The Wind in the Wish Cover Wish

The quiet between the trees spread wide and deep, wrapped in a silver gleam. Up high, whispers of a breeze ran through the leaves and turned them to broken gold ripples.

Sam stopped on the shadow rim of a glade, where a slighter tree toed the edge of the forest. For a long hour he'd followed such paths as he'd wandered with Mr. Frodo and Merry and Pippin the day before, to find himself a tree as could be climbed by a hobbit. A hobbit armed with aught but two hands to spare and his mind set solid, and though all the trees stood tall as towers in the golden woods, he wouldn't turn back.

Now the sun neared mid-day, and he frowned up at what had to be a young tree still, with its crown stretched out in the shape of a tapered candle or a chestnut spike. Sam craned his neck for the darker tracing of branches amid the leaves. Dim and high as they looked, he reckoned they gave him as good a chance as he could hope for.

He took off his weskit so it wouldn't catch on any gnarls. Under his palms, the mallorn's bark felt cool and remote as a cloud. He touched the yellow ribbon tied fast round his wrist.

His heart gave a quick thump then, and his breath fluttered so light in his breast, like a secret rippling through him. But the longer he stood with his head tilted back and his fingers twisted together, the more anxious and out of sorts he was feeling.

"Up you go, Sam Gamgee," he muttered to himself. "Every tree in the Shire looked this big when you was small, and that never stopped you."

The only limb he could halfways reach was a slender twig with two pale leaves sprouting off the tip. Sam leapt for it and pulled himself further up with his free arm and his knees hugging tight to the trunk. A fair ways above bobbed another twig, scarce bigger than the first, that he could grab by propping one knee against a slight knob to the right. Between the shifting and the reaching, he almost slipped off. Sweat started on his neck and brow when he grasped his new hold and plastered the rest of himself to the tree. Its fine rind felt near-polished to his hand, and unyielding as any stone. But he had to get up, he had to.

Not so far above him, a good sturdy branch stuck out at a straight angle. Hitching himself up by inches, Sam snatched for it with one hand and then the other, and dangled for a bit before he could swing one leg high enough to hook over it. And then he hung there like a clumsy, hobbit-sized fruit on such a shapely tree, gathering his breath while he blinked into the sun that fiddled blithely through the leaves.

From there the climbing grew easier, the boughs making a ladder of sorts, till he judged he'd gone up high enough. Higher than ever a hobbit in the Bywater Woods, for certain. High enough to make a wish. Sam settled himself into the fork of a branch and refused to look down.

Through the still leaves above, the sunlight stung so keen that he shivered. For all its gold and the soft, fair breezes, a hush of frost lay on the forest. And now there weren't a breath of wind stirring about neither.

Sam rolled up his sleeve and unwrapped the wishing ribbon from his wrist. After breakfast this morning, he'd taken it off a fruit basket, once he'd screwed himself up to ask an Elf's permission.

"If it pleases you, Master Perian," was the courteous answer. The mild little smile that followed turned Sam's face warm in no time. But even if his tongue weren't tied in knots, he couldn't have told what he wanted it for.

From the ribbon's pale yellow glittered fine threads, fierce as trapped sunshine. Sam sat weaving it in and out of his fingers. And before he could think better of it, he'd slipped into a memory of Mr. Frodo's fingers laced tight through his own.

A hard squeeze gathered high in Sam's throat. He raised a hand to his mouth and bit down on his knuckle to stop himself from making a noise. And so the memory was buried within, and with it a chill to the bones and thunder to the heart, and in all this blessed quiet, he could find no rest.

And he didn't ought to, neither, when there wasn't to be no peace for Mr. Frodo. The ugly bruises he'd taken from the cave troll's spear were mending well enough, but each day he tucked himself deeper into stillness, and the purple bows under his eyes told of sleepless nights. Sam might guess where his thoughts would wander, and such grieving took its own time, but it troubled him something sore when Mr. Frodo roamed about the dark for hours.

During their first night in the Lady's care, Sam had crept out after him, but Frodo, when he noticed, shook his head, silent. His face was bone-white in the swimming blue shade, and in the morning he returned all wildered-like, with that dry, hollow look in his eyes.

Perhaps there'd be a hope of relief if he were crying over the memories, but Sam didn't think he ever let himself. He was stalled of doing naught about it and on a straight road to worrying himself half-sick, and that wouldn't do Mr. Frodo no good either.

As if, Sam thought, and the bitter grief of it came crawling up from his stomach to the back of his throat. If there's a body at all that can help, 't won't be you, Sam Gamgee, and there's a fact. Most like he was the last living soul in the world that Mr. Frodo would take comfort from, after everything he'd done.

His thoughts turned about to a promise whispered in the deepest dark of the mines. And how he'd gone and broke it, of which there could be no doubt, and the wildest hope he'd ever dared to set his heart on was broken just as surely.

