He'd been watching Frodo for months. Well. Month. Since faire had started, and he'd found himself in nearly daily contact with the other man. And, of course, everyone else here. But none drew the eye or held it as easily as that dark-haired youth.
Sam adjusted the heat on the Coleman stove, before stirring the pot of oatmeal atop it again. Breakfast revels had been one duty he didn't mind volunteering for in the least. He rose early, anyway, so many years with his father rolling him out of bed at dawn leaving their mark. And he liked to cook, though hot water and oatmeal weren't exactly a challenge. Watching the other guild members stumble about the site before coffee had just been an extra bonus.
But Frodo . . . Sweet blue eyes and that soft voice, saying "Thank you, Sam," every morning. Sam shook his head at himself, what he'd allowed that voice to do to him. To make him want. Not that it was impossible. Everyone in the guild knew Frodo Baggins played quite happily for both teams, if not often for either. He could manage it easily enough, Sam thought ruefully, imagining those delicate hands and lips moving lower . . . He shook himself, attending to the coffee. "Don't be a fool, Samwise," he muttered to himself, quite a bit of his father in his tone. Open Frodo might be, but rumor had him celibate for a good three years or so. And Sam wasn't so blind to think he'd be the one to break that streak, experience or no.
Not that he had that much, after all. Fumblings with a few lads back home hardly counted, and he often shuddered to think of the girlfriend he'd come so close to marrying. Only his sudden, and unexpected, acceptance to Cal Poly had stopped that.
Funny, really, to think both Frodo and his shy cousin, Merry, went there, and yet Sam had never seen either of them until faire. Funny, too, that Pippin also planned to attend, when he graduated. A small world, that had still seemed too big.
Sam dished up another bowl, handing it over to Boromir and receiving a small nod in thanks. Yes, a definite lack of morning people around here, Sam decided again. But he was distracted from thoughts and food alike, when Frodo emerged from his tent.
He hid a frown, watching the older man. He was moving stiffly, today, something Sam had noticed more than once, though Frodo did a good job of hiding it. Most people didn't watch him the way Sam did, of course. And he made no comment on it, as Frodo came by and handed him his mug. "Morning, Sam."
"Good morning, Frodo," Sam replied, dishing up his oatmeal, and filling the mug with coffee. "Did you sleep well? You look a mite done in, is all."
Frodo smiled back, stretching a little. "Not very, no. I'd blame Pippin, and Dia, and the rest of the kids, but I think they went to bed before I did."
Sam laughed. "Doesn't mean they wouldn't be keeping you up," he suggested slyly.
"Sam!" Frodo grinned, rather pleasantly surprised, as he always was when Sam's shy manner slipped. "Well, that's true enough. I'll blame them, then."
They fell into a companionable conversation, as Sam served the rest of the guild members, though it broke off when Merry arrived, and Frodo turned to talk to him. Sam didn't blame him in the least, as Frodo seemed to be the only person Merry would talk to. He frowned a bit, feeling more than a moment's pity for the lad, but soon returned to his work.
Sam didn't see Frodo again until later that afternoon. They'd been scheduled for meet-and-greet together, a duty Sam didn't particularly enjoy, but was usually made bearable by Frodo's enjoyment of it. But Frodo hadn't arrived, sending Pippin in his stead. Pippin had shrugged, when Sam asked him why. "Maybe he drank too much last night?" the boy suggested with guileless eyes. Which immediately had Sam suspicious. No one looked innocent as well as that Took.
He finished out his shift, teasing the mundanes, and being artfully confused by them–"You've writing on your shirt, my lord? Why, you must have a great many shirts, if you must name them to keep them straight!"–and hurried back to the guild site after. Frodo wasn't in any of his usual haunts around it, not talking with Gandalf, nor relaxing in a corner with a mug of beer. He wasn't even with Merry, who Sam could see in his usual spot in the back corner, half-hidden by a couple huge barrels. That left his tent, if he wasn't wandering about the faire site. And Pippin had said he wasn't . . .
Sam approached the tent with a feeling of worry. Overstepping his place, indeed. His father'd be having kittens, if he knew what Sam was about to do.
Firmly reminding himself that here, in California, in the guild, there was no real class structure, that Frodo considered him an equal and it was perfectly fine to be worried about a friend, he jingled the small string of bells beside Frodo's half-open tent flap. "Frodo?"
There was the sound of a muted rustling inside, and then Frodo's voice. "Sam? What . . . what is it?"
"Can I come in?"
More rustling, before an answer. "Of course."
So he did, only to be confronted with a rather puzzling sight. Despite the nearly hundred-degree weather outside, Frodo had a blanket tossed across his legs. He looked a little flushed, too. "Pippin mentioned you were feeling poorly. Is there aught I can do for you?"
Frodo made a slight face. "Pippin was supposed to say I was fine."
Sam grinned. "He did. But he did it with that look he gets. Like when he's been lifting my Irish Cream."
Frodo laughed ruefully. "Should've known better, I suppose. I'm just a little tired, Sam, that's all."
"You look more'n bit tired, if you don't mind my saying so," Sam replied, concern in his voice. "But I'll let it lie, if you want. Would you like some company, though? Maybe not, as you're in here alone, but . . ." He couldn't think what was making him so bold, but the dark shadows under Frodo's eyes, the wistful hint to his voice . . . Sam wanted to cradle him close and kiss him until they all disappeared under passion. And that wanting was so sharp, he risked it.
