’s not my choice to make. I’ve never been able to tell you what to do, really, have I?”

“No,” Sam said, and sniffed and laughed. “I’ll think on it.”

The hole felt empty and quiet without Rosie, and Frodo alternating between long naps and writing. Sam felt adrift, so he threw himself into chores for the next few days. Busy hands as a cure for a busy mind; turning earth and fixing shingles and scrubbing floorboards while he thought about hope and love and happiness and the gap between wishes and reality.

“Curse him,” he said out loud to himself on the third day, yanking out weeds. “He’s always right.”

He picked two bouquets. Frodo’s was bloodroot and forget-me-nots and blue cornflowers and curling ivy, put in a vase in the study where Frodo had fallen asleep on the red book.

Rosie’s was daisies and soft green ferns and honeysuckle and queen’s lace. He tied it with string, put on his best shirt, and rode to Tuckborough.

Chapter Text

Rosie brought her mother’s old loom to Bag End. She meant to set it up and learn how to weave, but as Mistress Brockbridge got older, Rosie and her medicine bag were more in demand than ever. The loom sat in pieces in a closet until one day Sam came home from a long day helping with the harvest and found Frodo piecing it together. 

“Done writing for the day?” he asked, pouring himself a mug of beer.

“Yes, I got a hand cramp,” Frodo said, and Sam sat next to him on the floor. “Do you know how to set this up?”

“I think these go here,” Sam said, fitting the treadles under the frame. “Give me your poor hand.”

He massaged Frodo’s wrist, then his hand, rubbing away the tension. Frodo hummed and leaned against him. “I thought it would be soothing to learn,” he said. “Weaving, that is. I have an idea for a project. Will you get me some yarn in town?”

“What color?” Sam asked. 

“Surprise me,” said Frodo. 

Sam smiled, and kissed Frodo’s palm. “Better?”

“Much,” Frodo said, shaking out his wrist. “Rosie had to go to Frogmorten, someone broke an ankle and needs it set.”

“She really shouldn’t be riding about,” Sam grumbled. “Not when she’s this far along.”

“You try telling her that,” Frodo said with a smile. “And she’s barely showing. You can’t keep her cooped up here all winter.” He stood and offered Sam a hand. “Shall we start dinner so it’s ready when she gets back?” 

When Rosie came home, just as the sun was setting, she showed Frodo how to properly use the loom and Sam served them all slices of mushroom pie. And after that, Frodo often could be found in the living room. In the beginning he mostly just made knots, but little by little a pattern started to form. 

It was an odd arrangement and no mistake. The Shire gossip had started up with a vengeance when Sam married Rosie, with Frodo there smiling at them, and Rosie had moved into Bag End; but Sam did not feel the need to explain to anyone. Because it worked , in a way that he couldn’t explain even to himself, except that the way he loved Frodo and the way he loved Rosie were completely different. 

Rosie was often off on jobs, but when she was home she filled the house with talk and it seemed lighter and brighter somehow. The idea of having a wife had always felt odd to Sam, like marriage took two people and made them into flat characters from a boring story. But Rosie was still just Rosie, who he had known since childhood, and Sam was still himself.

Frodo had left Bag End for the wedding, but besides that he rarely went further than the garden. The illness came back now and again, and lasted a little longer every time; but when he was well he spent most of his time writing. 

There were still sweet times, though. Lying in the garden talking about the past, the way Frodo kissed him goodbye in the morning when he went off to work, Frodo reading stories out loud as they all sat by the fireplace. Sam tried his hardest to enjoy the moments for what they were, each one precious, never expecting more. Which seemed to help Frodo, too; to not have any expectations on him. He still suffered, and still got tired, and still saw things that weren’t there. But when he was well, he seemed almost happy.

And Sam felt lucky beyond reason; and if it was hard to believe he deserved all this, well, he had two people who insisted he did, and it was hard to argue with both of them. 

Rosie gave birth at home, with help from May. “You can see her now,” May said to Sam, who was pacing in the kitchen while Frodo sat at the loom tying off a weaving of soft blue and gold. 

Sam rushed into the room. Rosie was flushed and smiling, her hair damp with sweat, a bundle in her arms.

“A girl,” she said, and Sam dropped to his knees next to the bed. Rosie showed him; the baby was sleeping, face pink and wrinkled, golden hair like Marigold’s and toes covered in a fine down. Rosie pressed her face into his shoulder.

“I love you, Samwise,” she said. “Isn’t she beautiful?

“Love you too,” he said, dropping a kiss on her forehead, unable to look away from the baby. “Oh, but she’s perfect. Are you well?” 

