Perfect Match, The: 1. Before

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1. Before

In the small orchard behind Bag End, the heavy sunshine of late Solmath was pleasantly tempered by fluttering shade. Though the apple trees, planted so long ago by Bilbo and old Holman, were gnarled and twisted now, they bore their veil of springtime pink and white, faithfully every year; and faithfully every year those delicate flowers matured to this colourful crop of generous fruits: green as new grass, or warm yellow, or blushed with red and orange. Only one type of apple was ready for picking as yet - a rosy russet, sweet and very early, with the aroma (and better still, some of the taste) of strawberries.

Sam had been picking such strawberry apples as were ripe, a deft twist telling him whether to take or let be for now. Almost like having strawberry season again before winter sets in. ‘Tis just a shame that the apples aren’t keepers, and their season nigh on as short as the berry’s own. Still, his master’s appetite for their delectably juicy bounty, and his generosity to neighbours, friends and selected relatives, ensured that the blessing never went to waste.

A shout from the lane had called Sam from his task, and he returned now, deep in thought, to where Frodo was sitting, companionably close to Sam’s apple-picking basket. He approached his master tentatively.

“Sir?”

Frodo was half lost in leaves and dappling shadows, on the stone bench under one of the apple trees; half in leaf and shadow, and half in the scope and sphere of the elvish saga he was chanting softly, from the heavy volume spread on the seat beside him. The slow music of his voice, and his elegant fingers keeping time, set a rhythm within Sam that had little to do with elves and everything to do with…

“Mr Frodo?” It came out as a hoarse whisper, and Sam had to clear his throat.

He would not normally have dreamed of disturbing his master; on the contrary, Sam was all in favour of Frodo being completely immersed in a book of any kind, for as long as possible. Such abstraction provided Sam with some memorable moments, when he could gaze openly, unnoticed and safe from fear of being caught. But desperate times needed desperate measures, so he steeled himself to speak now.

“Mr Frodo, sir?”

Frodo blinked, and his hand stilled. Sam could almost see him wrenching his mind from that tale of high adventure, back to the Shire and Bag End. “Sam? What is it?” And despite the interruption, Frodo gave him one of the smiles that had such a devastating effect on Sam’s… composure.

Sam swallowed, hard. Keep your mind on the team, Sam. This is neither the time nor the place for your foolish dreams! “Mr Frodo, you know you said that you used to play for the Buckland Tweens?”

Frodo somehow crossed the chasm between Sindarin and cricket without any obvious sign of strain. “Yes,” he said cautiously, “but it was a long time ago. I haven’t played since I left Buckland. Why? You probably know far more about the game than I ever did.”

Sam couldn’t believe this, but, refusing to be side-tracked, he plunged into his explanation. “The thing is, Mr Frodo, it’s Will Moreby. His brother, Rob, just brought me the message. Will was over at Sandersteads, helping with harvest, and this morning, he slipped off one of the stacks, so Rob said, and he landed awkward, and broke his leg.”

“Oh dear, I am sorry. I hope it has been properly set, or he’ll have trouble with it all his life.” Frodo knew what a blow such injury would be to a working hobbit. It was lucky, he thought, that Will had no family to keep as yet, and that he still lived at home with the Moreby clan. At least there would be no -

Suddenly, Frodo had an uneasy feeling that he knew what was coming; why Sam was telling him this in such a serious way, having asked about his cricketing experience. The Hobbiton XI relied heavily on the superior batting skills of Will Moreby, and the final of the Four Farthings Trophy was tomorrow....

“No, Sam!” he said positively.

“No?” Surprise, that Frodo had caught his meaning so quickly, was soon followed by disappointment; and when Sam’s soulful eyes suddenly lost their sparkle, and his expectant look faltered, Frodo felt as though he had just kicked an optimistic puppy.

“No, Sam, really,” he repeated, though with much less conviction. “There must be someone better that you can ask, someone who has played recently?”

“But that’s just it, Mr Frodo – there isn’t anyone else, what with harvest and accidents and that nasty stomach upset going around.”

