Disclaimer: Kisses to Tolkien, who'd never refuse the creativity of his readers, particularly since I'm not making a dime off of this and write merely as an homage. Thank you Gabby, Ace beta-reader with a good eye for flow. How do you think it came out?
Cold Coffee & Crumpets
The next day, Frodo woke with a start, flushed from what could only have been a vivid dream, though he knew very well it was not. Sunlight, high and bright, streamed in through the curtains, a slight breeze played with the gauze idly. It was late in the morning. The clock on the mantle ticked, announcing the time loudly. He glanced about, various pictures and oddments about the room, books scattered on his desk, a fresh towel draped, as usual, by Sam over the chair: all seemed in order. But though the room had been carefully picked up from the night before, the pillow beside him had clearly been slept on; the blankets mussed. Frodo felt a wash of guilty relief that Sam wasn't there now. He leaned on a knee, his head in his hands. On the other side of the wall he could hear Sam in the kitchen, a comfortable clatter of dishes and washing up, all normal, ordinary sounds, for anything but a normal day. Frodo wondered how he was going to get through it. The little cottage seemed inescapably small at the moment.
He put off getting up as long as possible, but finally hunger and the smell of cooking drove him out of bed. Something sizzled in a pan on the other side of the wall. Usually in the mornings, Frodo wandered in early for breakfast, bleary-eyed, famished and half-dressed. Today he dressed carefully, including his waistcoat, and he was putting on cufflinks when he heard a barely perceptible knock at the door. Before he could answer, the knock repeated; muffled beyond the door he heard Sam clear his throat.
"Uh, breakfast is ready. Sir."
"Coming," Frodo said in a falsely clear voice. He straightened the waistcoat, took a breath to steady himself. But opening the door he found Sam had already disappeared into the kitchen. It occurred to him Sam hadn't knocked in years.
The simple living room, only a few seats and bookshelves, seemed undisturbed and pleasant, though like the bed everything was rather too large for hobbits. Gondor had nothing their size. Fresh cut flowers nodded in a vase on the dining table. The shutters were open to catch the morning air before the summer's heat was upon them. Sam had missed nothing of his daily routine. Frodo found he could put it off no longer, and finally stepped into the kitchen.
If he had any question as to what happened last night, the moment he caught Sam's eyes, knowing eyes that immediately fell as Sam ducked his head, answered him beyond a shadow of a doubt. Frodo's heart pounded, and he stood helplessly, his thumb playing unawares at the gap where his ring finger used to be - a recent version of an old nervous habit. He felt a stranger to himself. And Sam. He cursed his own weakness silently. With a cringe, he recalled Merry and Pippin were due to visit today, too. Frodo rubbed his temples and wished there were some way to cancel, at least until things were settled, but he could think of no way out of it.
"Good morning, sir..." said Sam, tentatively.
"Master Gamgee." He nodded stiffly as he set down to the table, determined to manage somehow.
"Eggs, Mr. Baggins, sir, for breakfast I mean," Sam stumbled over the words, "Just how you like them..." he trailed off in a blush. The intimation of that blush brought unbidden an image from the night before of the same blush, from an entirely different cause; Frodo swallowed. Sam dropped his whisk on the floor. This was precisely what he did not want to think about just now. Frodo put all such thoughts out of his head with a manful effort, glaring down at his plate.
They sat across the table from each other, and if any were to watch, they would have thought them very polite to their plates, the floor, the walls, as they barely glanced at each other. "Would you pass the butter, Master Gamgee?" "Some more bacon, Mr. Baggins?" and "Yes, milk would be fine, thank you." Sam's excellent cookery was wasted on both of them.
Sam excused himself to the washing up as soon as politely possible, and scurried off with rather unseemly haste. Frodo would have laughed, any other day, but his stomach was in knots. He retreated with more dignity, in the opposite direction, picking a book at random and settling in a chair under a cherry tree, sheltered from the road by the hedge. The promise of sweltering heat was relieved by a few sudden gusts, which rifled through the pages. It wasn't long before Frodo realized he had already read this one. A glance through the open door convinced him it was worth reading again: Sam was back in the kitchen. He noted and then watched over the edge of the book as Sam made brisk work of the dishes, bundled off his apron, and then did the skimpiest job of dusting Frodo had ever seen him do. Sam disappeared out of the frame of the door briefly, on tiptoe, as he flicked a dustcloth over the shelves, glancing over his shoulder nervously. Their eyes met accidentally with a shock. Frodo found the book immediately engrossing, though he couldn't quite find his place. So he didn't see Sam stand there a moment, anxiously wringing his hands.
Realizing he'd read the same page over again (uncomprehending), Frodo was finally coming to the decision he must talk to Sam, before this went on much longer. A shadow fell over his book. It was Sam.
"Thought you might like some tea, sir?" he asked hesitantly, tea tray in hand. It was nowhere near teatime. Frodo shaded his eyes, gratefully accepting the excuse.