You'll have to promise me to be very careful, the memory whispered in Mr. Frodo's voice.

And he'd taken it to heart less than a day. Sam rubbed the spot over his ribs where the flat side of an orc blade had struck. The bruising had faded, but his fingers found a shiver in the bunched muscle. Taut like the fear that had stirred him to such rage. But how could he hold back when Frodo fell under the thrust of that hideous spear? In a blink, he'd forgotten his promise and all, and threw himself into a mad battle instead.

"It don't matter," he said to himself, "what with the Ring and poor old Gandalf gone and Mr. Frodo taking on so, your own foolishness don't matter none."

But that same foolishness scurried about in his chest, pricking at every breath with sharp, wayward stings and the sweet pressure of Frodo's mouth on his own.

He ought to have put it from mind days ago, when Frodo stood apart outside the gates of Moria. And he might have, if it weren't for scolding himself, and causing more grief for Mr. Frodo. Who would he look to now, when he couldn't even trust his Sam to stay true to his word?

Sam breathed in quick against the tearing of anger through his breast and set his mouth firm. There'd be no such failing again. He looked down at the wishing ribbon that dangled from his fingers.

He'd planned his wish. Like always, like every year before in the Shire, on the night afore the first of Solmath. Those nights, he'd lie awake watching stars twinkle in through the small window. Too excited to sleep and full of the fond dreaming his Gaffer called moonshine.

There were wishes to be made for early tilling, for wholesome seedlings and kindly weather that nursed taters and flowers alike. And for other, less sensible treasures such as cloudy-headed tweeners would think of.

Ain't no hobbit-sense in wishing the stars down out of the sky, my lad, and don't you forget it. Sam could hear his Gaffer's voice now, with that rusty chuckle of his none too far behind.

He'd always kept his wishing plain when it wanted to roam about wildly, but now he dared a wish nigh too vast to be hoped on.

As he slipped the yellow ribbon over the curved branch, another memory took him back to the year before, to the foggy quiet of early morning and wet winter smells. He'd just scrambled up into a tree, right and ready to tie his wish up with the ribbon -- a bright blue scrap it was, that Marigold had snipped off her Highday dress -- when Mr. Frodo came striding down the path that ambled from Frogmorton to Bywater.

He'd stopped underneath Sam's tree and lifted his face up with a wistful smile. "Is it time again already, Sam? I'd quite forgotten."

But he'd startled Sam so that he near to lost his hold, and a sudden gust ripped the piece of ribbon from his fingers. Stealing his wish, as he'd thought then. Though barely two months went by till Gandalf blew into Bag End, and Sam got his wish anyway.

If only I'd known then...

If only Mr. Frodo were safe home, and they'd never left. Sam closed his eyes on the memory, holding it safe another moment. A ghost of footsteps under the tree and that lost, gentle smile, distant as the far-off spring. But here they were landed among the shambles of all things trusty and familiar, each new day stretching thin with dangers.

Sam wound the ribbon round the branch, paying proper heed to the knot and bows as he was supposed to. Loose enough for the wind to weave through if it wanted to pick up his wish. His fingers shook a bit, but he finished steadfast and made his one wish in silence. Only one. If he could have squeezed his heart into it, he would have.

His empty fingers curled tight, Sam watched his ribbon droop in the windless air. Then he turned back to the shimmering trunk and gave it a thankful pat. He made the climb at a careful pace, till he let himself down from the lowest branch. If it was still a fair bit to the ground, there was nothing for it but to let go and jump.

A deep cushion of moss caught him and filled his nose with its prickly scent. He'd dropped into a sheltered hollow between roots that spread out in deep folds. Sam levered up with a grunt, his back propped to the wood.

Those high roots were covered in a fine silver skin, overgrown with tendrils of moss. He ran his fingers softly across the close-grained wood, tracing a pattern of dark speckles. Further down, the bark felt coarser and knubby, leather more than shale. Sam edged close and fancied a pulse flowing deep within, almost like a murmured bit of song. It made him think back on Old Man Willow, the creak and shiver of his wicked lullabyes. If these trees ever took to singing, their voices would be lithe-some and quiet and all for endless dreaming. But now there were only the wood's faint rustles and a sound of running water somewhere nearby.

Sam stretched his back. He'd spent so much time recollecting that mid-day was well past, and his stomach should be growling for food but wasn't. Above him, the mallorn's branches curved into the brilliant day, and his ribbon sparkled among the leaves like a glimpse of sunlight.

On his arms and neck, he felt the lifting of a shy breeze. When he closed his eyes, that breath of air grew warm into the memory of Frodo's touch on his face, his throat -- and places all over him lighting up strange and hot, with the burn of a dream on his skin. To be touched by those hands...

Sam shook himself. Fretting over lost fancies wouldn't help none. But if Mr. Frodo gave him half a chance, he'd make good on his failing, he would. Truly, he should return to the green city of the Elves and see to it that Mr. Frodo took some food.

