SWIMMING LESSONS: 1
The early afternoon sun prodded Frodo's eyelids. As his eyes blinked open, his gaze fell upon Sam's face, yet deep in slumber. For the first time Frodo noticed the fine lines around the eyes, the furrows prematurely entrenched in the brow, around mouth and nose, the face aged more than it should be for one not yet fifty.
Unbidden came the vision: a vision of himself back in Mordor. Frodo saw himself through Sam's eyes, experienced Sam's sharing in the deprivations, the agonies through that horrific land; Sam's bearing of Frodo's every pain, every burden, in empathy if not in full understanding; Sam's torment in seeing the one he loved slowly destroyed by the Ring; Sam's anguish as the one thing he had wanted most, which had been granted to him against all odds, Frodo had taken from him...
Tears blurred Frodo's vision. "Oh, Sam," he whispered. "Forgive me."
Carefully, so as not to waken Sam, he brushed the lightest hint of a kiss upon his brow; then, slowly, he extricated himself, recovered his own cloak and draped it over Sam's sleeping form. Rising, Frodo walked over to the lake and glided into the water, sliding beneath the surface and breaking into the sunlight.
Blinking the water out of his eyes, Frodo saw that Sam had awakened, after all, and was already scrambling to his feet.
"Sam!" called Frodo. "Sam! Come here!" Eagerly he waved Sam over with both hands. "Sam!"
To Frodo's delight Sam hastened toward the lake. He waded in as far as his knees, then halted.
"Oh, come on, Sam!" Grinning, Frodo swam over to meet him. "Come, now. I'll teach you to swim."
Sam looked up at him, startled; then a slow, broad smile spread over his face. "All right, then." He waded over to Frodo and reached for him. "Teach me."
Laughter and chatter filled the afternoon as Frodo helped the hesitant but determined Sam to relax, float, and move in the water.
"Good heavens, Sam!" exclaimed Frodo, leaning away as Sam frantically splashed and kicked and paddled. "Leave a bit of water in the lake, if you please! Here." And guiding Sam back to the shallows, Frodo showed him again how to stay afloat without emptying the lake.
"How about I just leave it at this?" yawned Sam, letting the lapping waves bear him along as he lazed upon his back.
"There! Now you've got it!" Frodo applauded as Sam swam several yards, leaving scarcely a ripple in his wake.
"And there's a day's good work," declared Sam, beaming as he sidled up to Frodo.
"Oh, Sam." Frodo groaned as he picked up his crumpled, damp, sand-encrusted garments from where Sam had flung them the night before. "I should have washed these, so they could dry in the sun."
Sam shrugged. "There's always tomorrow." He rummaged through his pack. "Here. Catch." Frodo looked up just as Sam tossed a small bundle his way. "Some of your old things, and it looks as if they should still fit." Busying himself with the pack, he gruffly added, "Never did bother to get rid of any of it. Good thing. Came in handy, after all."
Frodo blinked, and smiled as he unrolled the shirt and breeches.
"Thank you, Sam."
"Hm." Nodding, Sam wriggled into his own spare outfit. "I reckon we can wash the other things tomorrow -- and that," he added, nodding toward the rumpled cloak tangled up in the sand. "What I was thinking--"
"We weren't," said Frodo with a little laugh.
Sam chuckled, and grinned up at him. "That we weren't. But, blankets tonight, do what we can about the cloaks tomorrow so we don't have to go riding through the Northfarthing--" He snorted, shaking his head.
Frodo began to laugh with him, and put his arm about Sam's shoulders.
"Well." Sam drew the back of his hand over his eyes. "Let's see to supper."
"Beautiful night," remarked Sam. He and Frodo sat side by side, gazing out at the starlit lake.
A corner of Frodo's mouth curved up. "That it is, dearest Sam."
Sam glanced over at him just as he glanced over at Sam. They both began to laugh quietly. "Who'd have thought it?" wondered Sam. "This time last night..." Frodo reached for his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Well, now, I take that back: *You* were thinking it--"
"Yes, and terrified out of my wits," answered Frodo.
Sam shrugged. "You oughtn't have been."
"I didn't know that."
"No." Ruefully Sam smiled as he stared at the sand. "Reckon not."
They fell silent, listening to the lapping of the waves upon the beach.
"What do you think, then?"
"I don't know," answered Sam with a shrug. "What's to think?"
Sam heard Frodo breathe in sharply and let it out with a sigh. "I don't know, Sam. I can't imagine that this is what Gandalf -- or whoever -- had in mind when--"
Another sigh. "I don't know." Silence. "Whoever *heard* of such a thing, Sam? What's *wrong*..."
Over the lapping of the lake Sam quietly said, "What's wrong. That's what I'd like to know."
"I don't know, Sam. It just seems -- well, whoever *heard* -- it doesn't seem right of me to expect -- to want--"
"Now you're talking nonsense," cut in Sam. "All I know's I love you. And that you love me. And that it was tearing you up worse over there than anything over here ever did, else why'd they let you come back."
Frodo stared into the night, his brow knitted. "To bring us back together, perhaps," he finally conceded, "but I can't imagine they sent me back to tear you and Rose apart." He sighed. "You *are* married, and..." Helplessly he shook his head and shrugged.
"I love you both." Sam tried to keep his voice smooth, but Frodo could hear it fraying at the edges. "How can I choose between you?"
Frodo sighed again. "I tried to help."
"It wasn't for you to decide," Sam tersely retorted.
Silence fell between them.
"All right, Sam," Frodo wearily murmured. "You decide. You tell me what you think best, and I will abide by it."
Sam's mouth twisted to one side. He leaned forward, propping his chin on his fist. "Well," he said. "I don't rightly know." He pondered for a few moments. "It's not as if I could've *married* you...and even if I *could*..."
"There's still Rose," Frodo quietly supplied into the silence.
Sam nodded. "Like I said before, it's just my loving you that's hard for Rosie to take. Whether I show it by hugging and kissing and all that..." His face flushed. "Now, if it was another lass -- but it's not -- well, anyway, I loved you first. Not that I had it all figured, back then, but..." Sam let out a long sigh and turned back to Frodo. "Why'd it have to be this way?"
Frodo shook his head sorrowfully. "I don't know. Dear Sam, I don't know."
"Mm. You and me both," muttered Sam, patting his arm. He looked away again, and thought some more. "Well. There's no escaping it. I love you, and I love her, and I don't see as that's ever going to change, so somehow we're going to have to get by, all of us."
"And," groaning, Sam shifted his weight, turning himself to face Frodo, "loving you both means I love you both, and I don't see where I shouldn't -- but try and tell the Shire."
Sam let out an exasperated sigh. "I already *said* we'll have to work it out." Then he mellowed. "But you're right. I don't think Rosie would understand -- *I* don't understand," he added with a wry glance at Frodo. He thought a moment longer, then took Frodo's hands. "All right. Here's what I say: We don't have to give this up, but I think it's best if we keep it to ourselves."
Lowering his eyes, Frodo slowly nodded his assent. "But if it's going to be a burden--"
"You said you'd abide by my decision," Sam reminded him. Frodo looked back up at him: His face was stern, authoritative, save for a merry gleam in his eye. "So, abide."
Frodo suppressed a snicker. "Yes, Mayor Samwise."
"That's better." Sam smirked. "Show proper respect for the office of Mayor."
"Oh, indeed," Frodo cheerfully agreed. "The Mayor has spoken; let none contest his word. And what would the Mayor's next decision be?"
A grin broke out on Sam's face. "To let a certain hobbit know how much the Mayor loves him," he answered as he slid his arms over Frodo's shoulders.