Spirit Spirit by Cara J. Loup


Not touching. Not yet.
How can he know that this is?

~~~

Twice, he had come to an end. Here, and high in those ugly mountains above Mordor. Harsh cliffs loured over the land in both places, black in the Ephel Dúath and a chalky grey by the Sea.

Sam climbed down the path falling towards the Grey Havens. All round him rose the fretting murmur of waves on the shore. Through the years, the sound had wound itself about his heart with a restless music, bonds unbroken that were starting to shift as the waves hissed and grew louder.

From the boundless water, the wind rushed him with cold needles, and the past crept all too near. Sam blinked against it, though it were no use when those far-off sights formed quicker than thought. The Lady's starglass shining from his hand, from Frodo's hand, when all other light had been quenched. And then -- how its fine gleam cradled Frodo's face, so still without a breath --

Rest you quiet till I come -- his own words rose dry in Sam's throat. And if the Lady could hear me and give me one wish, I would wish to come back and find you again.

He remembered the day at the Havens, losing itself into night, the same darkness. Till Merry's hand settled firm on his shoulder. "It is time we went home" -- though he might have said, we must go on, or, it is never truly over, you know that, don't you? -- any of those things.

Sam had said nothing, for there weren't a spark in him to shape an answer. That last spark had just burned out over the water, the white of the starglass nobut a memory in the dark. Under the same sky, night filled him again. Something inside had gone very still, and cold as stone.

He'd come to an end twice. A day and a night it took in Mordor; so many years now. But the choice, his choice was the same.

By the quay, the ship lay swathed in starlight, white prow and white mast, white as a cloud. Greetings flew towards him, afloat on bits of laughter and song, their silvery voices tinkling all round. "Welcome, Samwise, last of the Ringbearers."

Ropes were untied and fell in coils on the quay, as though they'd waited only for him to arrive. The white sail billowed in an eager wind, and the waves' music seemed gentler now.

No, Sam thought, climbing aboard, it weren't twice, it were three times. He'd almost gone and drowned himself in the river Anduin -- but there was Frodo's hand then, pulling him to safety, and no choice to be made no more.

When he stepped on the deck of a much bigger boat, it seemed stalwart enough at first, and safe as solid ground. But then the ship pulled out on the tide, waves rolling it this way and that. Sam wrapped an arm over his stomach, battling sickness and his old fear of water. He raised his eyes to the stars and found the light of Eärendil already high in the sky.

Once they reached yonder shore, he'd never know fear again.

~~~

Of a sudden, there's music on the air. A fierce music riding the foam such as he's never heard before, save perhaps in his dreams. It's piercing the clouds, it's swirling out of the fogs ahead. The ship glides through those veils, through a fine mist of rain as seems to arise from every direction. It settles on Sam's face, his hands, softer than tears, air more than water.

He peers out past the prow, and there's a scrap of silvered green teasing his sight. Washed in and out with swells of the song coming from nowhere. Voices like these can't rise from any throat, chest or tongue. They cut and scythe in wide arcs, bound to nothing as the coast draws nearer. Now the music burns in colours, and Sam can hardly breathe. Green dappled gold, rolling far and wide, bathed in smells of spring and sunrise.

He thinks of apple trees.

He thinks of Frodo laughing, wild curls and flashing eyes, a long life ago.

He thinks he will shatter if he sets one foot on this luminous green shore where he doesn't belong.

The music has narrowed to a single voice, fierce as the clutch in his breast. It's more familiar now, the sharp tune of a fiddle climbing the sky, a high note stretched out so thin, it will tear any moment. It glistens like the sunlight and carves round the single figure on the shore. A shadow against the sun, the blinding daylight and all its colours spilling free about him.

The ship has entered safer waters so near the coast, but Sam can feel every tilt of plank, every lap of wave titter through his marrow, reeling worse than a storm. That thin, arcing note has caught with a hook in his throat, and he's pulled ashore by its sharpest point.

He's afraid to look, but he can't look away neither. Then the music trembles and the high note splinters, and there's only blessed silence.

Can it be?

~~~

Frodo knew when the ship would come. How, he wasn't sure, but he wouldn't dream to question such a promise, such a blessing. Throughout the long night, he sat by the window and watched shadows play in the garden. Bilbo never even tried to suggest that he seek his bed and attempt to sleep.

They had all been watching him, in a quiet, unobtrusive manner: Bilbo, Gandalf, even Elrond and Galadriel when he last spoke to them. Their attention was tinged with a concern that he wished not to contemplate too closely.

I'm not whole and haven't been for almost as long as I can remember.

But though he knew Sam would come, his mind swarmed with questions to which there could be no answer before morning. Many years, Sam had been married, had raised his children, rooted in a life that twined its claim round his heart. A life full of contentment, Frodo hoped, while these thoughts raised their confines about him. But what held the bond that brought Sam now -- the fulfillment of an old promise--?

And if it is that, I shall be grateful, Frodo thought, it is more than enough for me -- though the cold sting in his eyes called him a liar.

This night was the longest he had ever known. Every minute pulled through him with the ship's approach, sharp as the silver of Sam's treasured rope, strung so tight that it thrummed. Time thundered into pressing forward motion. Then, he burned and ached again, impatient, hunched forward over the hollow in his breast. He could feel the past waken in his old injuries and welcomed it, even that.

When was the last time he had felt this restless? So full of life and peril, his heartbeats were out of rhythm with his breath and his limbs out of balance with his will. The waiting crawled fingers of frost down his spine, stretching around his ribs, and sparked a feeling he didn't recognise at first.

He hadn't known fear in such a long time.

~~~

Sam lost his reckoning of days in the crossing of the waters. All he knew was the ship's rocking movement that sloshed questions about, under sun, under stars, and turned them into endless circles.

Does he live -- is he whole and cured -- what shall I do if he's not and what if he is?

And while those questions tumbled about in circles, he thought of the Ring's spell. How it stretched and tore at Frodo's life and made him look for ever young, same as old Mr. Bilbo -- but what if age had caught up to him now? Sam tried not to think on it too hard, seeing as how he couldn't bother the fair folk with such useless queries.

