Actions

Work Header

Soft and Strange

Work Text:

The first time Sam sees Frodo, it is through a thicket of blackberries in Bilbo Baggins’ garden while his old gaffer cuts the grass over the top of the hill.

Sam was wandering, drawn in by the smell of August sweetness and the promise of stains on his fingers. He was not expecting to see a boy hiding there among the thorns, and when he does he stumbles backwards, heart in his throat. “Oh!” he says as he locks in on eyes so pale and blue they make his mouth all dry, parched like a summer day. “I didn’t see you there, m’terribly sorry.”

“It’s alright,” the boy says softly, rolling onto his hands and knees as he crawls out of his vine-cave. “I was only reading.”

“That’s—well,” Sam says, cheeks suddenly hot as he wrings his hands in the fabric of his shirt, accidentally ripping a button asunder. “That’s nice,” he says as he pops it back into place. “I sure wish I could read in some nice blackberry bushes.”

The boy widens his eyes, and they’re so very much like the sky. “You could! There’s room for two, if I squish. My uncle Bilbo has books you can borrow.”

“It’s not that, I can’t—m’afraid I can’t do the reading part,” Sam admits, pressing his knees together there in the yellowing grass, cheeks suddenly hot. He can feel those too-blue eyes burning into him. It hurts, for he’s already somewhat sunburnt. “I never learned, and my gaffer doesn’t know either.”

“Oh,” the boy says, audibly sad, as if he cannot imagine a life of not staring at a page scattered in tiny black marks. Sam, personally, cannot imagine a life full of them even though he is rather used to the habit of imagining different lives. “Well,” the boy says then, perking up. “I suppose I could show you. It’s not hard…come on, come here. Into the shade, it’s cooler anyway.” He pats the grass beside him with a pale hand, dark brows drawn in what looks like worry. Sam thinks about smoothing them with his own ruddy thumbs, but then he feels bad even dreaming of such a thing, because there is dirt under his nails, and he shouldn’t think of touching the nephew of a gentlehobbit like Bilbo with bare and filthy hands.

“Are you sure?” he asks, leaning forward anyway.

“Yes,” the boy says. Then, he folds his book along the spine with a finger tucked into the pages, and holds out his other hand. “My name is Frodo,” he says then, whispered as if it is a secret. “I only just moved here to Bag End and I—I don’t have many friends,” he confesses, something grief-tainted swimming in the pale of his eyes. “I don’t care that you can’t read. There are plenty of things I can’t do. I can’t swim.”

Sam snorts, and accidentally leans into Frodo, his frail body soft and warm against him in this way that makes him feel seasick. Or, what he imagines seasickness to feel like. He's never been out to sea, of course. “I can’t swim either,” he admits.

“Oh well then! It’s something we have in common,” Frodo says, opening up his book. His smile trembles, but only at half of his mouth, and it is the first time in Sam’s life he has ever thought of kisses with anything other than muted, disinterested disgust. He shakes his head, and plucks a blackberry off the vine.

The afternoon is filled with dark sweetness and stained tongues, after that, and Sam puzzles his way through what is supposedly called a dedication, there in the first, mostly empty pages of Frodo’s book.

—-

“Mad Baggins’ boy?” his gaffer asks, his feet kicked up onto the sagging garden bench as he regards Frodo over the top of his pipe.

Sam tightens his grip, stepping in front of Frodo as he shrinks, wavering like the very first flames of a new fire, soft and weak and blue and lovely. “Yes, Mister Bilbo’s nephew,” he says. “We’re friends now.”

“Your uncle has fine roses, boy,” he grumbles, puffing and exhaling, crossing and uncrossing his ankles. “Soft, pink, roses. Plenty. Plenty of flowers. Enough to choke the whole of Hobbiton on the sweet stink, I’m afraid.”

He coughs, then, and Sam is too young to understand what his gaffer means, but he knows it’s an insult. He regrets bringing Frodo home, for a moment—things are easier, down by the banks of the river or in the Brandybuck’s rows of corn, where not even the sun can touch them directly. But he doesn’t want to spend time with Frodo Baggins in secret. It doesn’t make sense, after all. They are two young hobbits of the same age, and as far as other things go, like class—money—well. Frodo and his uncle have more of that, too, just like they have more roses. It shouldn’t matter. He doesn’t want it to matter. Sam is the one who is lucky to have such a friend, who is deserving of insults. Not Frodo.