Frodo could feel his resolve crumbling. Sam was asking for his help, and with such a pleading air; how could he refuse, even though it would probably mean a great deal of embarrassment for himself?

“Sam, I haven’t so much as picked up a cricket bat in years, let alone played,” he temporised.

“You never forget it, sir,” Sam urged, helpfully. “I always think that I’ll have forgotten how to bowl, come the start of the new season, but it comes back. Soon as I get the ball in my hand, I’m away again.” Sam was famed throughout the Farthings for his fiendish spin bowling, and in particular his lethally accurate googly, which were two of the main reasons that the Hobbiton team had reached the Trophy final this year (the other, it had to be admitted, was the reliability of Will Moreby’s batting).

“I would just let you – the team - down, Sam, really I would!” Desperately now, though he knew that he had already lost.

“There won’t be a game if you won’t play for us, sir! I wouldn’t bother you, Mr Frodo, if it weren’t urgent, you know I wouldn’t. Please, Mr Frodo?”

“Sam, I -” He had been going to say that the team might be better off conceding the game than relying on his talents (which had been erratic even when he had played for the Tweens); but now Sam was standing before him, hands clasped behind his back, and he was rocking slightly from foot to foot.

Frodo had seen this stance often, when Sam was a youngster. It was not exactly wheedling (whether for time off to play, from his Gaffer, or for another story or two, from Bilbo), but rather a look so blended of hope and wistfulness that he was well-nigh irresistible; it was all the more effective, as Sam was patently unaware that he was doing it at all. Neither Bilbo then, nor Frodo now, could withstand that anxious, wishful diffidence (though the Gaffer, being made of sterner stuff, had given in far less readily). When Sam looked at him like that, there was nothing, absolutely nothing in the world, that Frodo would not do for him.

For Frodo‘s susceptibility was many times increased, these days, by the deeply concealed feelings he had for Sam. He could not think that Sam would welcome such attentions from his employer, and he kept them under as firm control as possible; though never so successfully as to deny himself the pleasure of simply being in Sam’s company, whenever he could find excuse. And whatever else came of this unwise cricket match, it would give him the opportunity to be with Sam in his leisure time. He had never yet played with Sam – cricket, that was. Nor anything else, he thought with an internal sigh..

“Very well, Sam.” He sighed aloud now, ostensibly for the impossibility of denying Sam his request, but more for the impossibility of what he would have liked to request of Sam. “But very low down the order, and be it on your own head when I make a fool of both the team and myself!” The last came out with a grin, seeing Sam’s face light up with relief, and joy, and something more…

The sudden solution of his problem with the team, the sheer elation that Mr Frodo would do this for him, when he so clearly misliked the thought, and the effect of Frodo himself, all light and shadow in the burning summer heat… all of these things came now between Sam and his usual propriety. He seized Frodo's hands to tug him to his feet, flung his arms around him and danced him around in fast circles.

Frodo’s head spun dizzily; not from the speed, but at the feel of Sam’s hands, warm and strong around his waist, Sam’s laughing breath so sweet against his cheek, and the one thought in his mind: My Sam! You are holding me!

Suddenly, Sam recalled that he definitely ought not to be handling his master so familiarly. He let go hastily and drew back; not noticing, in the embarrassment at his own serious social gaffe, that Frodo's hands had been on his shoulders, that he had matched Sam's whirling steps, and that he had not let go until Sam had done so.

"Sorry, Mr Frodo!" Sam blushed and looked away. "Thank you, sir. I know the team will be pleased. At least we can play, now, whatever you say about your batting, and I know that you'll do us proud!" He turned back to his master, to repeat his thanks; but there under the dappled shade was Frodo, flushed and smiling from their impromptu dance, and somehow waiting… Long months of caution and concealment fell suddenly away; and the intended look of thanks and of confidence in Frodo’s abilities, segued seamlessly, irresistibly, into confession at last of the love and longing that Sam felt for him.

