Originally written for the Hobbit Smut Community 'The Weather Outside Is Frightful' challenge. I couldn’t find anywhere that Tolkien listed the year Hamfast Gamgee and Bell Goodchild were married, so I’ve invented my own date. In 1360, Ham would have been 34 years old, and Bilbo Baggins would have been 70 years old. Many thanks to my wonderfu beta Marigoldg.
Hobbiton, S.R. 1360
‘Twas far too warm for so early in Rethe, Hamfast Gamgee thought as he wiped the back of his hand across his sweating brow. ‘Tain’t natural, Hamfast, and no good will come of it. Ham could hear the voice of Holman Greenhand in his mind as he reached between two barren rose bushes, and carefully cleared away a small pile of brown withered leaves and brittle twigs, revealing the bright green tips of daffs and crocuses poking above the rich dark soil: tricked into showing their finery too soon by this unnatural warm spell.
Still, Ham admitted to himself as he wielded the small hand rake, ‘twas a right blessing to work in the garden at this season and not feel the cold settling into his hands, making every joint ache. A trickle of sweat ran down his neck and under his collar, and he wondered if he ought to remove his heavy woollen jacket. Even as the thought crossed his mind, a breeze sprang up, bringing with it a hint of damp chill. No, such a day as this would bring the ague down on those foolish enough to believe that the warm slant of sunlight and a bit of greenery heralded the arrival of spring.
Ham gathered an armload of windblown oak and ash leaves, and deposited them in the withy basket at his side. No matter how well he raked and cleared each autumn, the wind still had its way, and filled the borders and beds with the flotsam and jetsam it gathered in its travels.
A door creaked, and he sat back on his heels, resting his hands on his thighs, glad to ease his back, unaccustomed to the labour after the winter months of rest. A flash of bright green caught his eye as a door swung inward, and then Mr. Bilbo Baggins stepped out onto the front porch of Bag End, and shut the door behind him.
I need to oil them hinges again, Ham thought absently as he studied his master. Mr. Bilbo was dressed in his old dark green cloak from the days of his Adventure, and he had a bright yellow-and-blue scarf tied jauntily about his neck. He held an ornately carved walking stick in one hand, and a canvas rucksack was slung across his back. Mr. Bilbo’d be off walking, then. But Ham did not really need such proofs as cloak or walking stick to know Mr. Bilbo’s intentions. They were writ large in the eager look on his face, a look that Ham recognised well after so many years in Mr. Bilbo’s employ; ‘twas the one he always wore when he was about to set out on the Road for a tramp, as he called it. Like a colt turned out in the field with its mam for the first time, Ham thought, all wide-eyed in wonderment at the great world spread out before it, and seeming as if it didn’t know which way to turn first.
Ham shook his head a little in wonderment of his own, a wonderment that his employer never failed to rouse in him. Fanciful, Mr. Bilbo was, apt to throw out some bit of poetry or song as he was coming and going, rhymes all about the Road sweeping you off your feet and taking you Eru knew where. Ham preferred to keep his feet settled firmly on good Shire soil; he had no ambition to go roaming into foreign parts. His parents had named him well: ‘stay-at-home’, his name meant, and ‘stay-at-home’ is what he meant to do. But there was no doubting Mr. Bilbo had a way about him as could make a hobbit think things he’d never thought before, want things he’d never wanted before. A strange sort of quivering sensation settled in the pit of Ham’s stomach- and not for the first time, neither.
By now the vivid brown eyes, bright and inquiring as a sparrow’s, had caught sight of Ham where he was kneeling by the flowerbed, and Mr. Bilbo smiled. He had a fine smile, Mr. Bilbo did. It weren’t no polite half-smile such as them uppity Sackville-Bagginses bestowed upon those as they thought was beneath them, the kind that tipped up the corners of the mouth but never reached the eyes. No, when Mr. Bilbo smiled, it spread and spread until it lit up his entire face, like the sun rising over the fields at dawn.
“Good morning, Ham,” he said, his eyes crinkling at the corners, his lips stretching wide. “Spring is in the air today, I can feel it!” And he held his arms out to either side and actually danced a little jig, twirling his walking stick and laughing as if he hadn’t a care in the world. And mayhap he hadn’t, though the idea was beyond Ham’s ken.
Ham touched his fingers to the brim of his cap, and nodded his head respectfully, even if he was hard put not to laugh, too, in the face of such joy. But ‘twould not do to be over familiar with Mr. Bilbo, no matter how chatty he seemed. Old Holman had drummed that notion into Ham’s head from the very first day he went up the Hill to apprentice, all them years ago when he were but a lad. Don’t you go gettin’ ideas above your station, Hamfast. There’s gentlehobbits, and then there’s us plain folk, and we don’t mix.
“Mornin’, sir,” Ham replied sedately, “’Tis a right warm day and no mistake, but I reckon it’ll turn colder and wetter afore the day is over, Mr. Bilbo.”
The laughter faded from Mr. Bilbo’s face, and he eyed Ham in a thoughtful manner. “Indeed? I’d planned on walking toward Buckland, perhaps even staying over a day or two at Brandy Hall. Are you certain, Ham?”