The Elves that travelled with him to yonder shore spoke the Common Tongue, and that was a comfort to be sure. In years past, he'd learned their language from Mr. Bilbo's books, one stumbling sentence after the next, but the words were still thick and harsh on his tongue. The Elves hadn't laughed at his stuttered greeting though. Círdan the shipwright bowed to him, with a kindly look in his eye, as if he knew. How long the years had been. How hard the waiting. Unlike any other Elf Sam knew, Círdan's hair was winter-grey. And now they steered to a place where time was out of its running.

Perhaps to Frodo it had seemed only a week, a month, or a season, Sam thought, no more. With part of his mind, he hoped that it could be so, and with another that it weren't. That Frodo had felt the weight of years and their crushing grip, that he would know --

Sam wandered along the moist deck. He didn't ought to be thinking that. In the star-glints of light on the water, he caught the shades of so many memories, slipping below. If only, if only...

The remembering made him feel young, and unrestful with hope, and so anxious, he thought he might never sleep again. Frodo... Not a day longer, not a night more.

Close to the ship's prow, a tall Elf let the wind play tangle with his hair while he watched over the wide nothing. Sam stood by, and there was but one word rocking about in his head,

please.

~~~

His nights are coloured with strange dreams. Waves gush white above the sides of the ship, a glittering froth as they ride these roily waters. Sam sits with his head resting on his knees, huddled up against a lurching sickness, while the speed rips at his breath. He recollects one very lively dream, and it's sharpened in the broken light, the crashing of water to wood.

The foam turns still as lace as the dream unfolds, shaping round Frodo's face, his eyes slitted against streaming sunlight. The sound of his own voice shapes odd echoes in Sam's head.



"I'm not so young anymore."

"Do you feel old?" Frodo asked with a sudden flicker of amusement.

"Less than I should, now," Sam murmured, "but..." When he raised his hands to his eyes for a steady look, his sight was blurred.

"Look at yourself, Sam."

He bent over a clear pool, and it threw back his familiar face, fully how he'd expected to see it, with all the grey in his hair and the traces of age. But before he could say a thing, the image wavered, just as it had in the Lady's Mirror, and in poured a sight of sky above, bright blue and yet full of stars.

He leaned closer, and it seemed the stars rushed and spiraled up from under the water, till they burst apart bubbling in a madness of colour. When Sam blinked, he could see the wildness settle into weaving shapes -- blue white purple and green -- like a flowerbed planted with the loveliest of each season, and golden at the centre. The brightness hurt his eyes.

"No, look," Frodo insisted gently, and hummed a strange little tune.

He was suddenly very afraid, and not on account of the Mirror and the fearsome sights he'd spotted there. A rousing music slipped into his body and tore -- as if resettling his bones.

"Sam," Frodo's voice said close by his ear, and he looked then, pulled along by the sound of his name, the soft promise in Frodo saying it.

The water had stilled, and his face was his own again, a bewildered look beneath tousled curls, and all the lines of years gone. All save one that lay silver-pale on his forehead, the little scar being Gollum's parting curse. He touched a fingertip to the spot and felt the skin smooth around it.

"This can't be!"

Frodo reached for his hand. "What we are here is what shaped our spirit."



...but more than that, it's skin, under his hands. It's the grip of Frodo's fingers on his own, hard and clammy, as if he's frightened too.

This is not a memory, and it isn't a dream neither.

Time... time eddies and curls about them and stills. But for all that, it takes a long while ere he can speak.

"I saw the light in you sometimes, Mr. Frodo."

"And here I can finally see the light in you with my own eyes, and not just my heart."

~~~

Not touching, not yet.

He stands on the shore that is firm under his feet, for all that his senses want to argue with this; they're still full of the reeling, rolling movement. The bright colours storm him from every side.

In this sudden, airy silence, he takes shallow breaths, the keen, high note still atremble in his breast. So green. The Blessed Lands near swallow Frodo with their bright dazzling under the sun. Mallorn trees stand on the ridge and throw flares sharp as lightning into the air when the wind shakes their leaves. Are those towers in the distance, their white tips glinting like stars at mid-day?

A wildness pounds through him, and he can't seem to look at Frodo yet, full on, he's too afraid --

"Mr. Frodo..." He hasn't the breath for more, and a weak stammer it is.

Something shifts on Frodo's face, from unsure expectation to hope. This must be a dream.

Sam bends down to touch the grass, and the ground swings sidewise, so he grips strongly into the clod. Damp and rich, living earth crumbles in his fist.

"Sam."

His voice, soft and questioning. The sound shivers down Sam's back. He can smell the soil on his hands; familiar, and not so. As if the earth is sweeter here, gentle on all fledgling roots as want to burrow in for a hold. He gasps. His hands are those of a young hobbit.

"Sam..." The sun flares around Frodo, catching on his curls and kindling those russet glints that will show up only in a certain light.

Sam blinks against that awful brightness. He's on his knees, grass and earth on his hands, but Frodo moves, so he can see him clearly.

Oh, but he's changed, changed in a manner Sam never thought to see again. There's a faint tracing of age on his face now, set in the fine lines around his eyes and mouth, that make the soft curves seem all the sweeter. There's a gentling in the jaw, and a hint of past laughter fanning at the corner of his lips that curl slightly. The shaping years have come over his face like a touch of the silver that's still missing from his hair. He's beautiful as he's always been, ought to have been, with a mellow depth in his eyes. And he's --

Free. Sam thinks he might never tear his eyes away again. This is what he saw once, in Ithilien, when the Ring eased its hold on Frodo for an hour or two. But Frodo was asleep then, safe where he didn't know a thing as would trouble him. Now he's wide awake, the wind burning on his cheeks, and he smiles, shy as a lad.

His heartbeat batters high in Sam's throat as he stumbles to his feet. It takes only this one step, longer than years, across a gap as wide as the Sea, then perhaps he can reach out. Frodo moves toward him, lithe as a tweenager, and Sam's breath dies on what he can't say.