“I -” Frodo’s reply faltered and died, as he understood what Sam was telling him, so silently, so clearly now. He saw, not the wishful diffidence of the young Sam, but the open yearning of grown Sam, with tenderness and so much wanting in him. And Frodo knew that his own face must show the same disbelief and awe and certainty as Sam’s; knew beyond any doubt that whatever request he had of Sam, might now be asked, might now be answered; that the love he so wished to give to Sam would be welcomed and returned.

“Oh,” he said.

For long moments, they stood, simply looking into each other's eyes, then Frodo raised his hand slowly for a first wondering touch of love. "Sam?" Sam's eyes drifted shut as he leaned into Frodo's caress with a sigh of happiness. He turned his head, and his lips brushed liquid warmth to the very centre of Frodo's palm; Frodo shivered, and his fingers fluttered helplessly on Sam's cheek.

“Hey! Anyone there? Frodo, where are you? Sam?” Merry’s call broke in on their sudden awareness

“Frodo must be in the garden, he’s not inside.” Pippin’s voice floated through an open window.

Frodo groaned aloud, and his hand fell reluctantly to his side.

Sam ducked away quickly, and was amazed to hear his own voice, strong and level as usual, saying, “I’ll get on then, Mr Frodo. I’ll finish up here and then be off to tell the lads, and see to all the arrangements. Thank you, sir.”

“Sam, please, I - ” but Sam had disappeared to the furthest end of the garden, taking his apple basket with him. Frodo sighed and turned to meet his guests, searching under layers of frustration and longing for a suitably cheerful greeting. I don’t need them here just yet. I need to be with Sam…

“Frodo! There you are! What’s for tea?”

“And it’s so nice to see you too, Pippin!” Frodo knew he would have to play host in as normal a manner as he could manage, or there would be questions that he couldn’t yet answer for himself, let alone for these two.

His cousins were avid cricket fans, and The Four Farthings final drew hobbits from all over the Shire. Merry had written to Frodo, warning that he and Pippin expected to stay at Bag End for a few days, and adding, mysteriously, that he had news for Frodo which he hoped the latter would approve. Frodo had wondered what in Middle-earth Merry could have been up to now, that could possibly need his approval; the days when he had needed Frodo as a shield from the consequences of his youthful folly were long gone.

Merry looked hard at Frodo. “You look a little flushed,” he said shrewdly. “What’s up?”

“Nothing.” He should have known; still, he ought to be able to divert curiosity for now, at least. Turning to collect his book gave him a few seconds to collect himself, too, and he managed a grin as he faced his cousins again, and said, “I may just have let myself in for a humiliation, I fear! Poor Will Moreby has broken his leg, and Sam has inveigled me into being the replacement bat for tomorrow’s match.”

“What!? You?” scoffed Pippin, dancing ahead towards the kitchen. He had noticed, in his search for his cousin, that the tea-table was already laid and awaited only the guests and whatever good things Frodo had hidden away in the pantries. The air was redolent of baking, and Pippin was rather hoping for one of Sam’s celebrated tea breads; possibly the nearest and juiciest thing he knew to a loaf of solid mixed fruits.

You don’t play cricket, Frodo,” he said, rather patiently, as though Frodo might be ignorant of the fact. “Sam would have been much better off asking me! I quite fancy playing in the final, since Tuckborough managed to lose to Michel Delving in the semis, despite my stylish contribution! I’d enjoy the chance to take revenge.”

“Stylish? Reckless, you mean – that was a total cow-shot, the one you were out to! And anyway, you’re being unfair to him,” said Merry. “Frodo used to play for our Tween team. Not too badly either, but I should think he must be rusty, by now.”

“It was not! And if Frodo hasn’t practised since then, let alone played, he’s got no chance!”

“But he was a natural, you know, though his form was a little erratic, as I remember,” Merry said, judiciously.

“Pah! There’s no replacement for training, and Frodo hasn’t done any at all.”

“He keeps fairly fit with all his walking, though.”

