THE BELOVED PATHS
That first night Sam and Frodo stayed in the small country cottage of a family glad to give the Mayor and his companion shelter for the night, for there were no inns in those most remote northern reaches of the Shire. In such close quarters the two contented themselves with a tender but not improper good-night kiss in the dark, and Frodo fell asleep, as had become his custom, with his head resting on Sam's breast.
As they journeyed south and west, making their way toward Michel Delving, Frodo began to recognize the country, the beloved paths he had often walked alone beneath the stars, or ridden in the light of the sun, the beloved people whom hehad missed with an ache that the sea itself could not hold back, nor wash away. His own, and yet not his own: He was changed, set apart, in deep ways that could not be denied; yet these were still his people, and he one of their own, and he knew now that no matter how alien his wounds had made him, nonetheless, here, here was home.
"Good evening, Mayor Samwise."
"Evening, Master Stout." Sam affably nodded. "Might you have a room for myself and Mr. Frodo this night?"
"If I haven't, I surely will make room, Mayor Samwise," the innkeeper assured him. "Step this way, if you please; the lad will see to the pony."
Sam and Frodo followed Stout into the warmth of the low, sprawling house. The innkeeper showed them to a simple, cozy room furnished with two plump feather beds. "I'll have the lad fill a pitcher right away; I expect you'll be wanting to wash before you eat."
"That we shall," affirmed Sam. "And if it wouldn't be troubling you too greatly, we should like a hot bath after supper; we've been long on the road, with only a cold splash in a lake or stream to keep us fresh." Frodo barely held back a chortle, and he dared not look Sam in the eye.
"As you wish, Mayor Samwise." Bowing, the innkeeper stepped out, drawing the door shut.
Frodo glanced up at Sam, and saw the gleam in his own eyes reflected there. "Mayor Samwise," he softly intoned.
"Mr. Frodo," returned Sam in like manner, entwining his arms about Frodo and pressing him to himself in a passionate kiss. Their hands worked frantically over each other's bodies, tugging and groping and slipping around cloaks and waistcoats and shirts.
A sharp rap on the door, and instantly they leaped apart, smoothing rumpled hair and clothes and eyeing the door sheepishly. "Mr. Mayor, sir?" came a youthful voice from the other side.
"Ah...come in," answered Sam, fanning his flushed face. "Ah, good, there's our water, thank you kindly, lad. We surely could use a splash of cool water after a long day on the road." The young fellow nodded and slipped away into the hall.
"Whew," sighed Sam, pushing the door shut again, this time sliding the bolt firmly into place. "Now, where were we?"
Frodo's eyes shone merrily. "About here, as I recall," he answered, wrapping himself around Sam as nearly to where they left off as either could remember.
"We'll have to keep quiet, you know," admonished Sam between kisses.
"Of course," answered Frodo, pressing his mouth to Sam's again.
"No 'of course' about it," muttered Sam against his cheek. "You make enough racket to raise the dead."
Frodo drew a sharp breath through his teeth as Sam's mouth slipped down to his neck. "I do not," he faintly exhaled.
"Mm. Do," murmured Sam, then all argument was forgotten as their attentions were diverted to more pressing matters.
Sam and Frodo supped in the common room over a pint of good Shire beer, which Frodo savored as if it were the finest Elven draught. They passed a short time in conversation with the inn's other guests, none of whom remembered Frodo but all of whom knew the new Mayor from his years as old Will Whitfoot's Deputy, then Sam excused himself and his companion that they might partake of the baths which had been prepared for them. The hot water soothed and relaxed their tired limbs, and put them both in mind of a good night's rest.
Sliding the bolt on their door, Sam glanced back at the waiting beds, then looked to Frodo. "We'll have to sleep in both, you know."
"I know," Frodo soberly agreed. His eyes lit up. "Which one first?"
Sam burst out laughing. "For a fellow your age, you--"
"My age!" Frodo snorted. "My dear Sam, sixty may not be young, but it is certainly far from old."
Sam grinned. "That it is -- and don't you be forgetting it."
Frodo's mouth fell open, then slowly curved up into a broad smile. "Sam Gamgee," he affectionately declared, "I do love you."
"And I, you." Eyes shining warmly, Sam reached for both of Frodo's hands and clasped them soundly. "Mark my words, Frodo: Someday you'll be looking back and saying to yourself, Frodo Baggins, those years you'd thought were lost and hopeless proved to be the best of them all."
The smile on Frodo's lips quivered. "And," Frodo hoarsely added, "I'll finish by saying, And I wouldn't have got far without my Sam." He blinked back tears and pulled gently on Sam's hands, drawing him into a long and lingering kiss. "Not far at all, without my Sam," he whispered. Sam let go of Frodo's hands, cupping his face gently as he wiped the tears away. Then his hands slipped behind Frodo's head, his fingers entwining in the curling hair as he pulled Frodo into another kiss.
"We make love in one," he softly suggested, "we sleep in the other, and both ought to be suitably rumpled that none's the wiser."
Frodo smiled and drew Sam onto the nearest bed. "The Mayor has spoken," he said, reaching for the buttons of Sam's waistcoat.