Sam had always known, since before he even knew that there were different types of love, that he would love Frodo forever.
As children, he followed Frodo everywhere, even when his Gaffer said not to go bothering his betters. Frodo taught him to read, and Sam treasured those evenings holed up in the study at Bag End as much as he enjoyed the stories of distant lands and great adventures.
When they grew older and it was time for Sam to find work, he convinced his old Gaffer that the hike up to Bag End was too steep for an old hobbit to be making twice a day. Sam took over the gardening at Bag End, and he was content - really! - to stay as a gardener. Content to say hello, good morning and good night, to Mister Frodo. Content to sometimes share a cup of tea at the end of a long day, to glimpse Frodo’s profile through a window as he bent over a book. Sam was content, knowing that this could be enough.
Never letting himself believe that more would be possible, even if he sometimes caught himself daydreaming about it. Two lads together wasn’t entirely unheard of, but not a common hobbit like Sam and a gentlehobbit like Frodo. It simply wasn’t done. No, eventually he would marry a hobbit lass and so would Frodo and being his gardener would be enough.
Gandalf’s quest took him by surprise, but there was never any question that he’d be coming along. He didn’t completely understand why Frodo had to take Bilbo’s old ring to the elves, but he liked spending whole days with him, liked hearing his even breathing deep into the night. Liked cooking for him, a skill Sam was shyly proud of.
He didn’t know at first how real the dangers were. Accidents happened in the Shire, farming mishaps, sometimes brawls down at the pub that resulted in a bloodied nose. But there were people out to hurt Frodo - that took a while for him to understand. The Dark Riders, whoever they were, bore swords. They wanted blood. Sam didn’t fully realize it until the night in Bree. Hearing the screams outside their window, Sam crouched behind Mister Frodo and looked at the curve of his neck, wondered what he was thinking as the shrieks ripped through the night air.
Grateful, even on that horrible night, to be so close.
On Weathertop, he was slow - so slow! He wished he was fast and ferocious, like Strider, and wished he could have stopped the Dark Rider’s blade before Frodo was hurt.
When he realized Frodo had been stabbed, the world went cold and numb. He didn’t remember moving and everything felt slow as molasses but the next moment he found himself at Frodo’s side. Trying to cover the hole, to undo it somehow. It wasn’t that big but Frodo was gasping like a fish in air and it seemed impossible that such a small hole could steal so much love from Sam’s world.
Sam was always good with a task, good at keeping his hands busy. And that was what he did as they fled the Dark Riders. He held Frodo, cooled his hot forehead, hunted herbs for Strider, and pushed aside his fear in order to do what needed to be done. Knowing that he would do anything, up to and including dying, to keep Frodo alive.
He didn’t have room to think about much else until the elf lady showed up. Sam would have stared, but just then he couldn’t see anything beyond Mister Frodo’s pale face and filmy eyes. It wasn’t until she rode away, taking him with her, that he realized.
He loved Frodo in all the ways there were to love a person. And he'd never told him.
Sam curled his hand into a fist, stubby fingernails biting into his palm. Fear beating at his chest like a wild bird. He swore to himself that if - when! - when Frodo was well, when they were reunited, he would tell him the truth. Frodo might be uneasy. Might avoid his gaze. But he had to tell. He couldn’t risk Frodo dying and his love staying inside and unspoken.
Sam waited - until Gandalf and Elrond had said their pieces and then left, until Frodo reunited with Merry and Pippin, and finally with Bilbo. He was used to waiting. He stayed close to Frodo, helping him when he got winded climbing Rivendell’s stairs - why were there so many stairs in Rivendell? This wasn’t a proper place for a convalescent - but Frodo insisted on looking around and thanking his hosts.
He was worn out by early evening, dark eyelids fluttering to stay open, and Sam helped him into bed as golden light washed the walls.
“Thank you, Sam,” Frodo said. “Bilbo said you hardly left my side.”
Sam blushed. “I wasn’t sure if those elves knew how to properly care for a hobbit. Had to make sure they weren’t slipping you anything odd.”