His teeth are set tight and grinding in confusion when Frodo says, “I rather like the smell of roses.”

“You would, wouldn’t you,” his gaffer snorts. “Well then, there’s not much I can do, really, is there?”

“Do to what?” Sam asks, biting back the reproach in his voice. Frodo’s hand is sweat-sticky in his own, but still, he does not want to let go.

“Nothing, boy,” he grumbles, sending spirals of smoke up from his chapped lips. Then he coughs. “Run along, then, what’s stopping you? Just—be back before dark.”

Sam feels Frodo smile behind him, like the relief of it is a palpable, sunshine sure thing. It makes his own chest swell. “Yes sir,” he says.

—-

Frodo’s Uncle Bilbo lives with a Dwarf.

Sam does not see him every time he comes to visit, but when he does he tries his hardest not to stare, eyes burning with the effort it takes to avert them. Still, he is there. Trimming fat from the dinner roast in the kitchen, working out in the garden, driving the pony and cart into Bree to sell handmade wares at the beginning of the month. He does not do anything particularly or observably Dwarf-like, Sam notices. He does not sing or hit burning metal with a hammer or wear a hood. His beard isn’t even that long. “I thought they tucked their beards into their belts,” he whispers to Frodo at Bilbo’s kitchen table one morning when he is over. They are finishing up Elevenses—two more seed cakes than his old Gaffer ever lets Sam have—and he is surreptitiously watching Thorin (that’s his name) through one of the round, streaky windows as he chops wood. There is sweat shining on his forearms, and it glints in the sun.

“Not everything you read about Dwarves is true,” Frodo says through a mouthful of cake. He spews crumbs across the table, and without even thinking Sam licks his finger and uses it to pick them up one by one, and pop them into his mouth. They seem sweeter from having touched Frodo’s lips, he thinks. “Did you know, almost everyone thinks my Uncle Thorin is dead? Bilbo! Isn't that right, Uncle Bilbo?” Frodo asks.

Bilbo, who is carefully measuring spoonfuls of spices and crushed, dried herbs into labeled jars so that he can blend them, murmurs a distracted “Hmm?” from the cutting board.

“People think Uncle Thorin is dead,” Frodo repeats, gesturing loosely with the last crumbly bit of his last seed cake.

“Oh goodness. Yes. That,” Bilbo says, spilling some salt, cheeks coloring. Then he rights himself, strides over, and kisses Frodo on top of his head before sitting down at the table across from him and Sam, who is very busy thinking about how soft the dark, oily slip of Frodo’s overgrown curls must feel under such a kiss. “It is quite true. The tale we chose to tell so your Uncle Thorin could come live here in Hobbiton with us is that is that he fell in battle, and was buried beneath the Mountain with his sword, and faded into legend like his father and grandfather before him”

“It’s just a sword though, isn’t it?” Frodo says eagerly. He has clearly heard this story many times before bed, tucked into white cotton sheets, and knows every word even before it is uttered. “In the tomb.”

“Just a sword,” Bilbo says conspiratorially, his dark, glittering eyes volleying between Frodo and Sam.

Sam is rapt, as he is every time Bilbo sits down to tell them a story. He is a brilliant storyteller, and his adventures twist Sam’s gut up into a litany of knots without fail. There is something about them. The strangeness…the danger…the queerness. It feels like an extra two seed cakes at elevenses. It feels like the odd, special, private knowledge that Thorin Oakenshield is alive, and that his beard is not long enough to tuck into his belt, like the stories say.

“Come on,” Frodo announces, the legs of his chair scraping the wooden floor as he stands, making a fist in the stained linen of Sam’s shirt. “Let’s catch frogs outside.”

Sam follows him—he always follows him.

“Don’t forget your jacket!” Bilbo calls after them as they trip down the hall, hand in hand because Sam will scramble for the lattice of fingers, if he can, and Frodo usually lets him.

Their palms are pressed flat together as they burst out the round green door and into the cool dusky hum of evening. Frodo tugs him along and they head away from the insistent thwack thwack of Thorin’s axe, and Sam wonders what is called, when something is sort of a secret, but not really. When the reality is softer and less dramatic than the myth.

—-

The first time his Gaffer allows Sam to sleep over, the whole day creeps by on molasses-slow ant’s feet until he can race down the dirt path from his house to Bag End.

