Chapter 3: Interlude

I should have thought to ask… Why didn’t I? How can I help? Can I touch him? Or perhaps even wake him? Sam hardly knew what to do, and found himself awed by the gravity of Frodo’s condition. At least that Lord Elrond said there’s naught I can do to harm him… Sam reflected bitterly. That’s been well and truly done already.

Sam thought to kneel beside the bed, but it was too high, and Frodo was lying too far from the edge, towards the middle, for Sam to be able to easily reach him. However, there was more than enough room on the large bed, so he cautiously climbed up and across an expanse of elegant bedclothes to sit at Frodo’s feet. He gently patted his shin and ankle, and ran his fingers through the springy, washed curls on his foot, glad to feel that it was no longer the icy cold he had so often touched as he walked alongside Frodo, clinging in a daze astride Bill the pony, on their long road to Rivendell.

From where he sat, Sam could see himself and Frodo reflected in the mirror. He was perched awkwardly, obviously tense; the only fluid part of him was his hand caressing Frodo’s foot and ankle. Sam felt an absurd relief that he had bathed; he could not have borne the stains of travel to sully the white fragility lying so still before him. Frodo’s fair face and limbs lay sunken in the sea of deep, downy pillows and bedding, themselves the whitest of white. The only colours floating amidst the pallor were the darkest brown of his hair and brows and lashes, the rose-brown of parted lips and flat nipples, and the creamy flow of the silk strip that washed over pale loins and the darker shadows below.

Sam bit his lip, and closed his eyes to the mirror’s pallid vision to see more clearly the colourful image in his heart. Frodo was as vibrant as anyone he had ever known: the bluest eyes, sparkling with intelligence; cheeks flushed pink with excitement; inky chestnut hair glinting auburn in the sun; the jewel colours of a richly bound tome bouncing back onto his slim hands; the peach ripple of subtle muscle built by long rambles… Sam moaned with pain and frustration that such vivacity could come to this, and that there was nothing he could do. Before, there had always been something he could find to do for his Mr. Frodo, but it was not planting his garden, nor taking care of his hearth and home, nor even sharing his love for the old tales that could help him now.

Sam opened his eyes to look again at Frodo’s wounded frailty, and was suddenly struck by the incongruity of all that whiteness. Why was the wound, that infernal wound, not a livid blotch across his pale breast? Sam had seen many unfortunate injuries from falls and faulty use of sharp implements -- they were red and raw and bandaged. Sam realised that, in his horrible imaginings, he had anxiously thought of Frodo washed with his own blood as the elves laboured to save him; he was not, nor was there any sign that he had been: no coppery smell, no smear on flesh or fabric.

And while that was a great relief, it was also unexpected, and Sam wondered about this strange injury. He moved up on the middle of the bed for closer inspection, to sit cross-legged at Frodo’s left side. The wound on Frodo’s shoulder was not covered. It was not large. It was not like any Sam had ever seen. It was a mere jagged white puckering, like a fading scar, but that it seemed a thin white mist coiled above it, sometimes obscuring the pale flesh below. That haziness disturbed Sam far more than would have the tragic but prosaic signs of lifeblood, and he swept the mist away with his hand, feeling that hand chilled to the bone as it passed through it. And, oh, that was alarming enough that he must feel whether Frodo’s flesh had been chilled by the strange mist, and he placed his rough palm on Frodo’s breast, near enough to the wound that he could feel its iciness radiating out along the bone below.

“Oh, Mr. Frodo!” Sam sighed, looking to the still face; Frodo’s lips were relaxed and parted, lashes stark against cheekbones made prominent by suffering. However, he did not appear to be in pain, now, only peacefully asleep. Perhaps the Lord Elrond had been able to truly bestow some relief upon him, at least until whatever remained undone would be done? And, perhaps, if he were simply sleeping, he could be waked?

Cautiously, so that he would not risk jarring Frodo, Sam shifted on the bed, stretching out alongside that he might speak and touch more readily. He leaned up on his right elbow, and tentatively rested his hand again on Frodo’s softly falling and rising chest. He hesitated, looking closely for some sign in Frodo’s familiar features. Should I disturb this sweet sleep? If they just wanted him to sleep, then what comfort am I? Oh, to hear his voice…and to tell him, after all this, while there’s time… What, Samwise, what would you say? Only what I should have said before… only the truth…

Sam made his decision. Maybe just see if he wakes easy… and if not, hold him close…He stroked up from Frodo’s chest across his collarbone to his chin, cupped the strong jaw in his left hand, and turned the dear face towards him. He spoke softly, and with all the love and tenderness he felt.

“Mr. Frodo, you’re safe now, where they can help you. Won’t you please wake up, sir?” And, wasn’t there the slightest quirk of brow, perhaps even a slightly deeper intake of breath? Encouraged, Sam spoke with more urgency, as though Frodo were late for an appointment. “Mr. Frodo, it’s time to wake up now!”

There was a definite response to that: Frodo frowned, and turned his head away, against Sam’s gentle hold on his jaw. Elated by this promising sign, Sam pressed right next to Frodo, reached across his body, and grasped his unhurt shoulder to very gently shake it. He called again, more firmly, and poured the joy and hope he was feeling into the fond, assertive tone he had often used, when there really was no more time for a drowsing Frodo to resist his morning call.

“Mr. Frodo, sir, you really must wake now!” And with that, Sam was suddenly looking into the deepest blue eyes in the world, and an accompanying faint scowl. If Frodo was aware of the unusualness of Sam’s position on the bed beside him, his surprise did not show; the emotion he was expressing most visibly was sleepy irritation, and Sam was absolutely overjoyed to see it.