But then Frodo's fingers find the wetness on his face that he hasn't noticed, cooling in the wind, he's here, and his touch is --

"Frodo..."

-- is real. His hand.

It's sudden, clashing into him like a gale, the touch of Frodo's hand, the clasp of his arms wrapping tight round Sam's back. His face is buried at Frodo's neck, where he can smell his skin, and everything's so still. As if the whole world were come to an end, falling and closing in till there's only the hurt in his chest.

But now he knows why the music has stopped. The song is inside him, and he's inside it, they both are.

"OhFrodoFrodo..." He can't stop saying it, while his fingers wind into the dark curls and Frodo's chest heaves against his with staggered breaths, and the trembling only grows worse. What they whisper to each other comes out in tatters, in a tumble of laughter and tears.

"I've missed--"
"Oh, I can't say..."
"--the time, the waiting... I've so dreaded--"
"--never knowin' when to start..."
"Here, you're here."

Not enough air to breathe, or too much of it. And now they'll not let go.

~~~

As the stars changed overhead and a strange wind whipped the waters into spray and fog, Sam dreamed of the Shire that would be.

New doors dotted the north side of the Hill, wheat and rye swayed where the Bywater woods had been, and a brick tower guarded the bounds of Michel Delving, peering across to the Tower Hills.

He dreamed of the Green Dragon, where all his friends had gathered one last time. They were toasting his health, amidst the laughter and bawdy songs, mugs clacking, a high cheer lit on all their faces. "Sam, do you hear?" Merry had his arm thrown over Pippin's shoulders, whose locks were now white though his eyes still sparkled when Merry kissed his chin and the tip of his nose. "Tell Frodo..."

He dreamed of Bag End. From the kitchen garden, he walked through a whirl of fireflies under the trees. The grass had grown long and limp, swishing strangely about his knees, and spiders had trailed their webs under the windows. One shutter hung askew. From somewhere dim drifted the high voices of Ruby and Tom and a thread of Rosie's singing, but when he nudged the creaking door, not a light burned in the hall. From the silence, a shadow flickered. Frodo stepped towards him, his curls straggling over his shoulders, his eyes empty. "You're late, Sam."

Before Sam could answer, the dream fell to pieces, and the last he saw were the fireflies, dancing like crazed stars on the kitchen window.

He woke up clutching his travel pack, not a memory forming, not a question, just --

please
please let this be the end of it I can't bear
no more.

~~~

Will there ever be another moment like this? So full that it's crushing the air into glass, that it strains his skin?

Frodo keeps his arms tight around Sam, though he can't keep them from trembling. Each breath brings a new marvel of scent and touch, the simple delight of Sam's curls tickling his nose. Frodo's smile tingles on his lips, as if he's had to learn it anew.

He longs to turn his face, to move past that final inch and catch Sam's breath on his mouth. He doesn't dare. It's Sam's choice now, and with every heartbeat he waits -- certain now that whatever is given will bless and release him --

"Frodo," Sam murmurs, with greater conviction, greater awe.

-- and here the waiting ends, when their mouths meet, soft in welcome, and Sam's kiss takes away years of uncertainty, so light and swift and tender, years that he hasn't lived, with one breath.

It lasts only a moment, but when it ends, the emptiness he hasn't felt for so long sprawls vast and hungry on Frodo's skin, and he barely stops himself from pulling Sam back against him. It's enough for now, oh, more than --

The breath that he's taken from Sam's mouth unravels in his chest. There's so much they'll have to learn, to discover again. And this smile that his fingers trace out from the corners, though it wavers in the scattered gold falling through mallorn leaves, is --

Everything he hoped for, a glass cut on the skin of time that's released at last.

~~~

The waiting grows on Frodo like an odd habit does. They live together in the new smial, but it isn't Sam's home yet. How could it be? He moves with painful caution among the finely carved furniture, the delicate glass and glazed earthenware in the kitchen. 'Mr. Frodo' and 'sir' slip more easily off his tongue than the absence of these courtesies, these marks of station and distance, does.

At times, their fingers will twine and their mouths mesh when they sit in the garden or wander over the lonely heaths and meadows near the coast. They will hold each other lightly, a breath apart, and Frodo is very careful not to crush Sam to him. Sam's wishes and desires are still fledging from a long cast of shadows. So Frodo will wait for him to come home truly and count the small, pulse-racing pleasures of which there are so many.

A look, wide-eyed and hungering, that Sam will suddenly give him while they're clearing the remnants of luncheon away from the table. Sam's hands running up the furrowed bark of a tree where newly hatched firemoths have left their white cocoons in every nook and gnarl. The juice of a ripe apple glistening on Sam's mouth, dribbling a thin trail over his chin that Frodo can kiss away. At nights, they will sleep in the same bed, so close not a breath can slip between them.

Even though the years have been lifted away and Sam is restored to his full strength, even though his movements are sure and fluid and his skin glows with days of unspoiled sun, Frodo can see something fragile in him that he never noticed before. Not of years but of loss, of a silence he carries with him. Sam is changed.

It's his doing, Frodo thinks, when he finds himself in the presence of such scars that demand a sharp caution. He waits, encased in a happiness that breaks the light in its thin fractures.

~~~

They walked away from the coast without going very far. From the corner of his eye, Sam could still see the ship, a pale ghost in the morning mists. Where the grass was wet with spray, dipping down to a shadowed dell, they stopped again. The noise of the Sea rolled in Sam's ears, and there was a wind hereabouts that pricked hard in his chest. All the while, he held Frodo's hand clasped in his, but it wouldn't steady him no more than the walking did. With every step, it seemed he was waiting to fall.

The strange music had returned too, flooding down from the ridge in the rhythm of the Sea. He felt wheeled about in the dazzle of light and song, and the watery shade of the dell offered some comfort, leastways.

"I can't..." He broke off with a hitch of his shoulders.

"We don't have to hurry." Frodo smiled and squeezed his fingers for reassurance. "We can stay here a while."