Ham scratched the back of his neck, and squinted up at the sky: too blue, too still. He didn’t like the look of it nohow. And the birds were uncommon quiet, not a twitter or flutter in the hedgerows could be heard or seen. “Aye, sir, certain as I can be. There’s a storm a-comin’ or my name’s not Gamgee. If it be cold enough,” and as if to attest to the truth of his words, the breeze sprang up again, chill against the back of his perspiring neck, “there’ll be ice or snow. You’ll know your own business best, Mr. Bilbo, but I’d not wander too far from home if I was you.”
“Then I most certainly shall not. Snow and ice are fine when one is sitting in the parlour drinking tea before a roaring fire, but I’ve no mind to spend the night out-of-doors in them.” Mr. Bilbo raised the head of his walking stick to his lips and tapped it absent-mindedly against his teeth while he considered Ham’s words. “I’ll not head east toward Buckland after all,” he said at length, “but north toward Bindbole: an easy walk and home again before dark.” Decided, he nodded, smiled again, and said, “Thank you, Ham. You’ve likely spared me an uncomfortable night.”
Ham felt a warmth blossom inside him that had naught to do with the weather. Mr. Bilbo always listened to Ham when he spoke. He acted respectful-like, and never as if his greater age or his position as Master of the Hill made him a better or wiser hobbit. “There’s no need for thanks, sir,” Ham replied; then a sudden impulse drove him to add, against his upbringing, “I’d not rest easy thinkin’ you was out in the cold and wet all alone, Mr. Bilbo.”
Mr. Bilbo stared at him; he was clearly surprised by Ham’s comment, and Ham felt a slight flush burn his cheeks. He’d likely get the sharp edge of his master’s tongue for his impudence, for all he was simply speaking the truth: he wouldn’t rest easy. Mr. Bilbo might keep company with Dwarves and Elves and that wandering conjurer Gandalf. But when all was said and done, he was only a hobbit like any other, and one who was oftener alone than not, with no wife or family to care for him. But Mr. Bilbo only said, very kindly, “There’s no cause for worry. I’m quite used to looking out for myself, you know. I’ll be all right.” Then he smiled, quite his usual cheerful self again. “Well, the Road is calling; it’s time to be swept off my feet- if only for a short time. I shall see you in the morning no doubt, Ham.”
With a careless wave of one white hand, Mr. Bilbo stepped off the porch and into the bright sunshine, and, humming a sprightly walking tune, set out at a swift pace across the garden to take the winding path that led north over the hills.
Ham watched him go, marvelling at the spring in his master’s step and the grace of his lithe form that never seemed to age. He was a right wonder, Mr. Bilbo. He must be nigh seventy years old but he didn’t look a day over fifty, if that. The gossips in Hobbiton said that ‘twas an unnatural thing, this perpetual youth of Bilbo Baggins, and that it were what came of hobnobbing with wizards and other queer folk. Mad Baggins would pay for it someday, was the general opinion. But Ham himself had no patience for such nattering or name-calling. Mr. Bilbo was a kind master, and generous to them as was in need. There was naught so important as that when all was said and done. Anything else was none of Ham’s concern. Keep your nose to yourself, Hamfast, old Holman used to warn him. Don’t go meddling in the business of your betters. And Ham didn’t mean to.
By the time Ham finished his raking and clearing, and returned his tools and basket to the shed at the back of the garden, the wind had shifted, and was blowing hard from the northeast. He studied the sky, and could just make out the dim outline of dark clouds beginning to mass on the horizon. The damp scent of rain was on the air, and it was turning colder, much colder. As he hurried down the Hill to his hole at Number 3, Bagshot Row, the cold bit at his nose and cheeks, and he thought of Mr. Bilbo walking out in this bitter weather, and hoped that he would be safe home soon.
The smial was dim and cold when Ham let himself inside. He hung up his coat on the peg by the door then went straight into the kitchen and lit the fire he had laid ready in the morning before he left for work. He got a good blaze going then filled the kettle with water and hung it over the flames to heat. A cup of tea would definitely not go amiss, with perhaps something a little stronger added. He went to the cold cellar and got the chicken stew that Mrs. Rumble had brought by for him the previous day, and set it on the hob to warm. He lingered for a bit by the cheerful fire, enjoying the feel of the heat on his chilled face. In winter, he spent nearly all his time in the small kitchen, the only room in the smial with a fireplace. He ate, slept and worked here, and dreamt of the day, so near now, that he would return home to a kitchen already filled with warmth and light, and to a nourishing hot meal waiting on the table.
Two months. In but two months’ time, on the first day of Thrimidge, he would be married to Bell Goodchild. ‘Twas a mystery to Ham still that he had won the hand of so smart, lively and capable a lass, not to mention one so fair to look upon, with her moss-green eyes and curls the colour of clover honey. Bell could sing like a bird at daybreak, too; ‘twas what had first brought her to Ham’s notice, the sound of her sweet, clear voice raised in song as she pegged the wash on the line outside her parents’ smial one warm summer morning- nigh two years ago now, that were. He had somehow worked up the nerve that day to speak to her, and tell her shyly how her song cheered his heart. And she had smiled at him, and come to the fence to speak with him, and the sun had dimmed before the sparkle in her eyes.
