I watch you sleep and it is such a little thing I miss. The curve of your ear is delicate, the soft folds of flesh rosy in the dawn light, whorls like the pink curve of the seashell on Bilbo’s desk rise to a gentle point, that I know is not hard and cool and fragile, like that shell from the far away sea, but warm and smooth and yielding. I know that if I touch it, caress that curve so gently, you will murmur in your sleep and turn away, and frown a little, as though a fly had landed or a troublesome lad had trampled over something you loved, without thinking, and you were unable to say anything or do more than frown.
I know that you will do this, from memories so old they are gaining the qualities of fine parchment in my mind, dry and dusty, and yellow from much handling. I take them out you see, sometimes, and run my fingers over them again, and remind myself that I did the right thing, that it was for your own good, that there is nothing left to regret.
I watch you now and know that if I lean forward and instead nuzzle you behind your ear that you would begin to wake up, that your eyes, cloudy still from sleep, would start to open and to turn to look for me. I know that your flesh there will be warm and soft, and that your hair will tickle my nose and you will smell of musk and leaves and clean soap. And I know that you will smile, and my heart, that I thought was empty and closed, locked carefully and put away, will release like the first breath of Spring breezing through a dusty smial.
Do you know I remember when I was a lad and I first saw you smile? It was not for me then, or for anyone, but a smile just for itself and for the flower you had planted, just so, there in the window box. You never even saw me, arrested by the door, coming back into my still-new room at Bag End, to fetch who knew what piece of boy’s treasure to show Bilbo, and there I was, caught by the sight of such a little lad, so earnest even then, tending carefully the fragile stems and leaves of the plant I had trampled in my haste to climb out of the window the night before. I never did so again, did you know that? Guilt for your obvious care stifled a boy’s rebellion more effectively than if Bilbo himself had caught me sneaking out for illicit ale or tweener games in the moonlit haystacks. Or at least meant I made my more perilous way to the front door.
I saw you frown then for the first time too. As I stood there, touched on some level, guilty at my trespass, you looked up and saw me. And you frowned. Such an old expression on such a young face, you made me feel ashamed. And then you ducked your head and murmured something respectful and embarrassed and you were a child again, slipping uncomfortably from foot to foot, tugging your shirt straight and getting a streak of mud from the window box on its coarse yellow linen. And I smiled at you then for the first time, but you never saw, you never looked up, you were the gardener’s lad through and through, weren’t you, Sam?
Of course, I can’t do it. I know I will not lean over and nuzzle that small square of flesh behind your ear that I can just see in this softly blushing dawn. I will not let my tongue touch you gently and taste salt as you sleepily murmur my name. I gave away that right many years ago, in exchange for the promise I saw in your eyes, in exchange for all that another life could hold, that I wanted to see fulfilled in you, that I could never quite see for myself. And yet, and yet… You are thirty eight years old, five years past your majority, and there is no wife for your side, no child in your arms. And a small weak part of me wonders that if I did the right thing so many years ago, if my sacrifice was worthy, why these things have not yet come to be?
We are alone now, the others of our Fellowship have been left behind on the banks of the Anduin and we make our own way. I tried to leave you behind as well, didn’t I, Sam? I tried hard, but you were not to be denied. Not this time. But then you have made a promise too, to Gandalf, to yourself, and who am I to deny such obvious love? I am weak to be so glad, that you are here with me, that I won’t be alone on this quest. So of course my body is traitorously reminding me of other times, of other dawns, when we were both young and the world had yet to touch us. Before I let the calls of family, and propriety, and position come between us, so you thought, and not the image of a laughing babe with your honeyed hair tossed in the air to laugh as you catch her again.
I must turn my thoughts away. It is an unforgivable liberty for me to sit here and remember our past with quite such abandon. I am your master and we are alone and vulnerable. It is an abuse of that power to have such thoughts, even if your hair does glow in the light, pale and trembling, and limns your features in rose gold, touching that ear-tip as I dare not do. My mouth is dry, it hurts so, under the breast bone, a deep pain, under the heart. My Sam…
Then I hold myself still and do not start, for why should I, when the only thing to happen is that you open your eyes. And they are not cloudy with sleep, as I remember so clearly, they are deep pools of brown water, drawing me into their depths, drowning me, and I struggle a little, but not as much as I know I should, to pull away, to save us both. My breath hitches in my throat, and I feel caught like a farmhand ogling some lass, and my cheeks warm, knowing what I have been thinking, knowing I have no right, no right at all. But your eyes are knowing, and I should remember that you have memories of your own to equal mine, and that it was never your choice, this separation, this distancing. That you were desolate after, that you tried to change my mind with words, and then with gestures, and then with your sweet self found in my bed one night, curled up as though around some pain, firelight shining off young flesh, just showing me the curve of your body as you lay, fallen asleep in your tears. It was too much then, more than my bone and blood could stand at least. I went to Buckland, do you remember? A coward’s retreat. And when I came home again we were as we are, master and servant, sometimes friends, carefully, cautiously, tiptoeing around each other as though something would break if we did not handle it gently enough.