“It’s not the same. His reflexes won’t be -”

Frodo broke in, half-irritated (he had, after all, the same concerns as Pippin was voicing) and half-amused. “When you two have quite finished talking about me as though I weren’t here, I should remind you that I have one big advantage that you don’t, Peregrin Took!”

Doubtful, as he knew himself to be a good, if unorthodox, cricketer, and more than willing to counter any argument Frodo might advance, Pippin drew himself up for battle. “And that is?”

“At least I qualify for the Hobbiton team!”

Dissection of the drawbacks – extensive - and advantages – minimal - of the Hobbiton XI, lacking their anchor batsman and having only Frodo as a replacement (though with the undeniable bonus of Sam’s bowling), kept the cousins bickering happily throughout the generous spread of tea-time delicacies. Amongst these, Pippin noted with approval, was a warmly golden tea bread, obviously of Sam’s making.

With his cousins’ attention divided between the satisfactions of comfort food and cricket, Frodo was free to brood on what had happened, there in the orchard; on what he had seen then in Sam’s face.

More and more often, of late, he had found himself teetering on the brink of – of – What? It had been as difficult to decide what he might do, as it would be to do it. He wanted so much to tell Sam… to ask Sam… For all his words and book-learning, Frodo was finding that affairs of the heart were not necessarily best expressed aloud. He had touched Sam now, however briefly; no longer a friend’s touch, but the caress of a lover. And Sam had answered him with such love in his eyes… had feathered a kiss into his palm, which tingled still… He looked down, almost expecting that the caress might be visible, so sweetly did it burn.

“Frodo?” Merry’s voice seemed to come from a distance.

“Mm? What?”

“You were miles away.”

No, I wasn’t. I was in the orchard with Sam. He held me in his arms… his lips sparked fire into my hand… His eyes… he was telling me that… that he loves me, as I love him…

“Sorry, I was thinking. What did you say?”

“I was asking if you still had your whites.” Merry was beginning to wonder about Frodo’s abstraction. “Are you getting cold feet over playing?”

“No, of course not. I couldn’t let Sam down, now.” Or ever… “Whites? Hmm. I’m not quite sure where they would be. Or whether they will still fit, when I find them.”

“Any old white shirt would do,” Pippin said thickly, around the last of a more than ample slice of Sam’s fruit bread. “You must have one somewhere, but you won’t have any other white trousers hanging around, I shouldn’t think. And what about pads, and your bat?”

Frodo did know where to find those. Sam had unearthed them from a chest he had been tidying during a singularly wet spell, and had insisted on oiling the bat, and replacing the old straps on the pads, even though Frodo had said he no longer needed them. Sam had kept them in trim ever since; he just liked to take care of things. For me…

“So it’s just the trousers? Well, you can’t borrow Sam’s, that’s for certain!” Pippin giggled at the thought of Frodo’s slender frame, swimming in the excess fabric that Sam’s trousers would provide.

“Sam doesn’t even have spare whites, and well you know it!” Frodo had snapped it before he could help himself. He was suddenly aware that both his cousins were staring at him. “Well, he hasn’t,” he said in a conciliatory tone, which fooled neither of them. He had surprised himself with the vehemence of his outburst, and he blew out a breath, trying to release some of his feelings – he was nervous, anxious, and eager, all at once… and more than a little frustrated. If only his cousins had arrived later. Much later…

“Frodo?” Merry’s voice was both curious and sympathetic.

“Sorry! I - I’ll just go and look for mine,” Frodo said hurriedly, and escaped to his bedroom. Activity seemed to ease the tension; as he rummaged in the wardrobe, he felt himself begin to relax a little, and even to forgive his cousins their untimely arrival. He rather thought that his cricket whites might be folded away in the bottom of – yes, here they were.

The shirt was definitely old and had worn rather thin from much laundering, but it was still pristine white and it did fit reasonably well. He flexed his arms and played a few strokes with an imaginary bat. Perhaps the shirt clung just a little more snugly than it had the last time he had worn it, but it wouldn’t impede his batting. The flannels were a different matter. Quite apart from the fact that they had yellowed rather badly, they were definitely somewhat tight, and the moths had been busy, just where a weakness in the cloth might prove embarrassing. He bent and stretched a few times and the sudden parting of fabric confirmed that he would not be able to wear these again.