The breeze had died down again when he sat up, and the forest stood in solid quiet -- save for a spot of movement between the trees guarding the path. Sam bounded to his feet.

"Mr. Frodo?" The shout had left him quicker than thought, but a dash of red cloth caught all his mind to it. Before he'd half crossed the glade, Frodo was coming towards him.

"I, ah, I was looking for you, Sam." He held his hands stuffed into his pockets, hesitation scrawled all over his manner, and his eyes shadowed with a look of caution.

"You were, Mr. Frodo sir?" Never mind the hoarseness in his voice, Sam did his best to put on a cheerful face.

"Is that so unusual?" Frodo's smile came out thin like he'd already answered himself, so Sam hastened to reply, "No, sir."

But he'd been hoping on it so hard that his good luck turned over inside him and took most of his breath. Though for all that, he couldn't have missed the clouding in Frodo's eyes.

"I have thought of a song to remember Gandalf by," Frodo said. "I spent all morning piecing it together, and then..." He hitched up his shoulders and began walking towards the ragged line of the forest. "No one seemed to know where you had gone."

"Oh, I'm..." Sam fell in step beside him, a mumbled sorry lost to the miserable croak in his voice. He cleared his throat. "Will you sing it for me then?"

"I haven't found the right tune yet," Frodo answered, "or at least, none that would stay in my mind... But I can speak the verses, if you'd like to hear them."

"Very much, Mr. Frodo," Sam murmured.

They'd wandered back near the place where he'd sat, and he lowered himself into the plush moss to listen. Frodo leant against the shoulder of a root, but for a while said nothing more. His eyes drifted restless into the forest. Not seeing any of it, Sam guessed; but perhaps he could feel the winter stillness of these woods, as if everything had dug its roots in deep and drawn back on itself.

"I barely remember it now." Frodo shook his head softly. "Only snatches, and they no longer seem so fitting..."

Sam looked at him, uncertain how to encourage what might unlock so much sorrow. The tightness of Frodo's mouth yielded a bit as he nodded. "Well, all right then. Here it is...

"When evening in the Shire was grey,
his footsteps on the Hill were heard;
before the dawn he went away
on journey long without a word..."

The words slid among the rustling of the leaves, winding deeper into sadness with every rhyme. Another breeze dipped shadows and light across Frodo's face, pale gold and umber skimming the flow of his voice, and it filled Sam with a breathless awe. A gift it was, only to listen and watch. The sun-steeped lines of Frodo's face. His hands. Those fine hands moving up to fly into the rhythm. They made a music all their own, his hands did, ripples of air that caught below Sam's chest. If he let himself think on it too much, he'd be aching all over. And now Frodo had near finished with his song.

"...his staff was broken on the stone,
in Khazad-dûm his wisdom died."

Frodo's voice broke on the last verse. It put a hot sting of tears in Sam's eyes, but adding to the grief just wouldn't do, so he plucked up his wits for some cheer. "Why, you'll be beating Mr. Bilbo next!"

Frodo shook his head with a dry chuckle. "No, I am afraid not, but that is the best I can do yet."

"Well, if you do have another go, I hope you'll say a word about his fireworks," Sam ploughed on, seeing how Frodo turned his face aside, in a struggle with his memories, seemingly. "Something like this:

"The finest rockets ever seen:
they burst in stars of blue and green,
or after thunder golden showers
came falling like a rain of flowers."

The verses just seemed to attach themselves, sauntering along, and Frodo looked at him long and thoughtful. Sam lowered his eyes. A rain of flowers. What a sight that would be. But his mind played him another trick with the image of soft petals rained down on bare skin like Frodo's touch falling so lightly --

"They'll remember him in Hobbiton and all of the Shire," he said and tried hard to cover up his embarrassment.

"I expect they will," Frodo agreed. He pushed away from the high root. "And in many other places. That is a comfort of sorts, but--" He broke off, with a little twist of his shoulders that settled them firmly. "It's no use," he muttered.

"Now, Sam--" There his tone changed, growing stern with a bit of humor mixed in, "--would you mind telling me why you wandered off on your own like this? I was rather worried when I couldn't find you."

"Oh, I..." Sam fought the blush that flared into his cheeks. "It's the first of Solmath, Mr. Frodo, or as near to as I could reckon."

"It is?" Frodo's eyes slipped to a green stain on the front of his shirt and from there darted right up into the mallorn's crown. "You've made a wish."

Sam nodded.

"I know you're not supposed to tell what it was." But he looked as though he might guess anyway. "What ever it was--" Frodo glanced to the side again, "--I hope it comes true."

A shiver crept up Sam's arms at the look of him, so taut and pained. And now Mr. Frodo was biting down on his lip, like he rarely did. "You must wonder why I've kept away from you," he said. "I don't quite know how to say this, but I have come to speak about something else..."