"If you don't mind, Mr. Frodo."

The quick glance Frodo sent him carried a bit of humour and more of anxiety, and Sam raised their joined hands, cupping Frodo's to bury a kiss in his palm. This brief taste, skin and salt, stung him, stronger than any taste he could recollect. He could touch now, at last, and hold --

But the ease of this, the close warmth of Frodo in his arms near crushed his breath, the rich spill of dark curls through his fingers no less than a miracle, a dream. Sam laid his hands along Frodo's face, breathing him, so near... The wind slipped between their mouths, snatching at murmurs, at the shy kisses passing back and forth. "I'm glad, Sam, I cannot tell you..."

And the cloudy look in Frodo's eyes, like a far-off storm over the sea, opened a want in his body that pulled him down, pulled them together, into the grass cradle, into the wet green and the wild roll of sound.

"Sam..." A whisper breathed ragged along his throat. He flicked the buttons of Frodo's weskit open and those of his shirt followed, desperate to reach skin. His hands flew over Frodo's chest, taking the measure of long shivers and shortened breaths ere settling at the centre. He leaned down and pressed his lips where a furious heartbeat hammered against his open mouth. Yes. Here.

Alive.

The hurt sparked in his breast, his throat, his temples. There was such happiness in every moment, such a crystal completeness as he'd never known before, crowding into him and turning over, so bright and jagged. Pale gold and green and blue, blue... He gasped against Frodo's mouth, mute with needs he couldn't dare.

The music roused in a fevered rhythm, pushing hard through every part of his body, and something seared in his chest, wrenching outward. His hands clutched, and he looked down at Frodo sprawled under him, silver spray in his hair. His lips parted on an anxious breath, his eyes brimful of tears. And everything so bright that he was slipping...

Sam bit his lip at the shudder that seized him, his own skin astir of want, alight --

-- and if this were joy, he couldn't bear it. He sat up, covering the shame on his face with both hands.

"Sam, what -- tell me, please." Frodo's voice bore a brittle edge, but there was just one helpless answer he could give.

"I can't breathe."

~~~

Please, Frodo.
I can't -- can't go on now --

One more step,
only one more step,
and then --

~~~

The Stars


The stars. The stars are different here, crowding the sky like a thousand tiny suns, pinned into the night in swirling patterns that bear no mark of home. But they glitter in Frodo's eyes when he lifts his face, out of a luminous silence. Then, they sing.

~~~

There will be a time for Sam to ask all the trying questions that must weigh on him. But when the first question comes, during a walk over the hills, it cuts Frodo like a knife does, with the deadly chill he remembers. Sam has stopped under a young mallorn, golden light-glints dancing over his face. His hands are balled into fists, as if he's trying to strangle the words, but they come nonetheless.

"I don't mean to... Mr. Frodo, I don't mean to question where I've no place to -- but--" He leans his head back, to stare blind at the sky. "Why did you leave me?"

The chill takes hold of Frodo. He has never seen Sam so torn open with grief. So angry. But no, that isn't true either. It is this anger that he has never seen before.

Not even when the perils of their journey sank their claws and teeth so deep, they wrenched a wild, thoughtless rage from Sam. Those memories are thick among the regrets Frodo still carries. But Sam has other shades of anger in him, some of them strangely cheerful.

Ted Sandyman, Frodo remembers.

Ted Sandyman strolled up Bagshot Row, chewing on a grass-stalk, a scornful remark leaking from the other corner of his mouth as he passed the door of Number Three. From the brush beneath the poplar, a dry walnut shot out and squarely struck the bridge of Ted's nose.

Life was whole then, complete in its small upheavals.

Frodo blinks against the clarity of the image. When did this happen? Was he there? All the memories of the Shire that he once disowned shoot forth and blossom savagely in Sam's presence. He can smell the grass in the party field now, the scent of wild honeysuckle and yarrow. All these riches unfurl about him, and Sam doesn't know.

There will be no other question. Frodo owes him an answer, but there's another past behind that look, the shadowing years in Sam's eyes, of which he knows so very little, or perhaps nothing at all. And when he speaks, what will be released?

All the words Frodo fumbles with slide down a steep silence and catch on guilt, on the hurt he has caused Sam. What used to be a dull pressure in his chest before is laid bare now, slicing upward to his throat. Sam's eyes are very dark, with a shimmer of drowning light, and so quiet as he looks at Frodo.

This is a quiet anger, thin as a blade, and its cuts so fine that the hurt doesn't set in till afterwards. Marking tracks on tender skin, always striking in a fresh place where it's unexpected. And this, Sam has endured for years.

Frodo wants to hold out his hands. How can he answer? How can it be healed?

~~~

Through all the hours of night, as he waited for the ship, Frodo sat by the window. Starlight sprinkled the grass, the flowering shrubs and bushes that he'd planted, guided by his memories of the garden at Bag End. He folded his fingers on the roughness this labour had brought to his palms. Less severe than the callouses Sam used to have and already fading again, but proof that his hands knew the strength of earth and root. It helped him remember Sam's hands, all the small scars, the precious lines and ridges and the slight roughness they lent to every touch.

Few clouds passed in the sky, but a restless wind stirred the silver to shivers in the garden. Even here, there had been nightmares. Nightmares so piercing that Frodo bolted from his bed and flung the window open, gasping for breath, and the grey shimmers on the grass would be blades turned against him, the first halo of dawn flaming into wreathed fire.

Did Sam have nightmares like these? For how many years had they crippled him? When they lived together in Bag End, Frodo never asked him about it, for fear what the answer would reveal. He set his mind firmly and thought of Rosie taking Sam's hands in hers, to soothe away the past. Be whole, Sam. Now he wished he knew.

But this night, the silvery light carved another path. Set against mute greys and hollow blue, it summoned the shades of leaving. The vast quiet of the Sea.

Be whole, Sam. Be happy.

He was imprisoned in too many shades of stillness. Frodo closed his eyes and drew back on himself to reach for the measure of a song, and Sam's voice...