Ham left the fire and went to the oak sideboard that stood along one wall. He opened a small drawer, and took from inside it a pair of gloves knit of rich, deep-red wool; a Yule gift from Bell, who loved bright colours so. She’d meant for Ham to use them at his work, but in his opinion they were far too fine to be dirtied and snagged in the garden.
He fingered them gently, admiring once more the beautiful workmanship and the softness of the wool. They were as fine as anything worn by Mr. Bilbo, whose clothes were made of the costliest velvets, wools and brocades, and dyed in shades that put Ham in mind of a bird he’d seen once at the Free Fair. A parrot, the owner had called it, a bird from the warm southern lands beyond the mountains, with plumage of brilliant red, green and blue. His master often put him in mind of that parrot, for Mr. Bilbo stood out among ordinary Shire hobbits like that parrot would stand out in a flock of wrens. There weren’t no one like Mr. Bilbo, thought Ham. Smiling a little at his fancies, Ham put the gloves away, and went to slice some bread and dish up a bowl of Mrs. Rumble’s stew.
He sat at the sturdy oak table, eating his supper by the smoky light of a tallow candle, and imagined the day he would finally see Bell’s smiling face across the table; and eventually those of their children, seated all around them. He hoped they would be blessed with a large family. He’d experienced too much of solitude and loneliness since leaving his home out near Tighfield all them years ago. And he wanted a son who could carry on as gardener for Mr. Bilbo or his heir (if he ever had one) when he himself grew too old to wield hoe and scythe. What a fine thing that would be…
He was roused from his daydreams by the sudden patter of rain on the leaded glass window. The storm had broken at last. The wind began to sough in the chimney, and the flames in the fireplace flickered and danced. Ham cleared the table, washed up the few dishes he’d used, dried them and put them away. He fetched needle and cotton from a drawer, and settled in his chair by the fire to mend a tear in the sleeve of his other work shirt. This, too, would thankfully (for he was no hand at the fine stitching such repairs required) soon be in the capable, clever hands of his Bell. The image of her seated by the fire, bent over her needlework, made him smile, but the smile faded as the patter of rain turned to a louder, tapping sound. Sleet. That meant ice, and ice might be beautiful to look on maybe, but ‘twas a dangerous beauty.
He finished his mending, biting off the cotton and shaking his head at the uneven, overlarge stitches. Then he got up and went to the front door, easing it open a crack to peer outside. The wind was ferocious, whipping at trees and shrubs, making the shutters creak and protest. The freezing rain was coming down slantways and showed no sign of turning either to snow or rain. Ham was grim-faced as he shut the door. There would be trees and branches down a-plenty come daybreak if this kept up. He hoped the orchards would not be too badly damaged.
Ham returned to the kitchen and his spot by the fire, but this time with his pipe and weed in hand. A quiet smoke, and then he’d push his bed over near the hearth and prepare for sleep. A flush of pleasure mingled with apprehension flooded through him as he imagined how it would be once he and Bell were married, and he no longer occupied that bed alone. Would he please her? They’d exchanged naught but sweet kisses and gentle touches thus far, and Ham had so little experience… Don’t you go borrowing trouble, Hamfast.‘Twill find you soon enough. Old Holman would be right cross with him.
As Ham puffed away at his new pipe, the one he’d carved for himself during the long winter evenings from a fine piece of cherry wood, and listened to the sleeting rain beat against the window, drowsiness gradually stole over him. His head nodded down onto his chest, and the pipe slipped in his hand. He roused and tapped out the ashes on the hearth then set the pipe aside. He should go to bed… but he’d sit for a few minutes longer…
How long he’d been asleep, Ham couldn’t say, when a loud crack awoke him with a start. He jumped up and hurried to the window, but it was too dark and the icy rain too heavy to see what had happened. An odd feeling came over him of a sudden: a sense of desperate urgency. He was certain, though he couldn’t say how or why, that someone was in trouble out there in the storm. Mr. Bilbo, he thought. Before he could even stop to consider the wisdom of what he was doing, he was hurrying to put on his coat and scarf and cap. There were several walking sticks in a stand by the front door; a legacy of old Holman, who had used them to get about as he had grown older and frailer, unable to walk but short distances unattended. Ham took up the sturdiest of these, and let himself out into the storm.
He was dismayed at what met his eyes, for there was a thick rime of ice forming everywhere. The stone path that led from the door to the gate resembled a skating pond. The gate around the front yard glistened with ice. Ham stepped onto the path, and into the storm, and the freezing rain began to slap at his face, nearly blinding him He bent his head and walked toward the gate with the utmost care, gripping hard with his toes and bracing himself with the stick. It was difficult to maintain his balance, not only because of the ice, but the howling wind. It buffeted him, making him stagger and nearly slip and fall a dozen different times walking the short distance from house to lane.