Sam's stomach dropped low at that. Any moment now, he would answer for being such a reckless fool, but Frodo's mouth were sealed in a tight line, holding the words trapped.

"I know what's got you troubled, Mr. Frodo, and it's all my fault," Sam blurted into the silence before it knotted up tighter than he could stand, "what with breaking the promise I made you." He wanted to jump to his feet, but something bound him in place with a weight as solid as any mountain. "Getting myself mixed up in a fight and hurted, too," Sam went on before he ran out of breath, "and I'm so sorry, Mr. Frodo -- I didn't mean no wrong, but it was more than I could bear, and I weren't thinking!"

Frodo's eyes flew over to him, and the look there was all of puzzlement. "Is that what you believe? That I would hold it against you--"

"I was meaning to be careful, Mr. Frodo, I was! But then I thought that monster had killed you, and I was so upset..." His voice had grown so thick with tears that he had to stop.

"Sam, no." Frodo walked over quickly and dropped into a crouch beside him. "It's not that." He waited a moment, then his hand settled softly on Sam's arm. "Now, will you hear me out?"

Sam blinked, and looked at the hand on his arm, seemingly without weight but warmer than sunlight. He might marvel that Frodo was ready to forgive him, but when he caught up to the things Mr. Frodo was saying, his heartbeat lurched, near tripping over itself.

"...that I am too afraid... that I cannot dare--" Frodo swallowed. "To lay such a claim -- to be so close... with anyone."

He bowed his head, and shadows slipped in edgewise, a touch of the winter quiet that held the forest in such silence. In his cheek fluttered anxious unrest. "Sam... that night in Moria. I didn't -- you wouldn't -- I didn't do anything that you..."

Sam had never seen him so far out of words. "Oh no!" he burst out and covered Frodo's hand with his own. For a heartbeat, a raw hurt lay bare in Frodo's eyes, and it shot straight through him. "You couldn't..." Sam fumbled and wasted a long while trying to find his tongue. "I know you're afraid, if you don't mind, and I can see why, but--" He stopped again, to seize on the hope as he had to, "not here, surely?"

"Maybe not here..." Frodo's eyes were sheer as the sky, and when they searched him so close, a wish he'd forbid himself flushed hot in Sam's mind. Come and claim me.

"But, Sam, it will not end here. How could it?" Frodo pulled his hand away and shook his head. "It would not be fair to you."

And with that, he'd answered what wasn't said, and sealed it in loneliness. Leaving a shiver where his touch had been.

"You must understand, Sam." Frodo sat back, arms crossed over his knees, "Gandalf's death -- oh, I still can't believe it!"

His voice hitched on choked grief again, as if he had no right to speak of it. Sam could see it catch and lock in the clutch of his fingers round his elbow, and gave himself a hard name and another for being less than no help when Frodo needed it the most.

"It's not just you, Mr. Frodo." He paused to make his voice steady. "And a hard truth it is to take in, I might add. Every now and then I catch myself in the thinking he'll be back on the morrow, just like he used to breeze in unexpected, back home."

"It seemed as if he would always be there," Frodo said quietly, "as if time could not change or reach him."

Sam nodded and picked at memories wanting to loosen his tears all over again. "I should never've known back in the Shire, but seeing folk in Rivendell -- and here, more so -- it put me in mind of Gandalf, though he hadn't the looks of an Elf."

"Not nearly, no, but I do know what you mean." A smile found its way to Frodo's mouth and twisted at Sam's heart for being so thin and wretched. "But he fell and..." Frodo pushed a hand into his hair, as if to stay the memory. "Elves can die too, Sam. No-one, and nothing, is safe."

There was too much despair in his voice, and it had to be stopped, no matter how. Sam cast about, hoping to draw comfort from the mild glow bathing the trees and the hush hanging over them. "I don't rightly know how to say it, but it's like... this place holds on fast to all the memories and songs, so time don't touch them."

"Yes." Frodo rubbed his thumb against his chin and looked around. "I have felt the same. When we came to Cerin Amroth -- do you remember, Sam? The hill crowned with leafless white trees, standing in a circle?"

"Aye, and flowers shaped as stars."

"Elanor, they call them." Frodo smiled a little at the memory.

"These trees," Sam went on, "they feel like, well, like they're sleeping, if you follow me, but maybe that's not how it is. Maybe they're so still for recollecting and safe-keeping." He plucked up all his nerve to a trembling purpose and rose to his knees, reaching across the barrier Frodo had made of his folded arms. "Mr. Frodo..." His fingers closed round a cool hand. "They'll be keeping anyone as ever walked here. Mr. Gandalf, too."

Frodo didn't speak a word. Instead, he raised his other hand and touched Sam's forehead just under the hairline, where he'd been left with a bleeding cut after the battle in Moria. The wound was scabbed over and near healed in little time, but when Frodo marked the spot with his fingertips, a new burn sparked from it, clear as snow crystal on Sam's skin. And something was falling open on Frodo's face, into sharp sorrow and a yearning that Sam could see plainly.