Frodo greets him in the small, fenced front garden just at the sun sets, and there they embrace. It is a natural thing, Sam thinks: the way Frodo fits up against him, notches into his arms and against the swell of his stomach, as if his bones beg to be cushioned. Sam holds him close, and steals a fierce inhalation of his dirty hair. “It was the longest afternoon, Mister Frodo,” he says, though is voice is muffled. “M’so very glad it’s over now.”

Frodo’s eyes are terribly bright as he pulls away, spinning towards the front stoop, “So am I,” he says. “Uncle Bilbo made his famous plum tart, and Uncle Thorin said he will play his harp for us! Which he hardly ever does, even I’ve only seen it twice,” he explains, breathless in his enthusiasm.

Inside the windows are open, and the evening breeze trickles through, displacing the smell of sweetness and baking meat pies. Frodo spins under Bilbo’s arm, and Bilbo laughs easily as Thorin nods to Sam with a very quiet and somehow understanding smile as he hovers in the doorway, chest opening up like a trapdoor. He is not quite sure what lies on the other side in the dank cool cellar of his heart, for he has not named it yet, but he knows it exists: unfurling and reaching for light, tentative and pale. He nods back to Thorin. “Thank you very much for letting me stay the night, Mister…Sir.”

Thorin laughs, and it’s a surprisingly easy sound, the sort that echoes down the cylindrical hallways like the far away thunder. “No need for that, young Master Gamgee,” he says, standing to slap a big, heavy hand down on Sam’s shoulder and guide him inside, towards the kitchen where Frodo is stealing bits of burnt-sugar crumble form the edges of the tart. “If I am a Mister anything, I am a Mister Baggins too, I suppose.”

And Sam is not certain of what that means, really, but it sits in his stomach hot and strange and oddly comforting, all the same. He cannot fold Bag End or its residents neatly into any existing corner of his world as he understands it, but all the same, he feels quite warmly and effortlessly folded into their world all the same. It’s exciting. Bilbo shows him the maps on the walls when he notices him looking, keeling to Sam’s height and pointing out the ones he penned himself with much pride, as if it is a prideful thing, to have ventured outside The Shire. When they eat there are seconds and thirds to spare, and at one point Thorin rises with his plate and presses a lingering kiss to Bilbo’s cheek on his way to the kitchen sink, and Frodo says nothing, so Sam must choke back his own noticing, his own questions.

His eyes are wide and the back of his neck is sweaty when Thorin hauls out his harp to sings them songs about faraway lands, terrible fires, heaps of gold, and the King Under the Mountain. “That was you, Uncle, wasn't it?” Frodo says sleepily as he leans into Sam, head drifting to his shoulder. Sam holds his breath, even though all he wants to do it suck in the smell of Frodo’s wild, dirty curls. His hair is longer than the other other young hobbit lads their age, and when Sam asked him about he only said I don’t like to cut it, so Uncle doesn’t make me, as if things like scissors and market-place torment are that easy, that simple. As if wanting (or not wanting) something was enough to make it real. “It was you who was King Under the Mountain?”

“Very, very briefly,” Thorin murmurs, strumming his harp with thick but careful fingers. “I was not very good at ruling, however.”

“Because you were sick?” Frodo asks, even though it is clear he already knows.

“Yes, because I was sick, and because—in my heart of hearts, it was not what I wanted,” he adds, gaze drifting to Bilbo, who is sitting in his armchair, fingers curled loosely around a cup of tea. “My cousin Dain was a much better King than I, and that is why he, now, is King Under the Mountain.”

“And you're just—Mister Baggins?” Sam asks without even meaning to utter it aloud, his voice tottering off into a yawn once it’s out, a colt on newborn legs. He thinks Thorin might be angry at such a suggestion, but he only smiles softly, and nods.

“More or less,” he says. “It is not what history will remember, but it is what I say.”

And then he plays, and Sam cannot even think of sleeping when something so magical is resting upon the air. Not even even when Frodo starts to snore against his shoulder, and he tilts his head just so, the perfect tilt for smelling the salty-sweet huffs of his breath.