A musical tinkling came from the ice-covered tree branches as the wind shook them; they sounded like the copper chimes Bell had hanging from the eaves of her parent’s hole, that played such sweet tunes in the breeze. But less musical were the creaks and groans and those sharp cracks: already the ground was littered with tree branches large and small. Ham had to strike the latch to the gate with the head of his stick to knock free the ice so he could fumble it open. He struggled through the gate, managing with difficulty to keep the wind from tearing it out of his hands. In the lane he halted, wondering which direction he should turn. Then, obeying the instincts that were driving his every move now, he turned to the right, sensing somehow that that was the way he must go.
Urgency had to yield to caution as Ham made his way down the Row, stepping gingerly over the fallen branches, wondering every moment if the next one to fall might land on him. The ancient oak and elm trees that lined the Row, and provided welcome shade and shelter in summer, were become a deadly peril. He pulled his scarf up over the lower half of his face to shield it as best he could from the stinging sleet, and tugged down his cap to protect his eyes. His progress was painfully slow, and all the while a voice inside him was urging him to hurry, hurry, hurry.
At the very bottom of the Row, he halted, and stared ahead into the darkness beneath the trees. There was a darker shadow on the ground at their feet; it looked like a heap of discarded clothes- or a crumpled body… His heart leapt into his throat. Mr. Bilbo! Ham threw caution to the howling winds. He broke into an awkward run, slipping and sliding but managing despite all to remain somehow upright. He fell to his knees beside the still, silent form; his heart was pounding with fear so that it almost drowned out the sound of wind and rain. “Mr. Bilbo!” he cried, for it was indeed his master, facedown on the icy ground, but the wind tore the words from his mouth and sent them spinning away like dead leaves.
Ham did not have to seek far for an answer to what had happened. A large branch from one of the oak trees had fallen and struck Mr. Bilbo down from behind. It was still lying atop him, but Mr. Bilbo’s back had been at least protected somewhat by the rucksack he carried. Ham seized the heavy branch and threw it aside as though it weighed less than nothing, desperation and fear lending him uncommon strength. He crouched down once more beside his master. “Oh Mr. Bilbo,” he said, and hot tears began to burn a trail down his cold cheeks. He touched the sodden green cloak with shaking fingers, and beneath them felt clearly the spasms wracking his master’s body. He were alive! Ham’s heart stopped choking him. “Mr. Bilbo,” he said again, bending low over him.
“H-Ham?” Ham hardly recognised the weak, shaky voice, so unlike was it to the one he knew.
“Aye, sir,” Ham choked out. “We need to get you to shelter, Mr. Bilbo. Can you stand, do you think?”
“I m-must… b-but s-so c-cold, H-Ham,” Mr. Bilbo stuttered. His teeth were chattering uncontrollably. “N-need y-your h-help.”
“I know, sir, and you have it.” Ham gently eased his arms under his master’s armpits, and began to lift him, grunting with the effort it took. Mr. Bilbo was so cold that he could offer little assistance and hung, a leaden weight, in Ham’s arms. He was shivering and shaking like one with the ague, and a feeling of dread crept over Ham. How long had Mr. Bilbo lain out here in the freezing cold? Dangerously long to judge by the state of his icy, soaked clothes. He got Mr. Bilbo safely onto his feet, and supported him with one arm around his waist. He pulled his master’s left arm across his shoulders and held onto his hand. It was like holding a block of ice. “Come on, sir,” he said in a determined voice, though fear gripped his innards in a vice, “let’s get you home, and warm and dry. I’ve a good fire going, and you’ll soon be right as a trivet.” Home meant Number 3, for there was no question of getting Mr. Bilbo up to Bag End, not in the condition he was in.
“Th-th-thank you,” Mr. Bilbo whispered faintly, “S-s-sorry… s-s-so m-much t-trouble…”
“Don’t you even think it, Mr. Bilbo. ‘Tis no trouble. Now you try and put one foot in front of t’other, sir. But if you can’t manage it, don’t you fret. I can walk for the both of us.”
Mr. Bilbo could not manage it, and despite the cold, Ham was sweating profusely by the time he struggled his way back up the Row and to the door of Number 3, carrying his heavy burden. Ever afterward he wondered how he ever completed that journey through freezing rain and dark without the both of them coming to grief on the ice. It was a nightmare he could only dimly recall later, and for that he was grateful.
The warmth of the kitchen greeted him like a friend, and Ham guided Mr. Bilbo to the chair by the fireplace and sat him down. “I’ll just build up the fire, sir, and then get you out o’them wet things.” As he spoke, Ham was adding logs to the fire, until it was a roaring blaze that gave out heat like a blacksmith’s forge. He turned back to the shivering, exhausted hobbit in the chair. Mr. Bilbo’s lips had a bluish tinge, and there were crystals of ice clinging to the curling hair on his feet. Ham took his hands, noting the pallor of the skin beneath his fingernails, and helped him gently to stand. Without a word, he began to undress his master, who stood unresisting, passive as a child. Cloak, jacket, weskit, shirt, trousers, underdrawers: they were all soaked quite through, the fine materials sodden and stained, likely ruined forever.