Songs of the Shire that Sam still remembered when his own memories had gone under. Rhymes that Sam would speak to him but not sing, a cracked whisper against the wind whirling with ash and smoke.

A long time later, he could still see the memory of fire in Sam's eyes. But even then, there had been hope.

Frodo's decision had been made from it. He couldn't bear the thought to see it fade and die, this hope that Sam carried to the far ends of the world, that carried him back to his home and garden, where he belonged.

I didn't deserve you.
If there was ever a wish...

A soft hum lay under his tongue. Dawn burned a line of pale gold over the horizon, and Bilbo stood in the door.

"It is over," Frodo said softly, "over, at last. The waiting."

Bilbo tipped his head to one side, a frown between his brows and his mouth set in fond exasperation. "Frodo, my lad..."

Their first moment together could be many things, so many things that he could not see, had no wish to see before --

~~~

"Why did you leave me?"

Sam can taste the bite and sting of those words, and though he might wish to seize them back, there's aught he can do now but face the grief and the guilt in Frodo's eyes. It's all set free into burning anguish as he takes a short step forward.

"It's your place -- your right to ask, Sam. Who if not you..." The leaves' shadows flicker over his face, a fret of dark gold while he's pacing back and forth, as if to lose his own shadow, it seems. "All that I knew then was emptiness, and I longed only to fill it with you. How could I? You were so full of life, you were meant to give life--"

"But, how would you--?" Sam shakes his head and rubs his fist over his forehead, his throat tight on each word. "You never gave me an inch for trying..."

His thoughts are all blurred with grief, with too much recollection, shored up from those days when the fire lay behind them and another smouldered where he'd not thought to watch, like embers crawling under a loose covering of earth. "It was... everything I ever wished for. That you be safe in the Shire, safe home..." There's nobut a thread left of his voice, a thread of wishing that he never dared to speak. "...with me."

Frodo stops and wheels, as if there's a terrified understanding struck into him.

"What did I do?" Sam whispers.

"You did everything you could, Sam. It was not your fault."

It was never enough. He knows they're both thinking that now.

"Forgive me." Frodo stands a mere pace away, hands clasped behind his back, and his voice trembles. "Forgive me for doubting you. I was lost and alone. I could not see..."

He's hiding the damaged hand, same as he used to in the Shire. Not hiding it from himself, surely, because it was always in his mind, awake or asleep. But hiding it from every one else, so as to keep them believing the story's happy ending when he did not. Sam moves towards him, awkward in his anger, in his sorrow, and for showing so much of both.

But he can't help being angry that Frodo still thinks there were too little of him, that he only ever burdened Sam with himself.

He's hiding the loss of his finger. It's only a part of so many things lost, though some may yet be found again, or shaped anew. If it weren't possible, Sam would not be here.

"Frodo..."

Something lights up in Frodo's eyes at the sound of his name. They rest on Sam with disbelief, with a wondering quiet.

Sam takes a deep breath that relieves the pain in his chest. Don't you keep it away from me no more, don't you dare.

But what he does is touch.

~~~

He had expected nightmares, and his own sleep was light now that Sam lay curled against him, enclosed in his dreams. What Frodo had not foreseen was the grip of fear in his own limbs, the dizzy pull on his mind each time he heard the telltale catch in Sam's breathing. The choked whimper before it stopped altogether.

"Sam...!" His own hands too cold, Frodo would lean over, gather him fast -- "Sam, here, wake up!"

Sam's breath would be a rough sob against his face, his fingers twisting themselves into Frodo's hair, and he'd burrow into his hold with his own desperate strength. Through those moments between dreaming and waking, Frodo would never ask what frightened him so.

They would cling together, trembling, while sorrow and relief came in slow waves that would raise high and crest, to fall back more gently each time. One of these nights, these days, the nightmares would recede in the same way, pulling out like a tide.

"Breathe, my dearest," he'd whisper in Sam's ear, "breathe for me, breathe with me," breathless himself for the joy of Sam's arms around him. "Breathe..."

~~~

Summer comes to the Blessed Lands with the sound of Sam's voice singing in the garden; or discussing taters with Bilbo, and the low-growing leaf they're tending to make up for the lack of Old Toby. Gandalf takes a great interest in their efforts and at times will motion Sam aside for murmured conversations.

What are they talking about, as they sit on the knoll, a thin drizzle falling all round them? Gandalf's laughter rolls down the slope, and they're both shielding their pipes from the rain with comical fluttering gestures.

It's still new to see Sam so free with others, aglow even among the muffled greys and greens of a rainy summer day.

Each moment blooms like unhurried hours as Frodo stands in the new garden. There was always the fear of an ending, but now he can take in every gesture and the warm sound of Sam's voice as long as the days run. Nothing will be missed, nothing will be lost.

From one moment to the other, tears run down his face. And Sam, with his uncanny sense for the slightest shift in his moods, looks across. Walks over quick as lightning, so his arms can fold about Frodo, enclose him in warmth spiced with the scent of pipeweed and wet cloth, wet skin. His question is a tender breath against Frodo's ear, and he's kissing the rain off Frodo's face, along with the tears.

"Everything," Frodo murmurs, raising his head to meet Sam's eyes. They're a nut-flecked green in this light, this blessed season. "Now I have everything I ever wished for. And my heart is so full, I cannot keep it to myself. Do you think you'll grow tired of hearing it? I love you. I love you."