—-

That night, Bilbo tucks them in, scandalously late and into the same bed. No funny business when you’re there at Mad Baggins house, Samwise, you hear me? Gaffer told Sam firmly before he left, and he thinks this is what he meant, maybe, but he's also unable to care, when the evening has been so full of unspeakable magic. He feels terribly safe here beside Frodo, chasing the warmth of his body, their arms pressed together beneath the light quilt that dimples under Bilbo’s weight as he sits at the foot of the bed. “Good night, little ones,” he says, squeezing their ankles and snuffing the bedside candle so all that is left is the faint smell of wax and smoke as he disappears through the door.

Once he’s gone, Frodo wiggles closer, crossing their ankles like swords under the covers. “This is quite nice, isn’t it,” he murmurs, breath hot as it sweeps over Sam’s shuddering pulse. “I never thought I would have a friend who might want to spend the night. I am quite lucky to know you, Samwise Gamgee.”

Then, he finds Sam’s hand in the dark, and laces their fingers. Sam’s heart beats fast and too-hard, like a hammer, so he swallows thickly. “I am lucky to know you, Mister Frodo.” Then Frodo thumbs over his knuckles, and the motion is so sweet and ticklish he squirms, and—he must ask. He must tell him. “I had a bit of a row with my old gaffer about staying here with you, tonight,” he confesses, rolling over onto his side, displacing Frodo only to press into him again, their knees bumping in the dark as they face each other, inches apart. “He says your Uncle is mad.”

He hears Frodo lick his lips—the muted wet snick over the soft pink of his mouth. He can’t see that pink right now, but he can picture it clear as day. He licks his lips, too, just thinking of the petal soft hue. “Which uncle?” Frodo asks, his plum-tart breath ghosting over Sam’s cheek. Sam turns ever so slightly, so he can taste it.

“Erm. Your Uncle Bilbo. I don’t know if he knows about the other one.” Sam says, realizing he doesn’t know if he knows about the other one—if he understands, in full, why Frodo refers to Thorin as his Uncle. If there is something mysterious and bleeding to unpack like a sheep’s heart in butcher paper. Something tucked away in the cellar. “Are they—Mister Bilbo and—“

“Are they what?” Frodo asks, scooting closer, until his head is pressed into Sam’s collar bone, fingers rubbing experimentally over the frantic, fever-thud of his heart. Sam realizes his arms were cemented at his sides, but now, one is curled protectively over Frodo’s narrow waist, drawing the lovely heat of him close even though it is summer and no additional heat should be lovely.

“I don’t know. Are they—Is Thorin—“

“They’re married, except not really, because they’re not allowed to be,” Frodo explains effortlessly, yawning so his mouth opens in a wet sudden flash over Sam’s nightshirt. “Because Uncle Thorin is supposed to be dead…and a lot of other reasons.”

So suddenly, Sam’s ears are ringing, and his old Gaffer’s rusty nail voice stretched taut over the words funny business echoes in his head. He swallows, and tugs Frodo closer. “Like that he’s a dwarf,” Sam murmurs, as if he understands. As if his heart is not falling to bits, summer fruit left to rot on the branch. “And—and. Well. You know.”

He can hardly get it out. His gaffer never puts words to it, either. It’s always wrapped up in code. Roses. Mad. Odd. Strange. Softness. Different. Queer. He has heard them all slung one hundred times about Bag End, and here he is, behind those walls, beyond the green of the door. In Frodo’s bed, with his arm curled possessively about his waist, because he doesn’t— he hates the idea of such ugliness staining the perfect pale blue of Frodo’s eyes, mud in a clear stream. He hates the idea of ruining something with the dirt under his nails. Frodo yawns again, and sucks his teeth rhythmically in the dark. The soft, swooshing, in and out sound of his spit exactly how Sam imagines the sea lapping at the shore. “I know,” Frodo says eventually, even though Sam was sure he was sleeping. “I’m not a fool.”

“No, you’re not,” Sam murmurs, though he’s not sure he isn’t one. That it isn’t foolish to brush his feet against Frodo’s under the sheets like skin against skin is just—skin against skin, and nothing else. No secret code, no hidden messages, no lyrics about a king that is no longer a king but is also not as dead as the world thinks him to be.

He waits for a response, but Frodo’s breaths grow heavy and sleep-slow. On some level, Sam is relieved. He relaxes, sagging into the heat of Frodo’s body even though it makes him sweat, nuzzling into his hair even though he can't breathe. It is oddly thrilling, to imagine himself as the sort of hobbit who one might call mad. Who might tend roses with infinite softness, instead of trimming them down to the bare stem.

