The ship slipped through the fog-shrouded firth. Before the approaching ship stood a small, stout figure cloaked in gray, watching, waiting as the ship slowly drew up to the gray stone pier.
A second, more slight figure descended the gangplank. He lifted his head, drew back his hood, offered an uncertain smile. "I'm home," he said.
The first smiled back warmly. "I know," he said in return, extending one hand which the other reached for and clasped fervently.
They rode in silence, Sam holding the reins for steering, Frodo holding Sam for balance. Frodo leaned against Sam's back, drawing in the scent of sweat and earth and a sage-laced soap which he had used for as long as Frodo had known him. Closing his eyes, Frodo let out a low sigh of contentment.
"There's no great hurry," spoke up Sam, allowing himself to lean back very slightly in counter to Frodo. "Harvest's past, the deputy's taking care of Mayoral business till I get back, and I said I might be a while. We'll take our time, enjoy the foliage." He smiled to himself, but Frodo could hear it in his voice when he added, "You always did like the country in autumn."
"Mm," affirmed Frodo, tightening his hold.
Evening shadows fell early at that time of year. A small fire flickered orange and gold against the night; Sam and Frodo sat side by side, talking quietly as they relaxed in the warmth of the flames.
"I wish I could tell you more, Sam," said Frodo, gazing into the firelight. "But in truth, all I clearly remember is awakening to find myself back on the seas of Middle-earth, sailing east, sailing home. All else is dim, elusive...it seems like a dream, now."
Sam patted his hand briefly. "Long's it done you some good, that's what matters."
"Hm." Frodo smiled, and glanced over at Sam. "Some good, yes. I do feel rested -- and I can't tell you how long it's been since I've been so fortunate. But..." Frowning, he shifted his gaze back to the fire. "There is no cure, really, Sam. Here or there. Somehow I've got to live with it, make the best of it..."
"Ah." Slowly Sam nodded. He lifted his eyes to the silver stars glittering in the black night. "Well, then, I reckon we'll do just that. Make the best of it." He looked over to Frodo, whose gaze remained fixed on the flickering flames. Frodo's face was drawn, pensive, creased with lines of care. Sam waited.
Sighing, Frodo finally turned back to Sam. "There's still October and March," he quietly said.
Sam's large brown eyes held Frodo's with a sureness and self-possession that Frodo had not seen before. Lightly he touched his fingertips to Frodo's face. "I love you."
Frodo regarded him soberly for a moment, then burst into tears.
Without a word Sam slipped his hand behind Frodo's head and drew him, sobbing fitfully, to lean against his chest. "I -- I'm -- Sam, I'm afraid."
"Mmm." Gently Sam rocked Frodo in his arms. "I know, my dear, I know."
"Sam," came the anguished wail, half-muffled. "I want -- I can't -- it's not -- oh, Sam, I ought never--"
"Hush." Sam's fingers worked through the tangled brown curls touched with the beginnings of gray. "And didn't you know you'd always have your Sam to turn to?"
"But -- Sam -- I couldn't -- not with Rose--"
A broad finger on his lips stilled Frodo's protest. Sam's eyes were both tender and stern as they bore into Frodo's. "I love you both," he intoned. "Don't you ever be thinking my loving her means I love you any less."
Frodo grew still, save for a shaky indrawn breath, quietly sighed into Sam's chest.
"My poor, dear Frodo," crooned Sam, once again brushing his fingers through Frodo's hair. "I'll always be there for you. Just say the word, and I'll be there, and don't never be thinking otherwise." Sam's hand slipped down the side of Frodo's face, pressed against his cheek. It had the desired effect: Frodo tipped his head away from Sam, looked up questioningly with those vulnerable golden-brown eyes that never failed to stir Sam's protective instincts. *He never was the master, really,* thought Sam with a start. He cupped his other hand around Frodo's face, looking deeply into his eyes.
"I love you, too," whispered Frodo, smiling faintly amidst his tears. Sam leaned closer, just enough to brush his lips against Frodo's, but Frodo slid his arms up around Sam's neck and pulled him back to himself with an intensity that caught Sam quite off guard. But Sam quickly recovered, letting his hands slide over Frodo's shoulders and down his back, stroking, clinging, fearing to let go lest that beloved figure slip once again into shadow.
Abruptly Frodo broke away, horrified. "Oh -- what -- oh, Sam, I *am* sorry!"
Sam looked at him bemusedly, shaking his head. "Let's get some sleep," he suggested.
Sam's low voice murmured in the night. He lay curled up behind Frodo, his arm draped over Frodo's exhausted, slumbering form. Gently, so not to wake Frodo, he pressed his lips against the curve of his neck. "I do love him. And he loves me. Never thought it'd come to kissing, though. Hm." He stifled a chuckle. "Kisses better than Rosie -- Sam Gamgee, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Listen to you." He fell silent, feeling the slow, steady rhythm of Frodo's breathing pressing against him, pulling away.
Sam smiled softly to himself. "He's tired, poor thing. Overwrought. He'll be fine soon's he's used to being back. Till October sixth, leastways."
A breeze rattled the dry leaves above them. A glimmer of silver-blue caught Sam's eye: He looked up, through the treetops, to that point of brilliant light against the velvet canopy of night.
"Just to have you near," murmured Sam, snuggling closer and letting his eyes fall shut.