Had the matter not been so urgent, the sight of Mr. Bilbo standing naked in the kitchen of Number 3 might have rendered Ham incoherent with embarrassment. But there was no time for such foolishness, and Ham took up the blankets from the bed, and wrapped them close around his master, and set him back gently in the chair. “I’ll just fetch you summat to drink, Mr. Bilbo, that’ll warm you inside.” He went to the sideboard and took out a ceramic jug filled with apple brandy. He uncorked it, and filled a mug with the fragrant liquor. And all the while, a rebellious part of his mind was recalling the beauty of his master’s naked body: the smooth pale skin, and the sleek taut muscle; the copper-coloured nipples, peaked with the cold, and the softly rounded belly; the thin trail of hair that ran down into a nest of dark curls and what lay sheltered there…
Determinedly forcing the distracting images from his mind, Ham brought the mug to Mr. Bilbo, who was leaning back in the chair with his eyes closed. “Here, sir,” Ham said quietly, and as Mr. Bilbo opened his eyes, held the cup to his lips. Ham tilted it up, and his master obediently drank, coughing a little as the brandy burned a path down his throat to his belly. “Take another sip, Mr. Bilbo,” Ham coaxed, and he did.
“B-better,” Mr. Bilbo said. And Ham thought he did sound a little stronger already. The bluish tinge had left his lips, which were pink, and faintly wet with a touch of the brandy. That rebellious corner of Ham’s mind wondered how the brandy would taste on Mr. Bilbo’s mouth.
“Can you hold the cup yourself, sir, while I go fetch a towel to dry your hair and feet?”
“I t-think so,” answered Mr. Bilbo. “I feel a bit st-stronger already, Ham.”
Ham handed him the cup, prepared to jump in and steady his hands as he raised it to his lips. But Mr. Bilbo managed well enough, taking another mouthful of the brandy. “Th-thank you, Ham,” he said.
“I don’t want to hear no talk of thanks,” Ham scolded gently. “You just drink up your brandy, sir, while I fetch that towel.” He hurried off to the linen chest, and returned with a large coarse cotton towel. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said apologetically as he began to rub it over the damp curls that were steaming a little in the warm room, “this ain’t exactly what you’re used to feeling next your skin.”
“N-nonsense, Ham. Y-you f-forget I w-went on an ad-adventure once. I exp-perienced f-far worse, you k-know.” To Ham’s utter amazement, there was a teasing note in Mr. Bilbo’s voice, muffled slightly by the towel over his head as he added, “We B-Bagginses are t-tough.”
“Aye, I reckon you must be at that, sir,” Ham agreed as he continued to rub the dark curls. When he finally removed the towel from Mr. Bilbo’s head, his curls were nearly dry and sticking up at odd angles. He looked like a fauntling who’d awakened from a nap, and Ham felt an urge to run his hand over the tousled curls, and smooth them down. Ninnyhammer, he scolded himself, what do you think you’re playing at, Hamfast Gamgee? This is your master, remember, not some lad you can make free with.
Instead, he knelt at Mr. Bilbo’s feet and gently lifted one foot in his hands, and dried it, rubbing at the melting crystals of ice, running his fingers through the thick curling hair to free the most stubborn of them from their hold. He felt Mr. Bilbo’s eyes on him, and glanced up- and froze. The combination of brandy and heat from the fire had raised a hectic flush to Mr. Bilbo’s cheeks. His eyes were brighter than Ham could ever remember seeing them; they appeared almost feverish as they held his. But the look in them- ‘twas a different kind of fever Ham saw burning there, and the shock of it went straight to his groin, which tightened uncomfortably. He quickly dropped his eyes, and finished drying the foot he held. But his own cheeks were burning as he turned his attention to the other foot, and he knew that Mr. Bilbo was still watching him.
“All done, sir,” Ham said at last, still looking down, the damp towel gripped tightly in his trembling hands.
“Thank you, Ham; I know you don’t want for me to say it, but I must. I’d have frozen to death out there if you hadn’t found me.”
Ham quickly shook his head, the idea too painful to contemplate. “It don’t bear thinking on, Mr. Bilbo. Please don’t speak of it no more, sir. How are you feeling now? Is your back paining you?”
Mr. Bilbo shifted a little in the chair, and winced. “It’s sore, Ham, but no worse than that. It was a very good thing I had my rucksack on my back.” Then a shiver coursed through him, and he clutched at the blankets, pulling them more tightly about him. “It will serve me right if I catch cold, as I did on my adventure. I should have listened to you more carefully, Ham, and turned back sooner than I did. I thought I’d beat the storm back to Bag End, but I was wrong.” He shivered again.
Ham frowned. “I ain’t going to let you catch cold, sir, not if I can help it. You ought to be in bed, Mr. Bilbo, and resting. Come, sir, let’s get you settled.” Ham rose to his feet. He took the empty cup from his master’s hand, and set it on the table. Then he pushed his bed away from the wall, and near the hearth where it would get the most heat from the fire. He took his folded nightshirt out from under the lumpy straw-stuffed pillow. He shook it out, and thought of the delicate lawn Mr. Bilbo must be accustomed to wear, and the goose down mattress and pillows he no doubt slept on in Bag End. Well, Ham had no such luxuries to offer, and never would. But somehow he knew Mr. Bilbo wouldn’t hold it against him.