Eventually, Sam falls asleep with his fingers in Frodo’s overgrown curls, and he dreams of the pinprick of blood drawn to the surface after one touches something too sharp.

——-

No great fist of retribution comes for him. Sam wakes with his arm around Frodo’s waist, dark hair in his mouth, and the sun creeping through the opposite side of the house and under the crack of the door in a single unassuming shaft.

Bilbo makes them blackberry pancakes and Frodo dusts his in powdered sugar while Sam’s float in a river of syrup. It is sugar and sugar and sugar, and that’s the impression that’s left on Sam’s tongue, when he eventually wanders home in the height of the noon heat, even though Frodo begs him to stay. I can give you a reading lesson, he promises, blue eyes flashing like something precious peeking out of packed hard earth. Or, we can walk down to the neighbor’s cow pasture and spy for herons. Or skip rocks in the pond.

It all sounds like heaven, like sugar and sugar and sugar. Like Frodo’s sweet sleep-breath trapped in the place between Sam’s chin and breastbone, which has no name.

But when it comes down to it, Sam knows how too much of a good thing can spoil you for supper. So, he squeezes Frodo’s hand, and sweats on his way over the bridge, counting ducks as they swim by, darting between the reeds.

One, two, three, he thinks. He loses track, after that, because it’s hard to make out spots of white on the water when there’s a haze of sudden and unexpected tears to peer through. Still, he wipes his nose, and presses on, and tries not to wonder what Frodo is doing in this moment, and what book he might be bent over, eyes fixed and flickering.

—-

It’s the last week of summer when Frodo decides they will learn to swim.

“We can’t teach each other, neither of us know how, Mister Frodo,” Sam reminds him, even as he follows him down the banks to the shallows of the river, slipping on mud, arms pinwheeling in the sun as he skids. “I can’t have you drowning.”

Frodo rounds on him, sapphire eyes sparking, mouth twisted into an unsteady line. “You won’t let me drown, Sam.”

And of course, he’s right. Sam would never. He chews the inside of his lip, and hooks a finger in Frodo’s belt-loop, instead. “I know how to float, at least. Or I don’t know how, but I know how to help someone else float.”

“I was afraid of water, until I met you,” Frodo says, ignoring the thought of floating all together and plunging straight ahead, dark curls escaping from the tie in his too-long hair as a breeze whips by. “But now, I have someone to hold me up.” He flashes a smile over his shoulder, and it burns to look at, so Sam tears his gaze away.

Once they get to the banks they wade in cautiously, mud slick and squelching between their toes. Sam leads the way, though he is by no means an expert and his heart won’t stop pounding at the mere thought of Frodo getting carried off in the current, splashing and sinking. Still, he pretends he is brave. Frodo just sort of expects it of him and he is likely to do anything Frodo wishes, so, he presses on, the river lapping at the backs of his knees as he hikes his trousers up. Frodo bumps into him from behind, hands clutching, eyes flashing. He tugs one of Sam’s worn out braces off his shoulders, and makes no comment about the weak elastic. Instead he says. “We should take our shirts off, don’t you think? Does anyone swim in shirts? I don’t know because—well. I’ve never gone swimming,” he admits, clutching at Sam’s waist.

He inhales, mock confidently shouldering out of his braces and letting them fall around his hips, floating in the green shallows. “I suppose not, Mister Frodo,” he says, tentatively untucking and unbuttoning his shirt. Still, he is somehow not prepared for Frodo clawing out of his own, undoing the buttons with clumsy fingers, wadding it up, and tossing it to the shore for the ducks to peck at.

“There,” he says breathlessly, knocking back into Sam with a stumble. Their bare skin brushes, Frodo’s narrow white back against Sam's gold-dusted stomach, and it makes Sam’s breath die in his throat like a chimney fire with a cut off flue. “Teach me to float, now?” Frodo asks, skin such a lovely white against the sluice of emerald. Sam will not stare, so he regards the blue of the sky, instead.

“You lie on your back, and relax,” he says. “That’s what gaffer told me, anyway. But he never stood here making sure I never floated downstream and out of the shallows, so, I never learned.”

“But, you’ll hold me, right?” Frodo asks, eyes so wide as he steps back, water cutting by, licking at his waist.