He became aware that he had an audience. His cousins were standing in the doorway, determination writ large upon them. Without a word, they advanced, and in a neat flanking movement, forced him to sit on the bed between them.

“Yes?” he said, as forbiddingly as he could manage, for a grin was also hovering.

“Not making a very good job of it, is he?” Pippin remarked conversationally.

“Pretending he doesn’t know.” Merry nodded sagely. “Head in the clouds, that’s our Frodo.”

“Silly really,” Pip put in, “when they could be so happy together.”

“Almost as happy as we are, I expect.” And Merry reached across Frodo to clasp Pippin’s hand, palm to palm.

“As happy as -?” Frodo looked at his cousins. Had he not been so preoccupied, he would already have noticed an extra edge of fondness to their interminable bickering, an extra glow of happiness about them. “Merry! Do you mean…?” The two had always been close, together through japes, scrapes and their resultant troubles, but Frodo hadn’t expected this. He realised rather guiltily that he had been too engrossed in his own feelings for Sam, to notice any change in his cousins’ feelings for each other.

“Of course. I suddenly realised that I was only truly happy with Pippin, and,” Merry paused, “well, who else would have him?”

“Oy! I’ll get you for that!” Pippin complained.

“Later!” Merry said, with a grin.

Pippin opened his eyes very wide. “I’m taking that as a promise,” he said, and smiled invitingly at Merry.

“That’s wonderful! I’m so pleased for you both,” Frodo said, around the sudden lump in his throat. “I really am. But what has it to do with me having my head in the clouds?”

“With you and Sam, you mean?” Merry corrected him.

“Everything!” Pippin pronounced sweepingly. “You’ve been watching him like a lovesick swain for months…”

“I recognise that look,” Merry said. “I saw it often enough in the mirror, before I came to my senses.”

“And now, we think that it’s time that you stopped shilly-shallying…”

“And did something about it.”

“But I don’t know - ” Frodo stopped himself. I do, don’t I? Now…

“Sam worships the ground you walk on,” Pippin said gently.

“We’ve seen it for ages, but it was only when we realised how wonderful it can be, when you finally admit what you feel for each other - ”

“That we decided you two ought to stop dancing around the issue -”

“Talk to each other -”

“And start dancing with each other!” Pippin finished, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

Frodo blushed. “I’ve never – ” But we did... though I don’t think Pippin means that kind of dancing…

“We hadn’t either. Learning is a lot of fun!” Merry’s happiness was infectious, and Frodo threw his arms around the pair, and hugged them.

“If you say so – you always did lead each other on, and I should think you’re still doing it!” Will Sam and I learn such things together? Lead each other on? Oh, I hope so!

“Seriously, Frodo, we want you to be happy, too, and we know that you would be, with Sam.”

“And we give you fair warning,” Pip wagged his finger under Frodo’s nose, “that if things don’t change for the better, and soon -”

“We shall shut the pair of you up together in this very room -”

“And we’ll not let you out until we’ve heard…” Pip paused to select words which weren’t too explicit.

It was Merry who ended the sentence, “- the bed springs squeaking in protest!”

Frodo laughed despite his embarrassment. “All right, I’ll talk with Sam. Really I will, but not until after this match.” I need to be with Sam…

“Speaking of which, you can’t wear those flannels, Frodo. One good dive after the ball, and, well -”

“All your assets will be on display!” Pippin threw up his hands in mock horror.

“Which would probably interest Sam no end, but I think the prim and proper ladies of The Shire might be more than a little shocked!”

“In fact,” said Pippin, “ it’s a good thing I brought my whites, in case they needed a twelfth man. You may borrow my flannels, so long as you don’t split them in a deliberate attempt to get Sam’s attention!”

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Tiriel

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Romance

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 08/05/04

Original Post: 01/25/04

Go to Perfect Match, The overview

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