She nodded. “Mm. Wasn’t as bad as I expected.” She passed him the baby and his heart trembled and broke open, feeling her tiny and curled up in his arms, more miraculous than any elven treasure. There were more ways to love than he’d ever thought, and he kept finding new heights and new depths. 

“Come in,” Rosie said warmly, and Sam looked up to see Frodo hesitant in the doorway, holding his weaving. He smiled, a true smile, and came in and stood behind Sam.

“A girl,” Sam said, and Frodo rested his chin on Sam’s shoulder. “And here I was thinking if it was a boy we’d call him Frodo.”

“Let’s give her a flower name,” Rosie said. “Something pretty.”

“But special,” Sam said. 

“What about Elanor, after the flowers in Lothlorien?” Frodo said, then blushed when they turned to look at him. “Or, well, you should choose of course, since you’re - ”

“Elanor is perfect,” Rosie said, and Sam turned and put the baby in Frodo’s arms. 

“Elanor,” he said, and she opened her eyes - bright blue, somehow, even though Sam and Rosie both had brown eyes. He wrapped her in the weaving, which Sam realized was, of course, was a baby blanket. Sam put his arm around Frodo and Rosie put her hand in his. “Welcome to the Shire.”

Elanor’s baby blanket was ragged, the yarn coming loose, but she still carried it everywhere. It was an afternoon in late summer, and she was wearing it as a cape and running around the garden, waving a spoon like a sword. 

“Who are you fighting?” Sam asked, when she whirled past where he was tying up the tomatoes. 

“’Piders,” she said with a ferocious scowl, and swiped at the air and fell. Sam cheered her, because if you didn’t let a child know they had reason to cry they usually wouldn’t; and sure enough she popped up right away. “Frodo!” she yelled excitedly, and tore across the garden to where he was coming out of the house.

It had been weeks since Sam had seen him outside, and he smiled when Elanor threw herself at his knees. Frodo bent to pick her up, pretended she was too heavy, and let her pull him down and sit on his chest. 

“Do you need rescuing,” Sam called, but Frodo rolled over with a grin and scooped Elanor up. 

“Why are you out here,” Elanor asked him, fiddling with his bracers.

“To talk to your dad,” Frodo said, walking over to Sam.

“Or to play with me,” she said. 

“You’d better listen to her,” Sam said as Frodo put Elanor down and sat next to him. “Lass knows her mind.”

 “I will play with you,” Frodo said solemnly to Elanor. “But first you must complete a quest for me. Can you do that?” She nodded, blue eyes fixed on his. 

“Find me three black stones and a red flower,” Frodo said. 

“Do you need them for magic?” she asked. Elanor was going through a phase where she thought everyone was a wizard.

“I do,” said Frodo. And Elanor tore off, and Sam sat back on his heels to look at Frodo.

“It’s nice to see you outside,” he said. Frodo had been sick, had spent almost all of July abed and was still thin and pale; but there was color back in his cheeks now. He sat down next to Sam and took his hand, looking pleased and wistful all at once. “What is it?”

“I finished,” Frodo said, and Sam realized what he meant a moment later.

“Oh,” was all he could say, and he gathered Frodo in his arms. 

Later Frodo would give him the red book, and ask him to keep it safe. Later they would make plans to meet up with the elves traveling from Rivendell. Later Sam would cry, and Rosie would stroke his hair, and Elanor would follow Frodo from room to room as if she knew he was leaving. 

Later still, as September grew old, Rosie would take Elanor and her baby brother Frodo to her parents’ and Sam would spend a last night with him, saying things they had already said a thousand times and looking at each other and not sleeping, and in the morning they would ride out to meet the elves.  

But just now, Frodo was fragile and perfect in his arms, and when he pulled back to look at Sam’s face his eyes were so happy and hopeful that Sam could not be sad, not just then. 

Once the Ring had tried to tempt him with a vision like this. Frodo in the garden under dappled shade, sleeping peacefully. But it was a lie that you could ever keep someone you loved like that, perfectly preserved and still forever. All you could do was be happy for the moments like this one, moments so perfect that they could make a whole life special, even when they ended and never came again.

Elanor threw herself into the middle of their embrace. “Here,” she said, shoving a spray of yarrow in Frodo’s face, a handful of rocks. 

“One of these is a nut,” Frodo said. “But it will do.” And Sam quickly wiped his eyes, and then sat back and watched as Frodo allowed himself to be dragged away. He wondered if Elanor would remember Frodo when she got older. He resolved not to let her forget. 