“Of course, Mister Frodo,” Sam assures, following him though it’s deeper than his liking. He braces himself against the current, and lays what he hopes is a confident hand on Frodo’s soft waist. “Lay back.”

Frodo does, tipping trustingly, eyes sliding closed.

Sam holds him up and watches river-water pool in his belly button, tongue stinging.

—-

It becomes a ritual which spans through September, until the fall comes for them and the river is too cold to play in anymore: Sam holding Frodo while he floats, and then, later, once Frodo has grown bold from repeated exposure, standing on the shore watching him flail through clumsy strokes, cheering him on even if he’s terrified on his behalf.

Frodo learns to swim the week of his birthday. He pushes off from the banks and dog paddles all the way to the other side as Sam races down the shore to watch, thinking he will jump in and save him if he goes under, even though he knows they’d both just sink to the bottom.

He doesn’t need to jump in after him, though. Frodo makes it with much effort but little fear, clawing his way up with fistfuls of cat-tails on the adjacent bank, collapsing among them to suck in frantic lungfuls of air through a vast, splitting smile. Sam whoops and whistles, dancing on his side of the river as if it was him who overcame something limiting. As if it was his body bobbing in the ice-cold green waters. “You did it, Mister Frodo!” he calls, cupping his palms on either side of his mouth to shout.

Frodo’s body is a slim, pale thing doused in sun, and his chest heaves as he shouts back, something garbled and unintelligible because suddenly, Sam is not listening. Sam cannot hear.

The blood is rushing in his ears the way the river rushes through the narrow rocky bit of the bed just beyond the outskirts of Hobbiton, for his heart has only just realized that this feeling he feels—the fierce, mad, tight-throated longing to crawl closer and closer until he’s not just touching Frodo but is inside his ribcage like a canary in its cage—is not friendship. Not just friendship, anyhow. It’s bigger, and tangled, and thick with blooms like a rosebush. All the same, it is softer. It is petal pink and seed cake sweet. It is—

Sam has spent the summer imagining a future where he and Frodo are together all the time. Where it does not matter Frodo is a noble, and he himself is common. Where they grow up together, come of age together, find Hobbit lasses to marry together, make meat pies and plum tarts and chop firewood for the winter and otherwise live together. Only, as he stares across the river at Frodo’s chest glistening and his hair slicked over his brow, he realized that he has failed entirely to actually include the Hobbit lasses themselves in his fantasies. Not at the imaginary wedding, or in the imaginary house they share (which looks very much like Bag End, in his mind’s eye), or anywhere, really. It is just him, and Frodo, and a home, and a garden. Coexisting quietly and too close, hidden from history.

He may not read, but he isn’t stupid. He knows what it is.

I love you, Sam thinks with a muted sort of pain as he watches Frodo rise on unsteady legs, trousers hanging low and heavy and dripping onto the grass. I love you, he thinks again, and does not even stop himself, for it’s no use to try and silence things which are irreversibly true.

Frodo picks his way along the shore to the closest wooden footbridge, and he crosses it in a streak of white before looping back down the other side of the bank to throw himself into Sam’s waiting arms. They they crumple laughing and into the grass. “I couldn’t have learned without you,” Frodo says breathlessly, flopping onto his back and pointing up at the sky to loosely outline the shape of a cloud. His hair is making a wet spot on Sam’s shirt, and Sam keeps staring down at it.

“I didn’t do much, Mister Frodo. I only helped a little.”

“Just watching—just thinking I could do it, was enough,” Frodo explains. “You thinking I’m brave makes me brave.”

The darkness comes too quickly and along with it, the chill of the evening. Frodo is about to turn another year older, and Summer is almost over, and Sam—Sam still doesn’t know how to swim. In fact, he may never. He squeezes his eyes shut, and wishes he could stop time. Or, skip ahead to his imagined future, where he’s figured out all the confusing painful bits, and already lives the way he would like to. Soft and strange, perhaps sneered at, perhaps whispered about, but old enough to endure such things with the fearless sort of grace it takes to plunge into a moving river, and kick.

But of course, he cannot stop time or running water or anything swift and immortal like that. The sun sets, and the day hurries on. They walk back to Bag End in its last remaining light, fingers twisted together, river water still drying in Frodo’s dark curls. All the while Sam’s heart beats, and it beats.