"Don't be afraid," he murmured, though it were a foolish thing to say, what with such solid cause for worries aplenty. He took Frodo's hand and kissed his fingers, felt them curl against his lips like shy, astonished creatures.

His answer came in a quick ripple, a start of breath, before Frodo lowered his eyes. "Do you think... they'll keep us as well?"

"I trust they will, Mr. Frodo." Though the words were thick on his tongue, Sam put all his faith in them -- and then he near toppled back when Frodo scrambled forward, rising up on his knees to pull Sam fast against him.

"Oh, but I am unbearably clumsy," he whispered.

But right then, Sam hadn't the breath to answer and buried his face at Frodo's shoulder, hanging on tight with both arms around Frodo's back. High in his throat hammered the stumbling beats of gladness and disbelief, the race of both growing worse when Frodo's fingertips made a halting journey along his jaw and tipped his chin up, and so much sunlight spilled through the leaves above that he couldn't see.

All that brightness, and it shivered in the brushing of Frodo's mouth to his own, with the taste of burnished mid-day and wonder. Only a flicker at first, then seeping into soft pressure, a surging that bloomed and opened. Open and yielding against his lips, joining breaths as Frodo cradled his face in both hands and pulled him closer. Kissed him in a sudden hunger that clenched tight in Sam's chest, till a broken sound rose to the back of his throat.

So near him, Frodo's eyes mirrored the wood's sparkles like floating slivers of stars. "I'm sorry, Sam. I have made it all so difficult for you. I never meant to."

Sam gathered up enough of his mind to shake his head. "There's naught to be sorry for, and it weren't you, nohow."

"But if I'd known that you were blaming yourself..." Frodo whispered, his mouth never far from Sam's, sound and breath and touch mingling together in the close space between them. And his hands... His hands clasped tight on Sam's sides, stroking upward, till one curled round the back of his neck and the other slid down again, creeping softly over the waist of his trousers. In the dimness of his closed eyes, Sam was lost to the soft, seeking warmth of Frodo's mouth, and the tip of Frodo's tongue skimming from his upper lip past his teeth, darting back only to kindle sparks as dazzling as any fireworks.

...burst in stars of blue and green -- what had he been thinking?

It was Frodo who broke away with a gasp and a bit of breathless laughter. "To think that I lived fifty years and I never knew..."

"This," Sam breathed, short of proper words, any words -- "I didn't neither. Not..."

Frodo drew back a bit, with a light frown and curiosity in his eyes. "Sam..." His fingers strayed after an errant curl and dashed it out of Sam's face. "Why didn't we--?"

The question reached far and wide, far beyond the run of Sam's thoughts at the moment. More than half his mind followed the slow trailing of Frodo's hand down the side of his face to his neck. What he might have said in answer got tangled up in the touching and the glide of skin under his fingers, daring to slip an inch beneath the collar of Frodo's shirt. "It's... the way you don't never look too hard at the sun, I reckon."

"Yes," Frodo said thoughtfully -- and when he looked again, Sam found an odd glitter in his eyes that called a flush to his own face. "I expect that might be it."

"Oh, but I'm not--"

"Yes, you are." Frodo cupped his chin with firm intent. "Sam, you're..."

And all he could do was gasp into the kiss that took the place of every other explanation, a soft murmur of delight slipping out against his tongue. From the clinging fierceness of that kiss, dizzied half-thoughts went swirling about his head, for time wasted and blessings still waiting to be found, till his head was swept blank entirely. And so it took him a while to notice that Frodo was shifting, trying to shrug out of his coat short of releasing his hold. Sam raised both hands to the task and rumpled the weskit down his arms a moment later. From Frodo's face, his eyes were drawn down the bared line of his throat.

Pale skin sheened in a fine glow next to white cloth. And inside the collar of his shirt, the gleam of his misery, silver chain and golden Ring. Frodo glanced down to it, with a look as was almost surprise.

"I feel it less here," he said slowly. "As if... as if it's wrapped in a cloud, so that it can't touch me."

Touch you? But how--? An awful lump in his throat, Sam fixed a hard stare on the Ring, this eye of gold glinting mischief, till Frodo's hand wrapped it from sight. That filthy thing has a mind of its own, as well you know, and it's been trying all along to claim him whole. The fear of it was slinking up Sam's backbone.

With movements slow and certain, Frodo lifted the chain over his head and let it ripple into his cupped hand, before stowing the Ring in the pocket of his dropped coat. "There..."

His eyes lingered on the spot some moments more and were changed again when they dragged away from it. Alight with choices made, and a blind fervent hope. An offering.

When he reached out his hands, Sam gripped back with fingers turned suddenly cold. A query had come to Frodo's expression. "There's so little that I can give or promise you, Sam, but if you want..."