Frodo laughed, and Sam realized it was the first time he’d heard that laughter since - when? Bree? Before? He let himself look at Frodo full in the face, needing to reassure himself - Frodo was alive, alive, alive.
Frodo caught his gaze and quieted. There was a question in his eyes, and Sam dropped his head, embarrassed. His promise to himself seemed so silly now. Surely he could keep going as he always had, serving Mister Frodo and taking joy from everyday moments -
But then he remembered the feeling of knowing Frodo might die. And he knew they would go home eventually, and the closer he got to the Shire the more impossible it would be to say.
And so he just blurted it out, hands clasped together nervously. “The truth is, Mister Frodo, I love you. Sir.”
The ‘sir’ felt ridiculous, and a blush crept over his cheeks. Frodo was quiet for too long, and he risked a glance upwards.
Frodo smiled, uncertain, and Sam felt a pang as he noticed the dark smudges under Frodo’s eyes - what a fool, Samwise Gamgee, to go putting extra burdens on an injured hobbit!
Frodo touched his hands lightly. “You know I care for you a great deal, my dear Sam.”
Sam ducked his head. Pulled his hands back, suddenly aware that he had stayed too long. “You rest up, Mister Frodo,” he said. “I’m in the room over here should you need anything.” He stumbled a little as he got up, and quickly left.
Embarrassment was a hot flush inside him, but as he got ready for bed it faded somewhat. All he had said was that he loved Frodo, and that could be taken in many different ways. No doubt Frodo assumed he meant that he loved him as a servant. Perhaps even as a friend. Yes, a friend - that would be enough. It had been enough before.
The relief of the day - Frodo had woken, Frodo was recovered - washed over him. He had barely slept the entire week, worry clenched up in him like a fist that had suddenly been released. And though it was not even dinner-time, he too curled up in the cool elven bed and fell fast asleep.
The next day things felt normal, and Sam was glad he hadn’t said more. He and Frodo camped out on a veranda with Merry and Pippin, listening to Rivendell’s chattering river and spying on the elves as they went about their business. Sam was glad the other gentlehobbits were there; they treated him more like a servant than Frodo did, and it helped to establish the natural way of things. He trotted back and forth between the veranda and Elrond’s kitchen, only bold enough to speak to the elven chef because he knew three hungry hobbits were waiting for him.
It was a gentle day. When the sun warmed the veranda, Frodo drowsed, and Merry and Pippin sat back and smoked from their pipes. Sam looked up at the trees, at the autumn leaves that spiralled gently downwards and flashed when they got caught in beams of light.
Frodo’s voice took him by surprise. Leaning on an elbow, Frodo nodded at Sam’s lap, his face flushed with sleep, and Sam stretched his legs out and Frodo laid his head on them.
It felt so easy and natural that Sam didn’t have time to be nervous until it had happened. Frodo’s head was heavy, his mess of dark curls spilling across Sam’s legs. Sam couldn’t see his face, just sunlight glowing through the tip of his ear, and the curve of his back under his linen shirt. Sam kept perfectly still, as though Frodo was a deer that would startle and run if he did anything more than breathe, and a deep warmth filled his whole body.
They stayed like that for a long time, and then Sam was caught up by an idea that he couldn't let go. Slowly, trying not to wake Frodo, he reached out and stroked his head. Feeling as though he was touching the good porcelain plates at Bag End that no one ever used - something too precious for the world.
Frodo nestled into his thigh and something hungry in Sam leaped at the touch. He pulled back at once, alarmed.
“Keep doing that, please,” Frodo murmured. Sam felt his breath, hot even through the fabric of his trousers, and he bit his lip to keep from trembling as he resumed, gently stroking Frodo’s hair. Trying to capture every part of this moment so that he could remember it forever.
He would have done it all day and into the night, as long as Frodo let him, but Pippin stretched and loudly exclaimed that he was hungry, again , and what was the elvish word for bacon and did elves even have bacon and what would be the point of immortality if you didn’t have bacon. Frodo sat up, bleary, his eyes flickering to Sam for a moment, and Sam scrambled to his feet like the cushions he was leaning on were suddenly on fire. “I’ll find some, Master Pippin!”
