Keepsake by Lbilover

For Marigold’s Tale Challenge 16. Inspired by a scene in the movie TTT, but this is book canon, not movie canon. Starter line for the challenge: A cold rain had started in the night and still fell hours later, stormy gusts of wind sometimes sending it in almost horizontal, needle sharp sheets. This is a story for which I have a very great fondness.

A cold rain had started in the night and still fell hours later, stormy gusts of wind sometimes sending it in almost horizontal, needle sharp sheets.

Huddled beneath the protection of an overhanging rock, Frodo and Sam watched the falling rain and pulled their Elven cloaks as tightly about themselves as they might. It was the morning of their second day in the Emyn Muil, and to Frodo’s frustration and worriment, they had made scant progress across the vast expanse of twisted, fissured rock. Now they were being further delayed by this storm, which made clambering about on the treacherous rocks too dangerous even for nimble-footed hobbits. 

Frodo looked over at Sam, who had not spoken in some time, and frowned. Sam appeared about as miserable as Frodo had ever seen him, and even as Frodo watched, a fine shiver ran through him, and he clutched at his cloak with a convulsive gesture. It occurred to Frodo that Sam’s clothes had barely had a chance to dry since he nearly drownded himself, as he’d put it, in the Anduin. He must be damp, cold and uncomfortable. Frodo frowned harder. It would never do for Sam to get sick, here in this desolate place so far from aid, and with Gollum (and who knew what other dangers) lurking about. 

A sudden strong gust of wind drove the rain directly into their meager shelter, and Frodo and Sam both quickly ducked their hood-covered heads against it, pressing back as far as they could beneath the rock. Their Elven cloaks seemed impervious to water, but even they could not keep such wind driven rain from seeping in wherever there was the slightest opening. Frodo raised his head with caution, and a cold trickle of water ran down the side of his neck.

On his right, a loud sneeze erupted from Sam, and Frodo came to a decision. “Here now, Sam,” he said in a brisk voice, “this won’t do. You’ll catch a chill or worse if we remain sitting in this cold and damp.” As if to emphasize his point, the wind sent another spray of rain at their faces.

“But Mr. Frodo, we can’t go out in tha- tha- tha- that,” Sam sneezed again, and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Why, you can’t see your hand in front of your face, the rain’s that hard, and some of them rocks are slippery as eels. We’ll come to grief for certain if we try it.”

“No, of course we can’t. But we can make ourselves a deal warmer and more comfortable right here, while we wait for the storm to pass. I’ve had an idea, Sam: our cloaks could serve as a sort of curtain to keep the rain out, don’t you think? We can hang them from the edge of the rock, and weight them with loose stones. We still have our blankets to wrap up in.” Frodo began to remove his own cloak even as he spoke, pushing the hood back and unfastening the delicate leaf brooch at his throat.

“Aye, they could serve at a pinch, the fabric being such a wonder at keeping out the rain and wind.” Sam perked up a little, nodding his approval. “Tis a right fine idea, Mr. Frodo.” His hands began to fumble at the brooch on his own cloak.

Cloaks in hand, the hobbits rose cautiously to their knees, but no higher, for the shallow roof of the overhanging rock was but a few inches above the tops of their curly heads. It took surprisingly little effort to get the two cloaks arranged the way they wanted; through some virtue of the material woven by Galadriel and her ladies, they stayed in place without the need for weights. 

Frodo returned to his spot beneath the ledge. He fished his blanket from his pack and began to unfold it. Sam, however, only sat back on his heels and continued to stare at their cloaks, for they now resembled nothing so much as a thin grey wall between the hobbits and the raging storm. “Well, if that don’t beat all,” he said, shaking his head in amazement. “Wonderful folk, them Elves, sir.” 

“Indeed they are.” Frodo smiled a little at the now familiar words. “Come and sit beside me, Sam, but fetch your blanket first, there’s a good lad. If we huddle together and share our blankets, it will be warmer for the both of us.”