Though he knew he had to speak up and answer, Sam wavered for the crowding grief. The wanting was twined and strung all through him, but the more and the most he wanted a chance to lose that hideous Ring, and he could only bite his tongue for wishing what wasn't to be. Take away the Ring. Take away any sorrow as ever dimmed Mr. Frodo's eyes.

"Sam?"

"Oh, I do," he answered, a rough whisper, "and it's no small thing--"

But Frodo's finger against his lips stilled him and turned inward what roused so strongly in his breast. In no time, his eyes fell shut to the gentle embrace and the taste of Frodo's throat, pulse flowing quick as rain wherever his mouth moved to meet it. Frodo's hands wandered, soft and uncertain, from Sam's waist round to the small of his back. He couldn't keep still. He leaned forward, pressing into the hands that wanted to slip under his clothes, seeking the goosebumps that hurried all over his skin, and something more -- an urgent, fevered quickening through every limb.

His own fingers tripped and fumbled, taking a minute for a moment till he'd finally unbuttoned Frodo's shirt and bared skin finer than mithril. No thought of it had bothered him in the dark of Moria, but watching his coarse brown hand move on skin so fair... Plain wrong it seemed, to be caressing where he had no right to venture at all. His stomach clutched tight as it had of longing without a hope, and all too often at that.

He might have pulled back, if it weren't for the shivers climbing Frodo's chest, the gathering of a sharp breath under his ribs. "Lie with me, Sam." Frodo gripped his hand as if he'd heard the very thought. "I'd very much like to show you..."

The brittle edge in his voice coursed a quiver through Sam's body, but Frodo bit his lip again. And why was he so unsure? Sam clasped his hand in turn and drew it to his breastbone, to the wild beats fluttering there.

"All you wish." It came out in a stumbling murmur, the rush and roll of pulse nigh drowning his voice. Though for all that, the keen stirs in his body flew where his fancy wouldn't reach. He leaned back, his arm tight about Frodo's waist, trusting the moss to cushion their sudden tumble. Uneven it was, but a softer bedding than many they'd known on the road. When Frodo's cheek were crushed to his, he felt a smile tug there, and it freed up his own, easing the tightness in his chest. Between whispers of "can I?" and "let me", they were losing their shirts at long last, a chuckle or two catching on shortened breaths.

"Like this...?" Frodo's mouth nuzzled the back of his jaw, chasing his breath up and out in a rush -- "yes, oh..." -- and Sam lost all power of speech again when skin stretched warm against his chest.

They clung, hands astray and restless, rolling awkwardly about on the moss. Whatever memory this place kept of them, Sam was sure he'd forever keep this sweet-sharp scent rising up from rich soil and lush growth. If only he could give Frodo a small happiness against the weary dark roads ahead, just this one time.

"Here, lie back." Frodo's murmur brushed Sam's lips with a kiss. He rose up on his elbow, and his hand made a long path down Sam's side to his hip and thigh. Sunlight dappled his shoulders, mingled with the heating of his skin, and sparked through his tumbled curls.

From scattered kissing, they moved to mould closer together, so close not a leaf would fit between them. Heated wonder skittered all over Sam's skin, even in places where they weren't touching, and wouldn't stop nowhere. The shifting and pressing left him dizzy, and flustered as the mid-day haze that swayed in the leaves overhead. Swayed in a faint stirring of wind now -- he could almost think that this wind lifted him up to what the trees saw.

Frodo and himself, arms and legs tangled vines, the low breeze dabbing its colours on tender skin. Pale brown earth, wheat and shadow, and sun sprinkled like laughter on the leaves. He wondered at the ease of this, afloat in the mists of breath and motion.

"Sam... are you still with me?"

Frodo's voice made him look again. At the light catching in his lashes, a copper brush that swept against his own skin as Frodo leaned so near -- and then he had a sense of falling that tore out a rough gasp and only a single word.

"...always."

When Frodo bent and burrowed into his arms, Sam wanted to fold him in this, in his own heartbeat and the tree's shadow weaving over them like a blessing. All he could do was hope they'd be remembered as much as Frodo longed to forget.

"Please..." The softest sound, close by his ear. "Do tell me -- if I..."

Sam shook his head, startled to a fast alert. "What are you thinking? That I don't--"

"I don't know."

And to convince him, Sam could think of nothing but to draw Frodo's mouth back to his own, and lay all the yearning, every bit of hope and fervent pleading into the kiss. Somewhere at the back of his head, where everything was so muddled as would never come untangled, he wondered what more he should be doing. But it seemed he needn't do much of anything, and wherever he touched, it left Frodo flushed and his breathing in tatters. Bolder then, Sam traced the paths spun by playful sunlight, his thumbs circling slow spirals from Frodo's shoulders over his sides. Every touch brimmed with the long waiting, with things unspoken and unthinkable, shaped in the soft, confounded swirls of his fingers and the fierce confessions of his mouth to pale skin. How beautiful Frodo was, with his head tilted back sharply, the smooth lines of his chest flowing over shallow breaths, and each muscle wound up to such a pitch now.