That moment in the garden was what he thought about on the ride to the Havens. When he heard gulls for the first time, and knew that he would never again be able to hear them without grief dragging at him. When Bilbo trotted happily onto the elven ship, and the lady Galadriel flashed a smile that went right to his heart. 

“Here I am hoping you’ll have changed your mind,” he said, after Frodo embraced Merry and Pippin. A bad attempt at a joke, made because he did not want Frodo to see how sad he was. He wanted to be able to smile, because Frodo liked to see him smile.

Frodo wrapped his arms around him. “Thank you,” he said in his ear. “I don’t think anyone in all of Middle-Earth has been loved as well and deeply as you have loved me.” And that made Sam cry, of course, and Frodo kissed his forehead and cupped his cheek so they were eye to eye.

“I just wish it could have been enough to save you,” Sam whispered. He hadn’t meant to say it, had wanted to keep this feeling private and quiet. But it just came out.

“I would have died in the mountain if not for you,” Frodo said. “But now I am alive, and I am going to heal. So you did save me.” Sam nodded, and Frodo leaned forward. “Read the last page,” he murmured in his ear.

He didn’t say goodbye. Just took Gandalf’s hand and went onto the elf ship, there at the Havens as the sun was setting over the sea and everything looked like silver glass. 

Look back , Sam thought. Just once . Realizing he was at the beginning again, when a single look from Frodo had meant the entire world.

And he did look, and he was smiling in a way Sam had not seen for a very long time. So Sam smiled back, not crying anymore, and he watched the ship sail away until it disappeared into the blaze of sun on the water, and he thought of the moment in the garden.

At home he kissed Rosie, and Elanor clung to his neck with sticky hands and buried her face in his traveling cloak. “I just need to check something,” he said, grateful that Rosie did not ask how it had been. 

The red book was in the study. There were empty pages in the back, because the story had not filled the entire book. “The last pages are for you, Sam,” Frodo had said, though Sam did not know what he would write yet. He turned all the way to the back, where Frodo had written two sentences at the very bottom of the page.

* ❦ *

When he was ready, and had enjoyed all the joys life and the Shire had to offer, Master Samwise rode out from Bag End. And though none know for sure where he went from there, the tradition is handed down that he passed the Towers, and went to the Grey Havens, and passed over the sea, last of the Ring-bearers.

* ❦ *

Sam touched the letters gently, and then closed the book. He would not read it again until he’d written enough to fill the pages before it, and that meant he had a lot of living to do.

Rosie came in and wrapped her arms around him from behind. “You’ll miss him,” she said into his back. 

“Always,” Sam said. “But I’m home now.”

Chapter Text

“Do you remember Frodo?” 

Elanor looked at him in the light of the fireplace, sipping her wine. How odd it was to be able to see her as a tiny baby, and a tween, and now a respectable adult and mother to her own children, all at the same time. Her eyes were still bright as ever; the only one of his children with blue eyes, although since the last time Sam had seen her she’d taken to wearing glasses.

“Only a little,” she said. “And most of it is mixed up with your stories of him.”

“Do you still have that blanket he made you?” Sam asked. 

“It’s around here somewhere,” she said. “Firíel discovered it when he was little and carried it everywhere.” She cocked her head. “Are you finally going to live with us, Dad? I hate thinking of you in that big hole all by yourself, now that Ma…”

She trailed off, and looked into the fire. She hadn’t been able to make it back in time for the funeral, but that was what happened when you lived far from home. Sam had brought her a few things of Rosie’s to keep.

“No, I don’t plan to go back there,” Sam said. He stretched, his knees creaking. They always ached in the cold, and though he’d left Bag End in September it had taken him several weeks to get to the Tower Hills where Elanor lived, and October had come in blustery and chilly. 

Still, a body did not forget. The old rhythm of traveling had returned to him, and his feet itched for the road. 

“Well, we can make up the guest room for you,” Elanor said. “Or look for a place in town, if you’d like your own space - ”

“Thank you, my dear,” Sam said. “But I will be continuing.”

“Oh,” she said. “What do you mean?”

“I have an old promise to keep,” Sam said. “Well, not exactly a promise. But the ending to a very long story that has already been written.” 

She frowned at him. “Are you well, Dad?”

“Very well,” Sam said, and took out of his bag a package wrapped in paper. “This will explain it better than I can.”

She unwrapped it, hands gentle and reverent when the leather cover was revealed. “The red book. You never let us read it as kids.”

“You know all the important tales,” Sam said. “But there’s one that never got told, except in that book. So I’d like you to keep it safe, and even read it if you like.” He stood up. “And I’m off.”