~~~

Trumpets


The sound of trumpets. It quivers in his marrow, like the sea's thunder does, a brazen edge to every note. Out of the sunset, it rises like fire and smoke, and a queer choice of music it is for these peaceful lands. But it also puts him in mind of the day when they first held each other, like this, against sure loss. Sam can see the gold of it catch fire on Frodo's hair, charging him with thunder and raw joy. Your love, he thinks, your love is like that.

~~~


Sam used to think that happiness was all of one piece, but here it sparkles in such a tilt and slant each moment, it's like gathering beads run off a string, and trying hard to let not the smallest spill through his fingers.

There's the hum of Frodo's voice from the well, his smile that outshines any tears, catching Sam in the heart with its blinding joy. There's the scent of so many strange flowers in their garden, and the rustles at dusk, when he knows the trees themselves are singing, a sweet strain that flows down over his skin like the breeze.

On these mid-year days, the air's so thick with wonder that Sam grows unrestful. Then he feels small with his fond recollections of the Shire and what grief he's still holding, like pebbles rattling together in his chest.

At mid-day, he wanders round the garden, and Frodo walks with him, through the floating summer green that brings on a memory of Ithilien, spiced with such herb scents as will draw a haze across the land.

He stops in front of a spare young tree on the south slope, whose boughs are drooping in the still air. An unhealthy blush traces the outer leaves, and the dryness of too much sun crackles in its twigs. Sam runs his fingers through the green clusters, darting a glance up the slope and back to the tree that's scarce grown to the height of his shoulders. "And who set you here where you've no business of being?"

"I did." Frodo looks abashed. "It was a mere sapling that Bilbo brought along from a walk one day. He found it uprooted by the brook and thought we might rescue it."

"Aye, but it's growing right quick and wants the shading of a forest, if I don't miss my guess."

Sam begins to ponder what's to be done. For a start, they could surround it in those stalky shrubs that look like coltsfoot with their broad, fanning leaves and will shoot up tall in the space of one season. He leans down, wondering if the tree can be moved to the mulberry grove, but the youngling has dug its roots in firm and could light be injured. Elanor blossoms flower in the grass of the grove, like stars that wink and whirl in their own brightness. Sam gets up and turns his back, chattering away about planting and pruning while Frodo listens.

"And that tresslebush down yonder might do with a companion or two, if you don't mind."

Frodo puts a hand on his arm, finally stopping him in his aimless prattle. "Why would I mind? It's your garden, Sam, everything here is yours as much as it is mine."

Worry shows in his face, hangs in his urgent plea, and Sam can feel the shifting of sharp-edged stones in his chest again. He looks away.

"I never had no right to ask -- to keep this much for myself."

"Oh Sam, you always did."

He hears the rue in Frodo's voice, but right then, he can't answer it. When he walks again, his feet take him to the mulberry grove where the shadows are softer and cradle him in the scents of Overlithe. The wind has been hiding under these trees. "I kept the garden at Bag End as I did for you."

Even though Frodo stands behind him, a pace or a half away, Sam can feel his anguish as if it lay coiled under his fingers.

"You must miss your family," Frodo says softly.

"Aye, that I do."

The silence grows heavy with Frodo's regret, there's no mistaking it. "Tell me everything about them... about the Shire..."

Sam clears his throat. "Oh, but that will take a mighty long time."

It's a fool's reply, what with so much patient time on their hands, but his reckoning is still rooted in the Shire. Behind him, Frodo keeps very quiet, as if he might disturb Sam's memories. Though Sam may wish he hadn't caused such a cloud, he can't chase it away neither. When his eyes fall on the star-shaped blossoms in the grass, he remembers too much, and the memory lays soft hands on his shoulders.

"Rosie was... a wife as anyone would wish for, good and true..." Awkward words that feel strange in his mouth. "But I couldn't--" Thick and trembling, the grief's pressing up, out "--oh, I did what I could to keep her happy! She never did see me cry." His fingers clench into fists, close on nothing at all. "Twice a year, Frodo. I don't know as you could mark the reckoning of days here, but I did. Every year that went by."

Black days they were, holed away from his family, locked in violent grief and terrors that he kept quiet, out of sight.

"I was lost," he whispers, scarce breathing. "Like I was without you when we came into Mordor..."

The pit that he's known for so long, that he's falling into, opens wide in his breast. And he knows nothing till he finds himself again in Frodo's arms, where he's safe -- safe...

"I'm sorry." Sam finds his voice stronger than he'd ever have expected, but it's still thin as a wisp. It slips away from him, caught and netted into a wind of many voices.

A simpler melody runs through the grass, or maybe it is that his ears have grown more familiar with the fierce harmonies.

"Don't be." Frodo's fingers caress his hair, his face with endless, tender fervour. "You don't have to hide anything here." Closer still, he'll brush the words on Sam's skin, "Not from me, Sam. You don't have to leave your life behind either."

He can't say more now. It feels as if he's spit out a stone, and his throat is raw. Raw for a surge, a gasp...

He looks at Frodo, and his breath moves with the wind in his hair. He can see ahead now, too.

On a day like this, as they sit beneath the trees, he will tell Frodo about the children, and maybe sing the songs they liked best. Then their laughter will surround him again like sunshine and forgiveness.

He sobs like a child when Frodo tells him, "You're not lost. You never were."

~~~

They're running, racing the wind. Frodo feels younger than he has ever been. He hasn't laughed like this -- oh, for a lifetime, and it's wrapped around Sam, all atumble on the cool, streaming air. There are moments now when he no longer knows the difference between laughter and tears, when both glisten as the rain-washed sky will. He's healing so fast that he can almost feel it crackle in his limbs, as if he's growing -- like the foundling tree in the shade that Sam has planted for it.

Frodo breaks the wild run halfway up the slope and spins to look at Sam who's several steps behind and below. He feels like shouting.

"Everything I am, I give to you. Will you have me?"

And Sam's joy --

He spins with the fierce threadwork around a sun that's too bright to look at. Frodo's chest is hollow from the running and his head full of light when Sam catches him.

"I'm here, my love," he'll breathe, shaky with the moment's exuberance. "For always."