"Sam..."

Wind lit in the tree with a flurry like golden fire among the leaves. Catching where his heart were tied into the wish. He moaned at the press of Frodo's thigh sliding against his legs and between them. There wasn't a breath left in him then, and such a sharp pang clenched deep in his belly, his throat closed up hard. His arms locked over Frodo's back to keep him there, just there. As some parts of his body pulled taut, others loosened into a vast, spilling warmth, and he wrapped himself around Frodo, thighs tight against his hips, joining them in a breathless rocking that became tense and ragged very soon.

Sam struggled for a measured pace, but with each moment the coiled ache inside him grew worse. Frodo's mouth sealed his own and claimed his breath, feeding it with low moans -- oh I wish I wish I wish -- and it was all turned real. Real as the generous earth-scents and the sun dancing blue and green on the inside of his lids. He'd never felt aught like it and perhaps wouldn't again, as if every bit of happiness he'd ever known were rushing forth to be melted in the sweetness of Frodo's touch.

He froze when Frodo shifted back a bit and trailed one hand inward from Sam's hip, pausing at the buttons of his breeches -- he can't he wouldn't --

But the touch, when it came, seared clean through the strained cloth. A fingertip. Drawn up his length -- and he bit down on a cry, choked in the tender stroking. For a spell, Sam tried to hold still, then he couldn't trap the need to move no more, but Frodo was moving too, sliding low.

Damp and warm, the brush of lips against his belly, soothing a tremor that wouldn't stop. Deft fingers flicking the buttons open, one and two, but Sam lost this last thread of sensible thinking in the shock of what followed. Breath that burned through the cloth, seeking him, barely a touch, just this ragged joy and want, and oh --

"Frodo..."

Sam caught a shoulder, cradled his hips to pull him up, scrambling, there -- they gasped together, stung by the same excitement, the same heat pressed up tight between them.

Between small gasps of crushed air, pleasure chased sharper thrills over his skin, and all the wishing pulled up inside him, so deep and wrenching. He kept a desperate hold on Frodo, with each breath afraid of losing this grip, and strained into the rocking, searching need for more, for something... whole. Sam reached down, tugged the last bit of cloth out between them and pushed it down just enough to touch --

Frodo's breath burst out harsh and shaking, in quick anxious gasps. At his fingertips, Sam followed the wild shudders to the root, to a heart-pounding purpose. His hand curled tight about thrumming pulse, filled liquid thick to bursting, rousing a whimper with one stroke and another. And all he knew was...

Frodo -- heaving, pulsing, melting in his hand. A gasp and a push, and a final stretch into a glory of light too bright to be borne -- blurring -- then a raw breath shattered in his chest. He cried out with the next wave, pleasure crashing in boundless and sudden. Surging. Blinded. Undone. Through it, he felt Frodo's touch on his face, tender and trembling, and an ache in his breast as could split him asunder.

The rough, hitching breaths were his own, but the hand fumbling so bewildered for a hold on his shoulder, the voice gasping his name against his collarbone were Frodo's. Nestled into the bowl of earth and moss beneath the tree, they were shaking, dazed, together.

When Sam could summon the will to move, his fingers combed softly through Frodo's curls, traced down from his temple, and found a gentle slide of tears troubling the warm skin.

Frodo turned his face towards his palm, resting his cheek in its curve. "I don't know why I'm crying -- well, I do, but, Sam..."

In answer, Sam held him tighter, managing only a soothing murmur in his throat. But then he found he had a voice still, hoarse as it was. "...you go on and cry all you need."

When Frodo's arms wound about his chest, he almost flinched at the fast squeeze they gave him. Frodo's crying was very quiet but that his ribs moved on fretful breaths, and wetness trickled out over Sam's skin.

As Sam cradled him in his arms, there came a memory of long ago. Of a dark room stifled in biting scents of herbs, and a parched dryness in his throat. Gentle fingers smoothed a cool cloth over his forehead, and his mother's voice spoke clear in the shadows. I'll be taking this to the fever tree and tie it round a branch. Come morn, it will draw off the illness, you'll see.

And it had, too. But Frodo's grief wouldn't be so simply cured, and there were no such tree hereabouts, only the watchful mallorns dipping their leaves into the breeze. Helpless to do anything else, Sam stroked his hands down Frodo's back. His fingers dipped below the triangle of a shoulderblade, along the curve of Frodo's spine, too sharp from the wear of their travels.

"He died for me, Sam. I couldn't stand it if..." Frodo raised his head, some locks sticking damp and crimpled to his cheek. Beside his nose, a thin trail of weeping still glittered. "You..."