Frodo's face softened. "I'd love some company, Sam," he said softly.
"Right. Well then, you've got it," Sam said, grabbing one of the folding chairs and settling it by Frodo's camp bed.
It wasn't the last time Sam kept Frodo company, that summer. A fact that grew to worry him, though he said nothing at first. But it was more than one morning that found Frodo doing no more than fetching his breakfast, before taking to his bed for the rest of the day. And Sam came to know them, when they started, by that slight stiff movement in the morning. He tried to keep his place. It was no business of his, and well he knew it. But . . .
In the end, he couldn't ignore it. One day, Frodo didn't even emerge from his tent, and so Sam brought his breakfast to him. He rang the bells, got a half-murmured response, and came in. To the shock of his life.
Frodo's blankets had fallen, at some point, and his body lay exposed. He wore only a pale linen shirt, to sleep in, and Sam saw his bare legs for the first time. But they weren't bare. Extensive metal braces enclosed them, straight pieces of steel down each side of thigh and calf, attached and held in place by leather strapping. Sam swallowed, hard, as Frodo's occasionally exaggeratedly careful movements, his baggy breeches, all made sense. And the blanket that, every afternoon he'd stayed in, no matter how hot the weather, had been thrown across them.
He forced himself to be calm, as Frodo woke further. Sam set the breakfast dishes aside, and replaced the blanket carefully. "I've brought you something to eat, Frodo, if you'd like," he said, pleased when his voice was steady. "If not, I'll take it away and you can sleep a bit more, aye?"
Frodo looked up at him, a nearly comical expression of fear flitting across his face. "Sam? Did you . . ."
"I saw," Sam said evenly. "And it seems to me you'd sleep more comfortable out of those things, but if you can't, then that's a shame. Did you want honey for your tea?" He couldn't believe how normal he sounded. But . . . whatever had caused this, it was obviously something Frodo dealt with every day. To him, it was normal. And much as that made Sam's heart ache for him, it also gave him the clue he needed for how he should deal with it. He could fall to pieces later, he decided firmly.
"Um." Frodo blinked at him a few times. "Yes, please. And thank you, very much, you didn't have to bring me food. I would've . . ." He caught sight of his clock. "Well, all right, I would've missed it this morning, but I could've gotten something from the booths."
"It weren't no trouble," Sam replied cheerfully. "Had it ready and everything, after all." He added honey to the tea, then turned to Frodo matter-of-factly. "Do you need anything?"
Frodo pushed himself up until he was sitting, grimacing as he did so. He started to fight with his pillows, to rearrange them, and sagged back gratefully when Sam did it for him. "I guess I do," he admitted grudgingly. "And I suppose I owe you an explanation."
"You don't owe me a thing," Sam said firmly, making sure Frodo was comfortable before bringing his food over. "I won't deny I'd like to know, so that I could help you more perhaps, but it's your business, and not mine. My old da'd have a thing or two to say, if he heard me demanding explanations and all. ‘Not your place to go digging in other people's business, Samwise,'" he said, letting his accent thicken even more, and take on the creaky tones of Hamfast Gamgee. "‘No good'll ever come of it, and you'll learn more'n you ought and forget what you know.'"
Frodo laughed. "I think I'd like to meet your father. Does he really talk like that?"
Sam nodded, with a sly grin. "All the time. If I weren't forgetting myself in one way, it were another. Had to leave England and come here. Only place cheeky enough to have me."
Frodo smiled again, reaching out to take Sam's hand for a moment. "I'm glad you're here," he said simply. He was silent for a few moments, looking into his mug. "I have MS, Sam. Multiple sclerosis. I . . . not many people in the guild know. It was easier to hide it, before I needed . . . needed the braces all the time."
Sam nodded, slowly. "I have to admit I don't know much about that," he said, after a long moment. "So I'll have to learn. But I can't think all the time means when you sleep," he added, worried over Frodo's obvious discomfort.
Frodo blinked at him again, the simple acceptance also not what he'd been expecting. "Well . . . no. But I can't always get myself out of them, and I don't like asking Merry for help all the time."
"Then he and I can switch off," Sam said simply. "If'n you don't mind me helping you, o'course," he added, blushing darkly when he realized what he'd just said.
Frodo's smile was sweet and soft. "No. No, Sam, I don't mind. Wasn't how I expected to get you into my pants, but . . ."
Sam's blush deepened. "Frodo!"
Frodo laughed. "What? Oh. Well, trousers, then." He sighed, a little. "Though, um, you're welcome in both."
Sam didn't think his face could be any redder. "You . . . you, uh, like me?"
Frodo hid a grin, and nodded. "Very much. Do you like me?"
Sam nodded fervently. "Only been thinking how to get into bed with you for months," he admitted without thinking, before clapping a hand over his mouth. "Of all the darn fool . . . my Da might have a point."
Frodo laughed delightedly, pushing himself up a little more. "You . . . really? Even knowing . . ."
Sam swallowed his blushes and self recriminations, and considered Frodo's words carefully. Even knowing. He knew little enough, about MS, about what it could mean, and knew he'd have to learn. What could be expected. Of Frodo, of himself, of what it could do to them. But . . . he knew quite a bit about Frodo, from these past two months, and especially the long talks during the afternoons it now seemed Frodo had been too weak to leave his bed. Sam considered all of this, and made a choice. "Even knowing. You're still the same man you've been all summer, Frodo. And I still want you."