“But where are you going ?” Elanor asked, fetching his walking stick. “Can’t you stay a little longer?”

“I’ve waited quite a long time already,” Sam said, and took her hand in his. “I’m going home.”

“But you said you weren’t - ”

“Not to Bag End,” he said, and kissed her cheek, and went out her door and into the night.

He didn’t make it to the Havens until the end of November. The sky was a steely grey, spitting rain, and it was misty so he didn’t see the Sea until it was almost under his feet. Gull cries echoed off the elven towers built into the cliff side, and this time they made him happy.

It took a bit of searching to find the Shipwright where he was holed up in one of the towers. He was an elf, but with a long grey beard, and he seemed surprised to see another living person.

“Are you lost, grandfather?” he asked when Sam appeared in his doorway. “The land of the halflings is many miles to the East.”

“Not lost,” Sam said, shaking rain off his cloak and sticking out his hand. “Samwise Gamgee. The last of the Ringbearers.”

The elf cocked his head and looked at Sam with a faint, confused smile. “The Ringbearers all passed on, nearly sixty years ago now. And I see no Ring on your finger.”

“Well, yes, seeing as we destroyed it,” Sam said, feeling stubborn. He was a century old but elves always made him feel like an insolent tween. “It was a whole to-do. Perhaps you’ve heard the stories.”

“Perhaps I have,” the Shipwright said. “But Valinor is closed to mortals unless they have earned the passage. Do you have some way to prove yourself?”

The rain pattered against the windows and Sam wanted to laugh, because this was supposed to be the easy part of the story but then again, when had anything ever gone according to plan? No matter.

“I have this,” he said, and unbuttoned his pocket and took out the token Legolas had given him. A carved leaf, shiny from being carried around all those years; he’d always wondered if he’d have a chance to use it. 

“A token of the Woodland Realm,” the Shipwright said, holding it up in slender fingers. “Long has it been since I’ve seen something like this.” He looked up sharply. “How would a prince of elves come to owe a life debt to a halfling?”

“Is that what it means,” Sam said with a grin. Gimli and Legolas had visited more than once, and if it had stung a bit to see them happy together, well, it came in handy here. “Bit dramatic, but that was always his way. Well? I will swim if I have to, Master Shipwright, but if there’s a choice I would prefer a boat.”

The elf looked at him in surprise, and then laughed. “I’ve heard tales of your people’s stubbornness. And of Samwise Gamgee, bravest of all halflings.”

“I don’t know about bravest,” Sam said. “But stubborn is about right, at least where this is concerned.”

He did not like boats. But this one was alright, since it seemed to know where it was going and didn’t need him to do anything. Sam sat patiently aboard as it sailed ever westward, through the mists gathered around the shore and into clear water that reflected the stars like a perfect mirror when night fell. The old elf-writing on his arm shone, blurred but still bright.

At last there was a smell , a bit like kingsfoil and a bit like damp earth and growing things after a spring rain. A smell that made Sam feel almost young again. And the sun rose, drawing back the curtain of night, and Sam saw white shores and a far green country.

“Glory and trumpets,” he murmured to himself, as gulls flocked overhead and the ship bore him steadily to a port that looked not so different from the Havens, except that it was bright and colorful in the early morning sun and sky-blue flags flapped from the towers.

The elves there seemed to know who he was, and in fact treated him with much more deference than the Shipwright had. Apparently word had got around. Sam blushed at the attention and asked only to be shown to Frodo.

He’d settled outside the port, in a land where dark pine trees clustered together and white rocks stood scattered across the hills like they’d been dropped by giants. It was almost like the Shire, but the plants were all different and Sam could smell the Sea. 

A little road of white chalk and crushed sea-shells led past elf dwellings to a hobbit-hole set into the side of a hill. There was a garden, and though it had been winter in Middle-Earth, here it was blooming with flowers Sam did not know the names of. Except for the elanor blossoms lining the path; small and golden, with their white centers and leaves like lace. He hadn’t seen them since Lothlorien. 

Sam sucked in a breath, suddenly nervous. But this was where the road had led him, this was what he had held onto hope for. Estel , strong after all this time.

He knocked on the door, and it opened, and he got to see a smile that he had not seen for sixty years, and the nervousness washed away.

“Oh, Sam,” Frodo said. His hair silver, face lined, but eyes as clear as they had been before the Ring. “I really hoped you’d come.” 

“Of course I came,” Sam said, and took his hand and went inside, where the hole was bright and hung with weavings.