“Oh, Mr. Frodo! You’re awake, sir!” Sam drew back a little, barely restraining himself from clutching Frodo to him and kissing his forehead.

“I could hardly not be after all that, now could I, Sam?” Frodo was still frowning, but his eyes were clear now and his voice held good humour. However, that voice had not been used for some time, and the next thing that happened was a coughing fit. Frodo tried to sit, braced by an arm and shoulder that could not possibly support him. He immediately fell back with a shocked gasp, eyes closed tightly, and face greyed with the onslaught of returning pain. With an effort, he opened his eyes, looked up at Sam, and caught his breath enough to say, “Sam, I’m thinking that I didn’t just wake at Bag End, and this isn’t just another morning, and that… those ‘dreams’… weren’t?”

A look passed between them, acknowledging all that had happened, and Frodo moaned and closed his eyes again. With no second thought, Sam pulled him close and lightly kissed his shining curls, wrapping him in the only shelter he could give.

After a time, Frodo pulled back and reached up to touch Sam’s face. His voice shook only a little, as he asked, “The others…?” and he sighed at Sam’s murmured reassurance. “And you, Samwise?” He looked intently into Sam’s face, and Sam’s heart broke at the concern he saw there, knowing what he knew of Frodo’s own hurt.

“I’m fine, sir, and you will be, too. They say you just need some rest and then they’ll be able to help some more…”

Sam could not meet Frodo’s intense blue gaze, knowing his heart’s fears showed in his own eyes, and he glanced down to Frodo’s chest. Frodo, distracted, removed his hand from Sam’s face, to seek the wound amidst the overall ache. However, his hand first found a chain, lying across his breast and fallen behind his shoulder. Frowning, he noted absently, “Ah, the Ring…” and Sam felt a chill that Frodo so easily knew the location of the thing at his back. But, the slim hand continued on to lightly touch and examine the cold scar above his breast, wincing at the slight pressure of his probing fingertips. Sam watched Frodo intently; he seemed preoccupied, floating in memories that were half dreams, outside the pain and fear of the last days.

After a few moments, Frodo said aloud, puzzled, “There is so much I don’t understand, Sam… I still feel a little weak, even now, and not quite clear…”

Sam realised, sadly, Oh… He doesn’t know it’s not over… and why tell him? What comfort would that be? Oh, my dear Frodo…

Frodo glanced questioningly at Sam, continuing, “We must have reached Rivendell, although I don’t remember how or when, and there must have been aid, because I… well, I’m still here…”

Frodo looked around the vast room for the first time, seeing the vista beyond the balcony, the high arching ceiling, the shining decanters near the bed. Finally, he glanced at the carved mirror to his right and saw its reflection of himself and Sam, lying together in the enormous soft bed. Sam, clothed, was stretched fully along Frodo’s left side, propped on his elbow. His right arm slipped beneath and cradled Frodo’s shoulders, and his left hand rested gently on Frodo’s pale, concave belly, just above the hem of the sheer silk draping his slim hips.

Sam watched with some amusement, even now, as Frodo realised his current state. A spreading blush warmed his pallor from his chest all the way to his cheeks, and, after a moment, Frodo sighed, with resignation, “Oh, my… I would have thought I’d have felt a chill…” Sam could not keep from smiling as several modest ideas occurred to Frodo in rapid, unsuccessful succession: he drew up his leg, but that made him no less bare, nor did it conceal anything revealed by the sheer cloth, nor were there covers within his reach, and it hurt too much to move much more than that…

So Frodo met Sam’s calm, fond gaze reflected in the mirror, and shrugged, and returned his smile, and asked, wryly, “I suppose this is the way everyone here has made my acquaintance? Not quite how I had imagined meeting the elves, Sam!”

And Sam laughed with him, grateful to share this, and to hear that dear chuckle again, and thought, This is a spared moment outside of all time, between life and death, and it may never come again… He pulled Frodo back toward him, careful of his hurt shoulder, and kissed his forehead, and said, his voice rough, filled with love, “You are quite the sight, sir, and no doubt about it…” And then, with courage of his own, and all the honesty of his heart, he added, “…and a beautiful one, at that, my dear.”

And in this timeless moment of utter trust, Frodo could see himself lovingly reflected in his dear Sam’s familiar hazel eyes. He was brought back to himself from the nightmare terrors of blade and wound, strengthened for what would yet come. Life sustaining heat surged through his body and blood. He could not roll over onto his injured shoulder to sling his right arm around Sam, but he could, and did, shift himself closer into the warmth of his embrace and murmur, “Sam…”

He felt so very tired, and the pain in his chest was worsening, but he was aware that Sam’s tenderness offered him saving grace and safe haven in this moment, betwixt and between… and that it always had. He closed his eyes, and felt himself drifting into a healing sleep, at the dark edges of which swirled a frightening, chill mist, held back only by the warm circle in which he was contained. He placed his hand over Sam’s, linking scholar’s slim, deft fingers with gardener’s rough, nurturing ones.

As Frodo drowsed in Sam’s arms, he felt Sam’s sturdy hand beneath his, fingertips tracing his belly soothingly, sliding down to rest more comfortably on his hip… Then Sam’s forearm brushed against silk lifted by firm heat… and froze. Sam looked down, wondering, at Frodo and then, questioning, up to his face; the bright eyes had closed, breathing had deepened, and he was already relaxing into sleep. But, Frodo’s hand, resting on his own, pressed, lightly… With all the love in him, Sam moved his own, still twined with Frodo’s, to curve tenderly over this sweet firmness revealed at Frodo’s core. He rested his head against the dark one tucked beneath his chin, and heard the faintest voice, from the very edge of sleep, sigh, “My Sam…” as Frodo pushed upwards, ever so slightly, into Sam’s gentle grasp.

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