This is how it will be.

~~~

The book that Frodo has been writing in is bound in red leather. The leather still gleams, but inside, there are marks on the paper beside those of the quill that give Sam the best reckoning of Frodo's years and what they've been to him.

Some pages have been turned more often than others. In some places, the ink's become blurred. Sam runs his fingers over those stains, to the crease of the page. Drawn at its top is the rose of the four winds, and an elanor blossom below. He holds the open book out to Frodo. "Will you read it for me?"

"Oh, it's -- you know I never had Bilbo's gift of words." Frodo fidgets a little, but he sits himself down in a chair, and his finger draws aimless hoops on the page before he begins.

"When the wind came from the south, I buried my hands in the earth and thought of you under the apple trees, and you were close as the summer,

"When the east wind blew, I tasted fire and dust, and I felt your back tremble as you carried me,

"When the wind rose from the north, I could not wait a day longer, and your voice was a far whisper,

"But when the west wind blows..."

Frodo stops, his head bowed, but Sam can see that his shoulders are shaking. He wraps his arms tight about Frodo, as tight as he can, and murmurs the missing answer in his ear.

"...a ship will sail ashore and I'll know that I'm home."

~~~

Many nights, he dreams that Frodo is dead. As he steps off the boat, the Elves watch his pitiful struggle up the grassy slope. The green burns in his eyes, and his legs near refuse him. Age hangs on him with iron weights.

Up on the ridge, Frodo is laid on a bier, sunlight washing over him in merciless waves.

"Only an hour ago," whispers the Lady, and she holds the starglass out to Sam. "His true grief was beyond our healing. Our only solace lies in the knowledge that he is finally at peace."

But Sam can see that he's not. He sees the knife-lines of pain in the corners of Frodo's eyes, his mouth, the white clutch of knuckles wanting to hold on. Sam sets the starglass against his still chest, and it splinters in his fingers. The shards bleed white through the red. The music that swells on every side is torn to a pitch and howls into the silence that will join them again.

Each time, he wakes because he stopped breathing. What if this is the dream?

~~~

On these cloudless mornings, the sky is a rare and brittle blue. Frodo stands in the kitchen and looks around -- at the tidy stack of dishes, the flowers on the table, the dried and bundled herbs. Unless he scrambles to take care of it himself, Sam will clean up after him, just as he used to. Now he's busy chopping and dicing vegetables for the day's meals.

Frodo stops close behind him, tucking his chin over Sam's shoulder. "You don't have to do that, Sam. You don't have to do for me any more."

His fingers slide up over Sam's wrist, cup the hand that holds the kitchen knife poised to the belly of a radish, his thumb on its spine. What was meant to be playful becomes a short, unsettling tussle as he pries the knife from Sam's fingers. It drops with a clatter, and Sam lifts his head to look ahead, his lips tight. Frodo stands back quickly.

"But then -- what am I supposed to be doing?" Sam turns to look at him. "What will I do?"

"Everything you wish."

But that, Frodo can see, is a foreign thought to Sam, a fearsome proposal for being so vast. And he never knew, until now, that this is why Sam let him go.

Sam shakes his head. "You always told me what to do, if you don't mind my speaking out. Even when you were gone... It was you that said how my life was laid for me, becoming Mayor and all..." He falters and draws a quick breath. "And the children -- do you know, you gave names to the first six of them?"

There's such grievance in his voice, it staggers Frodo and leaves him numb for a moment. "But since then, Sam..."

He might not have heard all the stories yet, but even cloaked in Sam's modesty as they are, it's clear that the Shire's affairs were in the best, most capable of hands.

"I served, Mr. Frodo. That was my job."

Sam hasn't called him that in a while, and it's so deliberate now that Frodo's chest runs hot with protest. But then Sam's gaze loses that flash of stubborn pride, and he shrugs. "Most always, you did know what's best for me."

"No, I think not." Frodo steadies his voice with effort. "I merely felt responsible, and I shouldn't have presumed--"

Sam stops him with a hand on his arm, squeezing gently. "Frodo... don't be upset now." A hint of apology slips through his voice, but his eyes hold sure and firm. "It's simple, see. If you could trust me... trust that I'm doing right as I want to be doing..."

His blunt fingertips trail up the side of Frodo's face, cradling a thin shiver. He feels laid bare, weighed and tested against his old failings, and opened into this moment when Sam takes him in with such a quiet, searching look.

"But, Sam -- I do." How could he trust anyone more?

He leans, closing his eyes, to let Sam kiss him as he will. Soft and urgent, his thumbs stroking down Frodo's cheeks. On his mouth, against his chest, every halting breath, every seam of crinkled cloth leaves its own mark, scattered bright licks that strain to merge and become whole. Sam starts to undo the buttons of Frodo's shirt, one by one, and when his fingers brush skin along the seam, it's sharp as the ringing silver of the knife. This is all I have -- all I can give, and what if --

He might be falling, but Sam holds him in a firm grip around the waist, and his mouth moves to Frodo's jaw and neck, trailing want in the wake of tenderness -- "You're everything, Frodo... everything."

A soft broken sound hovers in Frodo's throat. Sam's touch wanders with the endless patience of water shaping stone -- shaping him -- and he's no longer trapped in the past, in his own disbelief. Alive in his skin that was dry as paper before, he feels a rush of laughter in his chest while the last worries are brushed aside.

He's pressed hard into Sam's body so he can feel him all along his skin, but it's not enough, it can't be -- he tugs impatiently at Sam's clothes while his mouth answers and returns Sam's claim on him between a gasp and a breath -- "Not here..."

It's scandalous to return to the bed they've left a mere hour ago, and they both feel a swift prickle that eases the mood with a chuckle. The light falling across the sheet and their bare skin is stark as moonshine, at the height of mid-day, and from the open window, scents of grass and the sea blow in.

In the Shire's reckoning, they're too old to behave like this, and it's chasing an odd thrill over Frodo's back, when his skin feels so --

"Beautiful," Sam whispers, his breath washing down to Frodo's stomach where it pools with random swirls of delight, shifting -- "Here, and--"

He can't keep still, now that all the years ease off his body, and every muscle is wound taut, pressing up, up...

"...oh Frodo -- Frodo my--"

And his groan is swept into a kiss, he's surging to meet Sam in every breath, every urgent caress, stronger to yield, softer to reach. The waiting that's stretched so tense on his skin is not just his own, it's an unshared silence between them that strains unbearably --

He holds his breath to unravel what Sam tells him with every touch, in a language that's rough and full with all his guarded longing. The long stroke up Frodo's thigh, an hour of waiting; the quick dash of his tongue at Frodo's throat, a half-remembered dream; every jot welling from broken sleep and empty nights.

Frodo buries his fingers blindly in Sam's hair. Now he can feel how Sam has lived all these years, dying with part of himself when time couldn't run fast enough -- dying to be with me -- and a sharp sob breaks in his chest.

"No more tears," Sam murmurs, "not for me."

"They're all for you."

Frodo can't imagine what shows on his face to bring such yearning to Sam's eyes. They're so dark now that they shine with hidden light. And it's this light, pouring through his skin, that Frodo wants to take into himself.

He's crushing Sam close, gasping against his weight and strength, and the love that enfolds him. It takes his breath that everything has become so simple, so clear.

"Fill me."

