Sam had lived a long life full of goodness and had never been bothered much by nightmares. Even when he'd gone with Frodo on the Quest and cast the evil ring of power in the fires of Mount Doom, Sam had slept fitful-like and dreamt often as not of the Shire. Every couple of weeks or so when he was younger, Sam might have a dream about the Gaffer's death or showin up in public without his britches on; and a few times lost in the land of Mordor he dreamt about Mr. Frodo dying or falling into darkness, and woke up all asweat and crying until he could reassure himself by cradling Mr. Frodo close, or stroking his dirty hair, or just holding his dear little hand. When they came home to the Shire, though, all those dreams thankfully went the way they came; and after that almost the worst dreams Sam had were the happy ones of Mr. Frodo, the ones that made him ache all the more for their sweetness when he awoke and remembered his dear was gone.
But now at the end of all his years like--now dear Rosie, bless her, was dead, and all his children gone, all alone in Bag End with the ghosts of a long life--now Sam was having nightmares.
One night he awoke and couldn't, quite, remember what it was he dreamt about; but he was sweating and cold, and had no way to feel better but to go to the kitchen early though it was and make himself up a nice pot of tea, which he took out in the garden to drink surrounded by his plants and flowers.
More than once somebody'd offered to take over the tending of the Bag End gardens for him, but if there was one thing Sam wouldn't never be too old for it was the garden. He didn't tell no one, but in his mind the garden was Mr. Frodo's still after all these years, and he could no more give it to somebody else to care for than he could have stayed in the Shire all those years ago when he heard his beloved master was all set to go for foreign parts and in dangers unknown.
So Sam sipped his tea and watched the sun rise over his poppies, and spent a little while singin to the peas and cabbages and onions in the vegetable plot. Nobody could tell him it didn't make them grow better. He knew the plants knew when they were loved, just like people did.
And a few days went by like normal. Sam's joints were botherin him but it weren't nothin out of the ordinary. He was very careful to take hot baths, morning and night, and he spent long hours in front of the fire to cut the chill in the evenings, mending his old clothes. And all day long it seemed like every few hours somebody was knocking at his shiny round front door, to bring some eggs, or a pie or a loaf of bread when they'd baked some extra, or to ask his advice with some plantings or young'uns--after all the ones he'd raised Sam was a recognized authority on both all around Hobbiton, though he told people more'n once he only did what seemed right, and didn't consider himself no kind of expert.
Three days after he woke up sweating, Sam had another dream. This time Frodo was walking ahead of him through a landscape of dirt and broken rocks and dreams. Sam struggled to keep up, hard of breath though he was, all determined to catch him, with packs and bundles bouncin and clattering on his back. But it weren't no use, for he never could catch him. And then at last Mr. Frodo stopped and looked back at him and his dear, beautiful blue eyes--were clouded and so empty that Sam cried out to him, "Mr. Frodo! My dear!" But there was no answer, none at all. He got only near enough to see Frodo's shirt was torn with dirt, his hands cracked and bleeding, and he fell; and Mr. Frodo moved away from him again, and Sam felt the weight of the whole world on his shoulders, and thought very clearly, I'm going to die here. He's going to die here and the whole world will end and it will all be for nothing.
He woke up shaking and sobbing and took long, long minutes to get hold of himself. He hadn't thought of that day for decades and decades. He'd barely given any thought to it when it happened. That kind of grief--it didn't do no good to think on it. Fussin over spilt milk wouldn't never put it back in the jug. The way to heal, Sam had always known, was to move on, to joy, and not linger on pain and darkness. But his heart was still leaping in his throat. It had been so vivid, Frodo's beautiful young face, his big blue eyes, his lips dry and cracked; that terrible dead look had been fit to tear Sam to little pieces. He was feeling all this pain now and he was surprised and saddened to discover it had finally, it seemed, been long enough to heal over; for he'd forgotten how it felt. He wondered if he'd forgotten too well.
After that the dreams just kept comin, thick and fast.
The next night he cried brokenly over broken bits of lembas bread while Frodo went on without him.
The next night after that he cradled his dear in his arms, whispering to him of the Shire and the sun and the flowers, terrified and so, so sad, because even though everything was all over he really thought Frodo was going to die.
Sam had taken to waking very early in the mornings. He had time to walk all around his garden wetting his feet with dew before the sun peeked over the hills in the East. One day he spent a long time standing at the gate, rubbing the worn wood with his thumbs and thinking about the day he and Mr. Frodo set out on the quest. He sat lost in reverie in his favorite old chair by the fire for hours on end while all those old memories came to life. The dreams had come to claim his days as well as his nights.