Matter-of-factly, he took Mr. Bilbo by the arm and steadied him as he rose stiffly to his feet, and then helped him to don the nightshirt. He guided Mr. Bilbo to the bed, and his master lay down on his side with a weary sigh. Ham covered him with the blankets, tucking them in around him as if he were but a child. “Are you comfortable, sir?” he asked a bit anxiously when he was done.
Mr. Bilbo smiled up at him, a weary smile. “Quite comfortable, dear Ham.” His eyelids were already beginning to droop shut. “How can I ever thank…” his voice trailed away.
By the time Ham had picked up Mr. Bilbo’s clothes from the floor, and spread them out over the back of the chairs to dry, his master was sound asleep. Moving as quietly as possible, Ham added more wood to the fire, blew out the candles, and settled in the chair nearest the bed. The storm still raged outside, but the room was cosy and warm, and best of all, Mr. Bilbo was safe. The weight of worry and exhaustion that he had been bearing for hours came crashing down on him. Ham could not keep his eyes open a moment longer. He slept.
It was the cold that awoke him.
He sat up, rubbing at his eyes, wondering how long he had been asleep. It was still dark out, and the wind still howled. The fire had burned low, and he could see Mr. Bilbo was shivering again. Fool! He berated himself as he jumped up and added more wood to the fire. He ought never have fallen asleep like that. What had he been thinking to let Mr. Bilbo grow cold again? You’re naught but a ninnyhammer, Hamfast Gamgee.
“Aye, sir, I’m here.”
Ham thought furiously. The fire weren’t going to warm Mr. Bilbo quick enough, that was plain. He could think of only one thing that would. Quickly he undressed, and lifting the blankets, slid into the bed next to Mr. Bilbo. “Here, sir, let me warm you,” he said softly, and gently gathered his shivering master in his arms. Mr. Bilbo pressed against him, burrowing against his body, tucking his chilled fingers beneath Ham’s arms. Ham nearly gasped aloud at the shock of the cold hands on his bare flesh. Gradually, however, the convulsive shivers lessened and stopped, and the chilled flesh warmed against Ham. Deep, even breaths rose and fell against his chest as Mr. Bilbo slept. Ham could hear no sound of congestion, and he breathed a silent sigh of relief. But Ham did not release his master, and he was holding him still when he fell at last back into slumber.
Ham roused slowly to consciousness. He had never felt so blissfully warm and comfortable in his entire life. He stirred. An arm tightened around him as if in protest at the movement, and Ham was jolted into full awareness. The storm, Mr. Bilbo… With shock, Ham realised that he was in bed with his master, who was spooned around him, front to Ham’s back. His breath was warm on the back of Ham’s neck, and one arm was snugged tightly around Ham’s waist. The nightshirt Mr. Bilbo wore had bunched up about his waist, and with even greater shock, Ham felt a burning erection pressing up against his buttocks. The very idea, as much as the feel of it, was unbearably arousing; helpless to prevent it from happening, Ham felt his own cock rise to aching fullness. He lay there, panicked, wondering what he ought to do. Oh, his cock knew what it wanted, right enough. It had wanted it, after all, for a very long time. But ‘twas impossible, unthinkable. Mr. Bilbo were asleep. He weren’t aware of what his body were doing. ‘Twas something happened to male creatures, would they or no. It didn’t mean he wanted the likes of Ham Gamgee.
Desperately, Ham tried to will his rebellious body into submission. But to no avail, for Mr. Bilbo murmured and pressed even closer, rubbing up against him, and the feel of his arousal was a pleasure and a torment greater than anything Ham had ever known. His own arousal jerked in response, and he bit back a moan.
“Ham.” At the sound of Mr. Bilbo’s voice, low and intent, Ham’s heart sank. He’d been found out. What would Mr. Bilbo do? What would he say?
“M-Mr. Bilbo,” he stammered. “Oh sir,” he went on miserably, “I’m that sorry. But you was so cold last night, and I didn’t know how else to warm you. I weren’t meaning no disrespect, Mr. Bilbo, honest I weren’t.”
“Hush, my dear Ham.” Mr. Bilbo placed the fingers of one hand briefly over Ham’s mouth. “There’s no call for apology; I haven’t woken to such a delightful surprise in many long years.” And Mr. Bilbo actually chuckled, low and warm in Ham’s ear.
“B-but, sir, you can’t mean…” Ham couldn’t finish the sentence; sheer astonishment had robbed him of speech. Of all the things he’d have expected Mr. Bilbo to say, ‘delightful surprise’ would have been the last.
“Can I not?” Mr. Bilbo moved his hand downward, and gently but firmly wrapped it around Ham’s aching erection. “Haven’t you wondered how this would feel?” he whispered. “For I have. I’ve wondered for months now what it would be like to lie with you.”
There was no thought of evasion or denial in Ham’s mind. He could never lie to Mr. Bilbo. “Aye, sir, I have,” he answered with painful honesty. “But I never dreamt as you’d wondered, too.”
“Didn’t you?” Mr. Bilbo chuckled again, the low sound against Ham’s ear sending a thrill of pleasure vibrating through his body, and moved his hand. Ham gave a low moan. “Does that reassure you?”