Sam hesitated just for a moment, then without comment did as he was bidden, pulling his blanket and the spare from his pack. He shook them out, and then sat down close beside his master. After some jostling of elbows and clumsy maneuvering in their tight quarters, the two hobbits were finally settled back against the rock wall, cocooned together under the shared blankets. 

“This is better, isn’t it, Sam?” Frodo said after a few minutes’ silence. The makeshift curtain was providing a more than adequate shield from the elements, and it was already noticeably warmer where they sat.

“Yes, sir,” replied Sam, but his voice sounded subdued, as if his brief spurt of enthusiasm had vanished. He sat, like Frodo, with his knees drawn up, his arms wrapped tightly about them. Sam’s left side was pressed up against Frodo’s right, so closely that Frodo could feel the slight trembling in his body. His reason told him that it would take some time for Sam to warm up properly, but the worry he felt could not be completely suppressed. If Sam were to become ill… 

Frodo shifted his position slightly in an attempt to get more comfortable on the unyielding stone, and as he did so, his hand brushed against Sam’s. He was shocked by how cold it felt, and exclaimed, "Oh Sam, your hand is like ice! Here, let me warm it for you." He took the chilled fingers between his own and began to chafe them gently.

Sam ducked his head and attempted to pull his hand away, saying in a stifled, uncomfortable voice, "That’s right kind of you, Mr. Frodo, but you oughtn’t to be waiting on me. I'm fine, sir, honest I am."

But Frodo would not relinquish his grip, and retained a firm hold on Sam's fingers. "Nonsense. You've cared for me often enough since we left the Shire; it is my turn now to care for you." His voice lowered. “It is small recompense, dear Sam, for all you have done for me.”

Sam made no reply, but his taut arm relaxed, and he made no further protest. As Frodo gently and carefully massaged the warmth back into Sam’s cold fingers, he took painful note of the torn nails, of the bruises and scrapes and newly-healed scars on hands that should have been tending to the flowers and vegetables in Bag End’s garden, not wielding a sword in some distant land.

All the while Frodo worked, Sam remained silent, his forehead resting on his knees, and would not look at his master. But it seemed to Frodo that Sam’s trembling was growing worse, and that his breath was coming more quickly than usual. He studied what he could see of Sam’s face, and was alarmed to find that bright spots of colour burned high on Sam’s cheekbones, and the tips of his ears were bright red. Frodo paused, and asked, not quite able to disguise his anxiety, "Are you all right, Sam?"

Sam nodded, and at first it seemed that he could or would not answer, but then, as if unable to help himself, he lifted his head and spoke in a hoarse whisper: "Yes, sir.” And in the honest brown eyes that met his, mere inches away, Frodo saw with startling clarity a truth he had been trying his best to deny, ever since his awakening in Rivendell all those months ago. It was no fever or illness that was responsible for Sam’s flushed and trembling state: it was Frodo. Frodo who, without warning, was brought face to face with a decision as terrible as any he had made thus far on their Journey: for to acknowledge this truth openly, to speak it aloud, was to change- everything. 

Frodo hesitated, feeling laid bare by the transparent love in Sam's eyes. How easy it would be to take what Sam offered, he thought. He had but to whisper Sam’s name, to raise one hand to that flushed cheek, to move his head those scant few inches, and he could claim it. He could know at last how those soft lips would feel beneath his own, and lose himself in the strength and comfort of Sam’s embrace. They were trapped here by the weather, unable to continue their Journey while the storm lasted. Why not steal this moment in time and take what he desired, what Sam would willingly and lovingly bestow?

But at what cost? A voice inside him asked. You fear that you’re leading Sam to his death. Will you break his heart, too? You know what the Ring may do to you, what It has done to you already. How can you even be certain that it is not the Ring working Its will on you now, putting these thoughts in your mind?

No! I love him, and he loves me, 
his heart insisted stubbornly. The Ring cannot touch or taint those feelings; this much at least I know for certain.