~~~

Bells


Bells. Afloat on the air, the ring and chime of bells strikes the mid-day hour. The sky is glazed with the sound, and nothing stirs. Nothing but the breath fanning between Frodo's ribs, a glitter of sweat on his skin. Sam cups the hand that's curled up on his breast and his kiss falls where the third finger is missing. He would have given his hand.

~~~

Everything.

Sam holds himself on the brink of a shout, a cry, to feel what will slip away too fast this time. To be buried so deep and belong -- with every breath of him, with every boundless heartbeat and shaken motion -- to the want in Frodo's skin. To the raw need that he's pressing into him, drawing out of him, in a slow rhythm that grows tighter and tighter. Frodo's hands clutch on his shoulders, and he swallows Sam's cry into his own. Stillness then, crushed at the bottom of his chest, as if he were breathing water. His fingers are linked tight with Frodo's. It takes only a few more moments, tense with his slow, deep strokes -- so close -- and what's pulling up through him is far more than his body can hold.

Caught up on such a thin, radiant edge, he doesn't know what it is that he stammers and moans, but every sound passing Frodo's lips is a yes, and every breath lost between them a blessing. At the height of this sharp rise is a light-filled silence that shatters around Frodo's voice, reaching wordless for the sound of his name. And he follows, as he always has, always will.

Out of this airless spell, Frodo's hand sails with the breeze over his shoulder, sweat-damp, gathering a race of small shivers to his touch. They shift slowly, and it's as if up and down, in and out have all switched places, but when Sam takes another breath, he's sheltered, at home -- here. For the first time, he thinks now, since their whole journey began. And tomorrow...

Tomorrow, when he wakes up, he won't have to trace the deepening shadows under Frodo's eyes and mourn how thin he's grown. How bony his hands. He won't have to wrench himself out of this embrace and stumble through another march toward the black land. And he won't wake to the strained silence of Bag End neither. He won't have to stand and listen outside Frodo's study and fancy the desperate scratch of the quill and such noises as he can't hear. He won't have to dread the day when Frodo needs him no longer and turns to souls as fair as he is, wiser folk that know how to heal him and keep him safe. The moment when Frodo pulls away for ever from his fumbling touch, his coarse love, his slow mind.

There are so many fears he's lost between here and there, you might think his life were nobut worries.

If the nightmares should come again, he won't have to belie them. When memories grow too thick about his days, he won't have to close his eyes on them.

He will wake every morning with Frodo by his side.

He'll throw his arms round Frodo's neck, like this, his face pressed to warm skin, just like this, where the blurry damp mingles with a richer taste of salt.

A heartbeat under his palm answers when those slow, rising tremors stop aching in his chest and break free. He won't stop crying for a long time.

And when Frodo whispers just one word, it will break his heart and mend it within the same breath.

"Beloved."

~~~

Morning


But morning, morning is the most beautiful time of day. When he wakes, clothed in daylight, to the sound of Sam's voice humming a song in his ear. Perhaps, if they ever wish to leave, it will be at such an hour when their fingers are linked that their breathing will stop, and they follow each other beyond the confines of the world, to another shore they've yet to see. Out of the morning, into the one wish that remains.

~~~

...never to fear again.

On the shore waited a lonely figure, a shadow against the radiant day, cradled in glistening colour. Then there was the sting of sudden sun in Sam's eyes.

Safe, Frodo was safe. Through all the years he had carried that hope, its weight and blessing, and now he could carry it no more.

He went ashore and fell to his knees and Frodo took him in his arms.

For always.

~~~

Time may be out of its running, but there's some things as won't ever pause and cease their growing. The trees in their garden are in full bloom, throwing their limbs out in a fairy lacework, proud against the sky. And the longing never stops. It's sharpened in the rich glow of days, the crisp, silvered nights.

To catch up to years lost, to memories divided. To be one and whole.

Frodo holds his hands as they look across the Sundering Seas. "I would have waited for you, and if it took for ever."

"I was afraid I -- that you might be--"

"That could never happen. The time is our own here."

Sam pulls in a deep breath. "Well now, that makes us fair rich, don't it?" He's quick to hold on tight when Frodo laughs and shakes his head at him. "Now," he whispers, "now I'm whole."

If there's a fear that haunts you, I will guard the light that you bear,
If your losses burn you, I will wash away every sorrow,
I will be your sun and your shadow, your storm and your shelter,
Your want will be mine, your tears and your laughter, your life --
Your life in my hands.
Till the end of time.

But time doesn't end, here it keeps them safe.
Sam.
Frodo.

There will always be a step, a gesture, a faltering breath. Always a knife's edge of anticipation before the knowing. Before the joy that lights in them both, notes of a song pealing and chiming as glass as they sail into silence. They rise, twine and sink, and the wind buries a new scent in their hair. A new colour. And this, this is always new.

Say it, Frodo, against his mouth. His living breath a marvel in the wind's dance and the scent of mallorn in bloom. His hands.
Now.
Now.


* * * * *

Out of the silence
Into the blue
You finally remember where you've been
You finally remember who you are
And you remember the light.
Out of the spirit
into the
flesh

October Project: Now I Lay Me Down



* send feedback *