"Don't think on it." Sam reached up and kissed him, with a savage welling of tenderness that matched hope against the cruel loss. There was grief in Frodo's kiss, and salt on his lips, and a tremor in his breath.

When it ended, Sam blinked through tears he hadn't noticed till now. Memories of Gandalf slewed about his head and balled into such a clean, singing hurt as would scarce let him speak. "I miss him, I do."

"And I have selfishly wallowed in my own grief, never thinking of yours."

Though there was a lump in his throat, Sam did his best to sound stern. "Now don't you start. Your own were hard enough to bear, I'll warrant."

For a moment Frodo looked ready to argue, then he shifted them about, so Sam's head was pillowed on his shoulder. "Thank you," he whispered into Sam's hair.

As the quiet lengthened and mellowed, his fingers scrawled idle patterns on Sam's arm that spoke of rest and release. Nestling closer, Sam tried to put a name to the scent and taste of him, richer than earth, finer than moss rose, and keener than red-currant... It seemed such a marvel that they had found shelter here, and a spell of perfect contentment -- save for one thing.

"Mr. Frodo." He swallowed, turning his face into the smooth shoulder. "Frodo..." And his name had grown twined to a secret laid softly against flushed skin. "I meant it when I promised--"

"No, Sam, it was wrong of me to ask that." Frodo tugged on him till he raised his face and met clear eyes. "You cannot help being who you are, and I have no wish to change that. None at all."

Relief flushed Sam when Frodo's arms folded firm about his back. With the coming of a new wind, endless rustles spread through the wood, stronger than the burbles of water over stone and root.

"Though I wonder how much this journey has already changed us," Frodo continued, "and how much more will change before it is over..." His thumb slid up from Sam's chin to follow the shape of his mouth. "We would never have done this, in the Shire."

Sam captured his hand to plant a kiss on the ball of his thumb. "Well now, that ain't a change for the worse, if you don't mind me sayin'..."

"No, indeed, I don't. Even if..." Frodo shook his head at some slinking disquiet, and a bit of regret was stirred in with his smile. "You're so warm..."

Warm with the loving still threaded so brightly under his skin and Frodo's smile falling on him like a light of its own.

"If you could see yourself, Sam." Frodo picked bits of leaf and twig from his hair. "All brown and green and golden, like the forest after a summer rain, when it's brimming with life. You are such a gift."

Sam drew a staggering breath, and his face grew hot under that gaze, raking free across him. "If I had words like you do..."

"You don't need them." Softer still, Frodo added, "I can see it all in your eyes, and feel it... here." And he made his meaning quite plain when he placed his hand over Sam's heart and brought their mouths near, whispering, "It is selfish of me, I fear, but I can't seem to help it."

It was a while before Sam could collect enough breath to reply. "And there's naught wrong with thinking of your own good..."

"Mmm." Frodo stretched and eyed him with a reckless sort of deliberation. "Then I think we should spend the rest of this day here. Though perhaps it would be wise to dip ourselves into that little brook first. I feel a bit... sticky."

Sam stemmed a thoughtless 'Yes, Mr. Frodo' behind his teeth and set what clothes he still wore to order instead. No sooner had he finished than Frodo pulled him to his feet and didn't let go again. Uneasy notions seemed to be crowding his mood of a sudden.

"Sam..." A shadow flickered in his eyes, of sorrow and hard choices, and he kept a tight grasp on Sam's hand. "We have the time allowed to us here. I won't ask for more."

Sam swallowed a start of protest, seeing how Mr. Frodo's mind weighed those burdens as were laid on him. He nodded and squeezed the hand holding his. You go on and do what you must, just don't never leave me behind.

They'd taken only a few steps out into the glade when Frodo stopped him again. "Look, Sam, there's your wish."

The wind had unloosed his ribbon and sailed it to the ground, right in the spot where they'd lain. Picking up the boldest wish he'd ever made.

...take it from him, take the Ring from him, let me take it and carry it for him. Sam kept his eyes locked on the ribbon, its glitters so keen that he felt a bit of thunder drum up under his breastbone. Frodo's voice almost startled him then.

"I have never done this, you know." Frodo tipped his chin up at the tree's crown. "Never climbed a tree to make a wish..."

Lost in the sight of him, Sam barely remembered to ask, "Why not?"

"You know the custom. The ribbon must be requested and given freely. And who would I ask? Bilbo?" Frodo chuckled lightly.

Bathed in the radiant forest shades, he looked as if he'd been poured from shimmering air and Elf-magic. And magic it was, Sam thought. Not stars and moonshadow as he'd always fancied, but a sheer brightness built strong and deep into the earth. And so much of it showed in Frodo's bearing, it filled him with blinding hope.

"Sam?" When Frodo turned to him, the clouds had fled his eyes. Instead there was only calm now, and a flash of something Sam couldn't name. Frodo laid both hands against his face. "If I could have one wish, it would be you."

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