Maybe. But if you truly love him, 
said the voice inside, sternly, you won’t make things harder for him than they already are. 

For what seemed a very long time, though it was in reality mere moments, Frodo waged a bitter battle within himself even as his face remained outwardly calm. At length, his decision made, he sighed and said, "Good, I’m glad you are all right," and released Sam's hand. He pretended not to see the small, involuntary gesture Sam made, as if to hold tight to what he had, such a short time earlier, tried to resist. 

"Why don't you close your eyes and sleep for a bit, Sam," Frodo went on, fussing a little with the blankets as a pretext to look away from that loving gaze, afraid that his resolution might falter under its wordless plea. "You've done more than your fair share of the watch duty so far, and I daresay you could use the rest. I'll wake you when the rain lets up."

“But what about you, Mr. Frodo? Don’t you want to sleep, too?” 

Frodo shook his head and said, still without looking at Sam, “No, Sam. We’d best not both sleep. It wouldn’t be- safe. But you should rest while you may. We shall have to push on harder than ever once this rain stops.”

There was a silence, as if Sam was thinking of arguing, but then he seemed to think better of it. "All right, Mr. Frodo," he said, and Frodo could hear the hurt in his voice. Frodo risked a sidelong glance, and saw that, obedient as ever to the wishes of his master, Sam had tilted his head back against the wall of rock and closed his eyes. Frodo felt free then to study Sam covertly, seeing as with new eyes the lines of sorrow and weariness etched on the familiar features that had somehow become so inexpressibly dear to him. 

‘Sleep, my Sam, sleep now…’ 

And Sam did, his taut body relaxing as he fell into a deep slumber. Frodo heaved a deep sigh, and if he felt more relief or disappointment at the crisis so narrowly averted, he couldn’t decide.

Then, almost imperceptibly, Sam’s head began to droop to the side, until it came to rest against Frodo's shoulder. Frodo did not move, but remained perfectly still, as still as he had one summer night long ago, when Bilbo had taken him down to the river to watch the otters at play. He recalled the thrill that had swept over him when the shy creatures, unaware of the watching eyes, had suddenly appeared at the top of the bank. They had launched themselves with abandon down the muddy slope into the water, where they frolicked like hobbit children at the Bywater Pool, splashing and chasing each other, their wet coats gleaming in the moonlight. It was the same thrill that swept over him now, as the warm weight of Sam's head rested against him, and his soft breaths lightly caressed Frodo’s cheek and neck. For here was something rare and wonderful, a keepsake: unknowingly given, yet the dearer for all that.

Cautiously, so as not to disturb Sam, Frodo eased back and closed his own eyes. Sam’s head was now tucked into the space between Frodo’s shoulder and chin, and the soft brown curls were warm on the skin of his throat. Frodo supposed that he should use this time to think about the Quest, about their route to Mordor or the threat that Gollum posed to the plan to destroy the Ring. But his mind would not cooperate. It wanted only to think of Sam, his Sam, his dear friend and companion. His love. 

Frodo found his mind wandering back, back to the early days of the Quest, recalling their first meeting with the Elves in the Woody End, and the look of wonder on Sam's face when he realized that his long-cherished dream was about to come true. He could hear clearly Sam’s thoughtful, startling words about the Elves the next morning: those words that first opened Frodo’s eyes to the hidden depths in his faithful gardener. He could picture the shy pleasure on Sam’s face when he found Frodo up and dressed in Rivendell, and the impulsive way he took Frodo’s hand in his own and stroked it, before turning away with a blush. And Frodo could recall, as if it were but a moment since, his own reaction to that loving touch. As if a veil had been lifted from his heart, and the secrets within revealed to him, he had comprehended all that Sam had come to mean to him during the journey that had led them from the Woody End to the home of Elrond Half-Elven. 