“Aye, oh aye, it does,” Ham replied breathlessly, and then every thought fled as Mr. Bilbo’s hand moved on him again, and again, and his warm mouth began to trace a path across Ham’s shoulders and down the curve of his spine. His free hand slid over Ham’s chest, seeking until it found the tight bud of his nipple and rolled it between thumb and forefinger. Liquid heat flowed through Ham, more wonderful than anything he could ever have imagined. Mr. Bilbo’s hands were soft maybe, as befitted a gentlehobbit, but they were deft and strong, sure on Ham’s body as they stroked and caressed him.
Then Mr. Bilbo shifted, urging Ham onto his back and moving over him. What happened next was entirely outside the limits of his experience. At first he thought he was imagining it when Mr. Bilbo’s hand released him, and his mouth closed over Ham’s cock, and began suckling it hard. But there was no room for shock or any feeling besides the most intense pleasure as Mr. Bilbo made a sudden movement of his head, and took Ham in down to the root. Ham arched up with a cry, and surprise followed on surprise as he found his release while still enfolded in that velvet heat, and he felt the movement of Mr. Bilbo’s throat as he swallowed.
“Oh.” Ham lay limp and spent, struggling for breath. He’d never dreamt such a thing… Ham lifted his head, with some difficulty. Mr. Bilbo had raised himself on one elbow, and was watching him intently. “I’ve not shocked you too badly, Ham?” he asked.
“I’m shocked, sir, I’ll not deny it, but that ain’t to say the shock’s unpleasant. Far from it, Mr. Bilbo.”
Mr. Bilbo laughed, clearly relieved. “I’m glad of that.”
“But sir,” Ham flushed bright with embarrassment, but carried on, “what about you? I ain’t done nothing for you yet. You’ll have figured out I’m not experienced, but I want to please you like you’ve done me, if you’ll tell me what I can do.”
Mr. Bilbo hesitated. “What I want, Ham, is to be inside you. Does that shock you, too?”
Surprise heaped on surprise, but Ham felt a thrill go through him at the very idea, and the strength of his desire to have Mr. Bilbo take him that way was the greatest surprise of all. Cheeks burning, he confessed in a low voice, “No, sir. I- I want it.”
Mr. Bilbo’s eyes turned dark. “I’ll need something to ease the way, Ham, some oil.”
Ham nodded, and went to the sideboard to find the oil. When he turned back to the bed, holding the small flask, the sight that met his eyes stole his breath. Mr. Bilbo’d removed the nightshirt and was stretched out on the bed, naked. His body was as beautiful as Ham had thought earlier that night, but now the contrast of his erect cock, flushed and rosy, against the pale skin of his thigh, made him appear even more so. Ham wanted to say something, tell Mr. Bilbo how he appeared in his eyes, but he didn’t have the words. He simply handed him the oil without saying a thing. But from the look in Mr. Bilbo’s eyes as he pulled Ham down beside him, he’d read Ham’s thoughts right enough, and, wonder of wonders, found Ham beautiful, too.
The memory of Mr. Bilbo’s slow, careful possession was a secret Ham ever afterward kept locked away in the deepest recesses of his heart and mind, and never shared with another soul in all his long life. And even as Mr. Bilbo pressed inside him and began to move, even as he found his release and cried out with pleasure, even as Ham cried out again in his own release, held firm in Mr. Bilbo’s grip, he knew it must never, ever happen again.
The sun was well up when Mr. Bilbo awoke. Ham was dressed and sitting at the kitchen table, a mug of tea cradled in his hands. He’d not so much as wet his lips with the liquid, but the familiar routine of heating the water, warming the pot, and steeping the leaves had given him a routine to hold onto, something mindless to do while he waited for his master to wake.
He heard Mr. Bilbo stirring at last, and his eyes were drawn against his will to the rumpled bed, and the naked hobbit stretching and sitting up. “Good morning, Ham,” Mr. Bilbo said, his face creased into a wide smile. “The Sun is out, I see. It is good to see Her face.”
“Aye, sir; the ice should melt right quick now,” Ham replied. “And it’ll be safe for you to return to Bag End soon.”
“But not yet. We’ve time still. Will you not come back to bed, Ham?” Mr. Bilbo asked, holding out his fine white hand that had given Ham so much pleasure in their loving. The blankets had fallen back, revealing the firm chest and dark copper nipples. The urge to go to his master, to take his hand, was nearly overpowering.
“Sir, I-" he began in a miserable voice, staring down into his mug. How could he say it, how could he deny the wishes of one he had loved- aye, loved- for so long? But he knew that he must. “I- I can’t, Mr. Bilbo,” he said desperately.
“Can’t?” There was honest bewilderment in the fine brown eyes. Mr. Bilbo’s brows contracted, and a furrow formed between them. “Ham, what is wrong? Did I hurt you? Are you in pain?” he asked, so gently.
“Nay, sir, nay, ‘tis not that,” Ham hastened to assure him, though in truth there was a slight soreness inside him.
“What then? Tell me.”
Ham’s thoughts were an incoherent muddle. He struggled to make some sense of them, to find an explanation he could offer. In the end he could only whisper, wretchedly, “I can’t see her no more, Mr. Bilbo.”