There was nothing so comforting to Sam, after plants and growing things, as having everything right and proper-like, done all in the proper order, and everything put away after in its proper place. It gave him a feeling of real satisfaction to eat at the same place at the table every day and wash and dry his dishes and pots and pans, and put them away in the cabinets, and hang them on the walls. One night, instead of retiring at once to bed as he'd used to do, Sam wandered in the library instead on a whim. To honor Frodo's memory he'd always used the room carefully, not to keep it shut up; and he'd practised his reading and writing and gotten real good at it, or so everyone said, and added a great deal of pages to the big Red Book himself.
But now he hadn't been in there for several weeks. Sam's routines had gotten set round the kitchen and the garden and the cosy little den, and he didn't hardly come in the library no more, 'cept for waterin the plants, and dustin off the shelves, and sometimes passing a quiet hour or two at the desk by the window with a book of Elvish songs.
Sam felt his joints creak, and he winced as he lowered himself into the chair behind the desk. He deliberately got out the Red Book this time, but he found that after all, he didn't want to read it. He just felt the cover with his hands, smoothing over the grain of fine leather, and let his eyes go far, far away from the rest of him, set on the past.
That night in his dreams Sam was sittin huddled high in a tree on the edge of the land of Mordor with Mr. Frodo, their gray Lothlorien cloaks wrapped round both of them to keep out the wind. Frodo was only just startin to look really sick, but Sam worried about him all the same. "You haven't been eatin nor sleepin," he told him, "exceptin what food I force you to take."
Frodo just sighed and put his head down on Sam's shoulder and snuggled nearer. Sam put his arm around Frodo carefully, feelin his heart fit to break. "If I could sleep, I would for you, Sam," he murmured. He sounded so tired, so very tired, poor dear.
Sam's heart thudded dully in his chest, and he felt so slow, and so stupid. The tears started to leak out of his eyes. "I wish you hadn't never come here," he mourned, though he knew it wouldn't do any good: he just couldn't keep the words back. "If I could give you my sleepin and stay awake for you, or take the ring, or--"
Frodo just shook his head, silently, and Sam's words cut off in his throat, choking with tears. "These are dark times, Sam. We'd all change things if we could."
Sam was wild and so desperately sad at the unfairness of it all. In all his short life till then he hadn't never encountered such evil and such harshness in the world as now--and to have to sit back and let it come to Mr. Frodo, his dear, to know there was nothing he could do--he was sure, so sure, that he couldn't bear it anymore. It had taken him all the quest until then to learn he couldn't shield his master from it, no matter what he did, no matter how hard he tried. He was crying when he felt Frodo's sweet head move on his shoulder again. He turned his head in surprise, and--and--
--and Frodo kissed him.
Sam sat up in bed almost before he was awake all the way, tears starting to his eyes at his broken heart. So long, he wondered, it's been so long, so long. His fingertips touched his lips, and he thought for a moment, wildly, it weren't nothin, it was just a dream.
But Sam knew that that wasn't true--it wasn't just a dream. Mr. Frodo really had kissed him that night in the tree on the edge of Mordor, and fallen asleep on his shoulder soon after; and Frodo had fallen asleep in his arms too many times to count on that long, terrible journey, but he had only kissed Sam the once.
And for all these years--all these years--he had forgotten.
Sam got up out of bed, even though it was still the middle of the night, for he couldn't stay in that bed one moment longer. He felt like he was still dreaming as he got himself dressed.
For weeks, years even, Sam had been slowly packing up lots of the things at Bag End--the wine cellars, and the spare bedrooms and a lot of the heirlooms--and giving them to everybody for his birthday mathoms. It was surprisingly easy to finish that job up.
Inside a few days he was ready to leave. He couldn't stay here alone no longer when his life was over and Mr. Frodo must still be waiting for him after all these years on the other side of the sea.
Before he left the Shire, the last thing Sam did was give the Red Book to little Elanor, though she weren't so little no more. They stood some little ways from her house on the hills in the long gold grass blowing in the wind, while the sun went down over the trees to sleep at last. Purple and blue clouds gathered in the pink sky like clotted cream. Elanor kept her hand on an old split-rail fence Sam had helped build. The wood smoothed down, weathered silver now.
Elanor had ribbons in her hair and tears in her eyes when she took the book from him and kissed his cheek. "I love you, Da," she said. "Don't forget me." Her golden curls were starting to turn gray.
Sam took her face in his hands and kissed the top of her head, and brushed a tear away with his thumb. "Of course not, sweeting," he said. "It's not because I don't love you. But it's time. It's time for me to go."
And Elanor nodded and rested her head on his shoulder for a moment. "I know," she said, "It's time for you to go to him. He's been waiting an awful long time, Da."
Sam sniffed and looked away from the trees, out over the golden blowing grass, while his pony, a distant relative of old Bill's, snorted and nibbled at the wildflowers. "He'll be alright," he said, smiling. "He'll be all right. I got a feeling, somehow... the time don't seem nearly as long--over there."
And it didn't.