But it had seemed too fragile and new a thing to confess while they remained in Rivendell, with the weight of his decision to be the Ringbearer upon him, and so many plans to be made. Any hopes of confession he might have held when the Fellowship set out from Rivendell had soon died, for among that close-knit company, there had been no privacy for such a talk, and most certainly not for the actions that would surely result from it. Then Moria came, and Gandalf’s death… Frodo pushed those sorrowful memories from his mind and thought of Lórien.

It was in Lórien that Frodo had almost succumbed to temptation. He and Sam had wandered together through the glades and groves of that blessed land, and he had seen the shy, loving glances that Sam gave him when he thought Frodo was not watching. Frodo had wanted nothing more then than to speak his love, and lie down with Sam in the sweet grass, among the niphredil and elanor. But he had already foreseen that he might have to leave Sam- and, indeed, the rest of the Fellowship- behind, and set out for Mordor alone; and he had felt that to bind Sam any more tightly to him would have been cruel. Frodo smiled ruefully. He had underestimated Sam, of course, as he so frequently seemed to do. Sam had known all along what Frodo planned, and he had had no intention of being left behind, even though it was likely to cost him his life.

And so here they were, on a hopeless journey to Mordor together, and Frodo could not help but wonder, with a sharp pang of regret, if he’d acted wisely. Perhaps it would have been better to follow the dictates of his heart all those months ago in Rivendell, to have confessed his love to Sam, and seized what chance they had to be together. But Frodo felt the presence of the Ring on Its chain about his neck, a chaperone more effective than any hobbit matron at a coming of age party, and knew that there would be no chance for them, now or ever, unless It was destroyed.

‘I’m sorry, Sam, I wish things could be different. I wish…’ 

Sam gave a little snort, and murmured something unintelligible, stirring restlessly in his sleep. Frodo slid an arm about Sam’s shoulders under the blankets, and whispered, “Hush, my dear, hush now.” Whether it was his touch or his voice that calmed the sleeping hobbit, Frodo couldn’t say, but Sam quieted at once.

The patter of the rain on the rocks began to lessen. The storm, Frodo thought, was blowing itself out; this precious interlude would soon be but a memory. Frodo tucked the memory away with the greatest care, as if it was indeed a treasured keepsake to be wrapped in cotton wool and kept safe from harm. Perhaps, some day, in the unlikely event that they survived their Journey, he could take it out once more, and share it with Sam. 

And then the rain stopped, as abruptly as it had started, the cessation of noise almost startling. Frodo opened his eyes. For a long moment, he studied Sam’s sleeping face. It was peaceful, and his breaths came evenly and easily. Sam looked warm and comfortable, and Frodo’s worried heart eased. He transferred his gaze to Sam’s mouth, with its slightly parted lips; giving in to a sudden impulse, Frodo bent his head and brushed the lightest of kisses across it, light as thistledown passing on a breeze. Sam did not even stir.

Briefly, Frodo savoured the sweetness he had tasted, a sweetness that seemed to him to hold a trace of home and all the beloved things he had left behind. Then he gave the sleeping hobbit a gentle shake, and said, “Wake up, Sam. The storm is over and it’s time to be on our way again.”

Sam’s eyes flew open and he sat up with a start, banging his head on the uneven rock and uttering a word that would have been certain to earn him a lecture from his gaffer. He flushed and gave Frodo an apologetic look. “Sorry, Mr. Frodo,” he said, rubbing the top of his head. Sam’s hair stood on end and he had a crease across one cheek where the seam of Frodo’s shirtsleeve had pressed into it. But Frodo thought no sight so fair had ever before been seen in that grey and dreary land, and he did not laugh.

Silently and swiftly, the hobbits folded and stored their blankets, resumed their cloaks, and left their warm shelter. Overhead, the clouds were lifting and patches of blue sky were appearing. But Frodo and Sam resolutely turned their faces to the South and East, and the darkness that awaited them there.

Frodo shouldered his pack and drew a deep breath. He looked at Sam, and smiled. “Ready, Sam?” he asked, and without waiting for a reply, for he knew Sam would be right behind him, set out once more across the Emyn Muil toward Mordor.