You have not moved, you are just lying there and watching me. I half expected you would jump up, ask how I am, begin to prepare breakfast, fetch water from the stream, any one of a hundred little things that would break this moment like a soap bubble, beautiful and fragile as a dream. But you have not. Instead your hand has wormed its way out of your cloak, tremulous and uncertain, and is creeping inch by inch towards mine as I sit here watching you in return. It would be a simple thing for me to move my hand, that lies clasping my bent knees, I could yawn or stretch, or reach for my pack, or for my pipe, but I do none of these things, I do not move, except to allow my hand to be taken in yours, and hold your eyes with my own.
Is this folly? Is this weakness? It is, it is, and yet I am glad. Your hand is warm in mine, hot almost, and I am intensely aware of every slight contact with your flesh, innocent and affectionate though it may be, as any clasp between friends, and yet still I find I am holding my breath. Your thumb is stroking the back of my hand now, small circles, still a gesture that could be offered in comfort, between companions who share a fire, and many years of friendship, but there is a warmth that spreads out from that small square of flesh, that has nothing to do with comfort, and everything to do with memory. I remember your hands running down my sides, their roughness making me shiver, the delicacy of their touch as they cup the curve of my jaw and smooth down the skin of my throat. Their strength as they clutch you to me as you shake with sweet release and cry my name. Though your fingers are not quite as rough as I remember, coarsened with honest labour as they were, but we have been many weeks journeying now, and hard though it has been, the collecting of firewood, and the cooking of late and hurried meals have not served your calluses as much as the labour at Bag End was wont to do. I could feel guilt for that, that you have worked hard all your life, for my comfort, and Bilbo’s before me, but you would not thank me for my guilt, you would snort and frown, I can see you in my mind’s eye, your younger self, working for the love of it, for the joy of growing things, and I know I cannot feel guilt for that.
I can feel guilt for this. That my breath is stifled in my throat, that I am stopping myself clutching your hand to mine like a drowning man, that I am filled with a desperation and need so fierce, I am shaking with it. I have no right to desire this. I have no right to want to clutch you to me and run my fingers through your hair, and press my lips to your neck and breath in your scent, spicy and warm and alive. I gave it away so many years ago, that right, and here you are offering yourself freely, for me to hold or reject as I see fit, and knowing how much I hurt you so long ago, I do feel guilt, and great wonder, that such a gift has been given to me again.
I should turn away. I know this. For all the reasons that were so potent long years ago are no less so today. You have a sweetheart, I believe, although we do not talk of such things, we carefully do not talk of such things, we never have. And I truly do wish to see you laughing with that babe, moulded in your image, dandled on your knee, that I could see in your future all that time ago, but here and now, under the press of grey hills, the pair of us so small in the world, these reasons are less compelling than they were, and so much further away, that to dwell on them seems ridiculous. I hold your eyes and watch you bite your lip, and suddenly, unbidden, I remember you lying in my bed in Bag End, the dawn light then caressing you in your sleep, the quilt thrown aside by wayward limbs, your arms cast above your head, and my hand lying on your chest, just lying, a pale slim shape, watching you then as I am watching you now.
And my hand closes around yours. As simply as that I reclaim the past. Who would think that it could be so easy? A gentle pressure tugs me and I fall towards you as you lie there, a small tree toppling, inevitable conclusion. And my nose finds that small square of flesh behind your ear, and it is as warm and soft as I remember, and my tongue licks delicately at your heated skin, and oh, I have missed this. There is a small sob and I think it is my own until I realise that your arms are tight around me, clutching me to you so hard, so fiercely, as though you had gained back something treasured long ago thought lost, and your hands are running up and down my back as though desperate to know its shape once again, and tangling in my hair almost too hard. It is strange but I find I am smiling through unexpected tears, and at the sudden warm dampness on your neck you hold me to you even more closely, if that were possible, and you murmur into my hair, and I taste the salt on your skin as I continue to explore the delicate whorls of flesh that make up the wonder that is your ear.
I know that this cannot last, that we hold one another now as a shield against the world, that the darkness will close in and my burden will become heavier, that I will eventually rue my weakness, and we will face the consequences of today, and other days. I know this, but at this moment, for this time, I find that I cannot bring myself to care, or to regret my choice. I have found you. My Sam. I have found you again. And whatever the uncertain future holds for us I cannot help but be glad.
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.