Silence. Then, “What do you mean, Ham?” Mr. Bilbo asked, still in that gentle, gentle voice, but his hand had fallen to rest on the blankets, and he gripped the edge of them, gathered them tight into his fist.
“My Bell. I- I can’t see her face, sir.” It was the simple truth. Ham couldn’t see her, couldn’t bring her sweet features to life in his mind. When he closed his eyes, he could see only Mr. Bilbo, could remember only how it had felt to be possessed by him, as if nothing else mattered in the world.
If he went to Mr. Bilbo now, Ham feared he would lose himself and Bell and the life he’d planned for them.
“Ham- I’m sorry,” Mr. Bilbo said. His head was bowed, the knuckles of his hand white where they clenched the blankets. “It was never my intention to harm you. I should not have taken advantage of you last night. Forgive me.”
“Please, sir. Don’t make no apologies. I-I wanted it as much as you did. And I’ll not regret it, not ever.” Ham fumbled for more words, desperate to make Mr. Bilbo understand. “But sir, my future’s laid out plain before me. ‘Tis what I’ve allus wanted: to have a wife and children. A son, maybe, who loves growing things, too, who I can train up to take my place, as old Holman trained me. Mr. Bilbo, my place is in the garden, and allus will be. I never aimed to set my sights no higher.”
The keen brown eyes searched his, and recognised the truth of Ham’s painful words. Some emotion flickered across his master’s face and was gone, so quickly that Ham could not catch it- but it might have been regret. Then Mr. Bilbo nodded. “I understand, Ham. The Road goes ever on and on, but not for all of us. Your path ends here in Bagshot Row. And that is as it should be.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Bilbo,” Ham whispered.
“There’s nothing to be sorry for, my dear Ham.” Mr. Bilbo rose a little stiffly, careful to keep the blankets wrapped around him. “If you’ll excuse me for a few minutes, I’ll get dressed.”
Ham understood that Mr. Bilbo wished to be alone. He got up from the table and went into his cold and cheerless bedroom. He stood at the window, staring out at the sun sparkling on the ice-covered trees with dazzling radiance. He couldn’t bear to look for long; it made his eyes start to water. He waited a few minutes more then returned to the kitchen. He found Mr. Bilbo standing by the table, dressed in his stained and slightly damp clothes. He looked tired and sad, and for the first time in Ham’s reckoning, nearly his true age.
“Well,” Mr. Bilbo said with determined brightness when he saw Ham, “I’ll be off home now. I’m sure the Row and Hill Road are safe enough.”
“Aye, sir.” Ham watched with an aching heart as Mr. Bilbo picked up his rucksack from the table and slid the straps over his arms, wincing a little as the weight settled on his sore back. Ham followed him to the front door, doubt creeping into his mind. Had he done right? “Mr. Bilbo…” he said uncertainly.
“It’s all right, Ham.” Mr. Bilbo looked at him with such compassion and understanding. Tears prickled in Ham’s eyes. Very gently, Mr. Bilbo cupped Ham’s face between his hands. “It’s all right,” he repeated and then he kissed Ham full on the mouth, a kiss of farewell. He drew back. “The next kiss I steal shall be from your bride,” he said, and silent tears began to run down Ham’s cheeks.
Mr. Bilbo opened the door. “Don’t come up the Hill today, Ham,” he said briskly and without looking at him. “Stay at home and rest.” And he was gone.
Ham closed the door. He walked back into the empty kitchen, thinking dully of the chores he ought to be starting. Instead, he went to the sideboard, and took out the red gloves Bell had made for him. He carried them to his chair, and sat down, laying the gloves carefully on his lap. He stared down at them with unseeing eyes, thinking of a brightly-coloured parrot, while his tears fell thick and hot onto the soft wool, staining it with dark splotches. Stay-at-home. Stay-at-home. The words repeated themselves over and over in his mind. Ham did not move for a very long time.
The wedding day of Hamfast Gamgee and Bell Goodchild was long remembered in Hobbiton, and the generosity of Ham’s employer, Mr. Bilbo Baggins, was considered largely responsible. No expense had been spared to make it a day to remember, and after the wedding ceremony was over, the food and drink and music flowed freely under the tent that had been erected in the large field below Bag End.
Mr. Bilbo was graciousness itself as he shook the groom’s hand, and bestowed a hearty kiss on the cheek of the blushing, flower-bedecked bride. He toasted them at the wedding feast with wit and humour, and clapped enthusiastically as the newlyweds danced their first dance together as husband and wife. He took his turn with the bride, whirling her around the floor, before returning her, flushed and breathless, to her new husband.
He watched them for a little while as they turned slowly about the room, out of rhythm with the lively music, absorbed in each other. Then the groom, as if feeling his master’s gaze upon him, looked up and met his eyes. They stared at each other over the heads of the dancing hobbits for a long moment, sharing one final look of acknowledgement and regret and understanding. It would never be spoken of again.
Mr. Bilbo nodded- the faintest movement of his head- and lifted his hand in farewell. Then he stepped outside into the shelter of the warm, still night. He stood a long moment with his eyes closed then reached into the pocket of his satin waistcoat and took something out: a gold ring that glinted faintly in the starlight. He slipped it quietly onto his finger, and vanished.