Away from that sunlit veranda, the cool darkness of Rivendell’s halls swam with floaters and Sam leaned against the wall. Calming the parts of him that had responded a little too eagerly to the weight of Mister Frodo’s head on his thighs. He smiled to himself, and jogged to the kitchen. He truly was a fool.
Frodo stayed late in Bilbo’s quarters that night. Sam waited up as long as felt appropriate, then laid out Frodo’s bedthings and shut himself in the adjoining room. The elves had offered him a larger room down the hall, but he’d insisted on one connected to Frodo’s. It was clearly the servant’s room, simple and small but still lovelier than his old bedroom in the Shire. The sheets were cool and smelled of herbs, and haunting music drifted through the open window.
It was beautiful, but unfamiliar. Being in strange places brought strange feelings; thoughts he never would have acknowledged in the Shire. He thought about Frodo’s head on his lap, the heat it had left, and wondered what it would have been like to move his hands just a little. From the mop of curls to Frodo’s neck, to his cheek, which always looked so soft. What it would feel like to slip a finger under the collar of his shirt. Sam lay awake for a long time, wrestling with these considerations, before burying his face in pillows and falling asleep out of pure stubbornness.
He didn’t hear Frodo come in. He woke to an odd light, not morning but the dimmed light of a candle. Someone standing in the doorway.
“It’s only me,” Frodo said, and Sam scrambled up, thankful he didn’t sleep naked like some hobbits.
“Do you need something, sir?” he asked. Frodo was outlined in candle light and he couldn’t see his face in the dark.
“Oh - no, no, I’m alright,” Frodo said. He started to recede, and Sam wondered if he was just dreaming after all. But then Frodo paused in the door. Let out a quick, tensely held sigh. “It’s just. I am sick of that bed. They changed the sheets but lying there still makes me feel like I’m deep in the fever.”
Sam swung his legs down to the floor. “Of course, sir. You sleep here.” He stumbled to his feet, ready to exchange beds - but Frodo stepped towards him.
“I don’t want to disturb you, Samwise. Go back to sleep. I’ll just be here too, if you don’t mind. These elven beds are wide enough.” Frodo brought the candle to his lips, and just before he blew it out Sam saw his face for the first time. Though his words were calm, there was something scared and wild in his eyes.
“That’s fine with me, Mister Frodo.” In the dark he crawled back into bed, huddling all the way at the far end so Frodo would have as much room as possible. This felt vaguely ridiculous. “Though I’ll warn you, my old Gaffer always says I snore fit to wake the dead.”
Frodo laughed a little, the sound letting Sam know that he was faced away. “Good night, Sam.”
And that was Sam’s sign to be quiet, though he couldn’t imagine sleeping right then. After a few minutes, he heard rustling as Frodo turned to face him. Only a glint of starlight came through the window, shining off of Frodo’s open eyes. Over the thumping of his own idiot heart, he could hear an irregular catch to Frodo’s breath. As though each inhale was a battle. Sam kept still.
“It still hurts,” Frodo murmured, so quietly - as though testing to see if Sam was awake.
“It will ease in time, Mister Frodo,” Sam said. Frodo was quiet and he worried that he had said something wrong. “What...what does it feel like?”
“A piece of ice,” Frodo said at once. “It’s very cold, and very deep inside me. The outside is healing but...I don’t know if I’ll ever feel truly warm again.”
Sam swallowed. Frodo twisted so he was slightly closer, and Sam reached out - how strange this was! - and put an arm around him. “Come here, then,” he said, trying to sound gruff and friendly and normal. “If you’d like.”
Frodo moved into Sam’s embrace, closer than Sam expected. He rested his head on Sam’s chest, forehead lightly touching just above Sam’s collarbone. His hair tickled Sam’s nose. This close, Sam could feel tension coiled within him. Some muscle held tight that refused to relax. Sam held him, breathing in the smell of his hair - a nutty scent, with something clear and clean like mint mixed into it. His arm draped loosely around Frodo’s shoulders. He held him until whatever was coiled inside Frodo eased, and his breathing slipped into the softer pattern of sleep. He held him until dawn light colored the ceiling. Only then did Sam sleep, too.