They sipped in awkward silence. When Frodo poured the last cup and began spooning in sugar, Sam broke the tension at last.
"You know sir, I've been thinking.."
"Yes?" said Frodo, mildly. He felt that came out rather well, calm; as it did, though anyone who knew him would have noticed the spilt sugar and the sudden rapid stirring. He eyed Sam over the cup cautiously, and leaned back in his chair.
"Well - what about Rosie?" Sam spoke his mind in a rush, "She's been waiting for me and all, leastaways I like to think she has. It just wouldn't seem right, if you understand me."
Frodo fairly laughed in his relief, and let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
"Sam, you're a marvel! My thoughts exactly! Of course it wouldn't be right. For Rosie, I mean."
He took a sip, thoughtfully. The silence stretched on. A cart rattled past on the other side of the hedge, the sound vanishing.
"I'm so relieved." Frodo said again, unnecessarily.
Sam looked uncomfortable, and squirmed. Frodo looked up with a sense of warning, but waited for Sam to come out with it. Finally, Sam couldn't stand it anymore.
"Have I... have I still got my job, then?" he said mournfully. He was utterly miserable. The question took Frodo by complete surprise.
"Why yes! Of course you do!" he said emphatically, "Sam, what would I do without you? I'd be lost. I can't even imagine.." His voice trailed off at just the thought.
Sam heaved an enormous sigh of relief, sagging in his chair.
"Oh, that's a weight off and no mistake. I couldn't stand to think.. I mean, you're.. you mean the world to me, Mr. Frodo. I couldn't bear it if I'd.. I'd gone and.." He was shaky with emotion. Frodo met his eyes, leaned forward with his hand on Sam's shoulder.
"Sam. It was all my fault."
"It was?" Sam blinked.
"Yes." Frodo shook his head, "I don't know what came over me. But how well I know that there is nothing you wouldn't do for me, and I should have never asked so much of you. I crossed the line. It shan't happen again," he promised. Sam was still blinking.
"Well now, there's crossing the line and then there's leaving it in the next county, but," he said, "beggin' your pardon Mr. Frodo, it takes two to dance, as my old Dad used to say. If you take my meaning. I don't recall you asking, nor telling, nor ever needin' to."
"It's all rather a blur to me to tell the truth." Frodo admitted in a rather weak voice, surprised. He wasn't sure what to make of this turn of events.
Sam shook his head. "That brandy. It's no good for you. You should drink ale: it's more healthy like." Frodo suppressed a smile at that.
"I'll keep it in mind. But I suspect you just don't like my brandy." He took another thoughtful sip, "and I imagine you're right. It could happen to anyone."
"In Hobbiton??" startled Sam, "Oh no. Not at all. Not if you ask me."
"Well I didn't."
"Don't be testy, now." Sam easily took the cup from Frodo's hand and set it on the tray. "I just don't think it's been done before is all." Frodo wasn't so sure. Sam thought a moment.
"Maybe them Tooks," Sam offered, "They get up to all kinds of wildness out away in Tuckborough, I hear tell."
Frodo chuckled. "Do you know something about our Pip that I don't? How is that, Sam?" he winked. Sam spluttered with denial as Frodo laughed. He'd forgotten Pippin was a Took. Then a sudden wild thought occurred to Frodo.
"Can you imagine what Bilbo would say if he knew, especially if you moved into Bag End with me?"
Sam rolled his eyes in dismay, "My Gaffer would carry on so!"
"Rosie would never understand."
"And what would the neighbors think?" added Frodo in amused horror, "Imagine the gossip! The daft Bagginses at it again. It would be a scandal! All of Hobbiton will know."
They paused and looked at each other, realizing at nearly the same moment.
"That lot. They'd never guess, now would they?"
"No, the thought would never occur to them. And right under their very noses!"
They paused. Looked at each other blankly. Frodo was thoughtful, tracing the rim of a cup with his finger, observing Sam too casually, as from a distance. Sam's eyes widened. He picked up Frodo's mood. And his point. "Oh," he shook his head, his jaw dropping, "oh no you don't.." Frodo began to chuckle. You know me too well, Sam Gamgee. Sam's jaw worked, soundlessly, in disbelief; he started to chortle. Then guffaw. They laughed helplessly, positively cracked; relieved at finding their friendship undamaged, the awful joke played on unsuspecting Hobbiton.. and perhaps something else, a vague excitement, nervous and embarrassing. It was too much. They bowled over, teacups in grave danger, sounding for all the world like two men deep in their cups.
Sam gasped out, between sobs of laughter, "Oh, you - you are terrible! Ol' Gollum was right." he imitated, "Wicked, wicked, Master!" as he collapsed into fresh giggles.
"Nassssty, nasssty Hobbitses!" mimicked Frodo, with a twinkle. This fairly knocked Sam out of his chair, and with a whoop and 'Whoa!' Frodo rescued the tea tray from certain disaster.
"Oh," Sam sighed at last, wiping tears from his eyes with his arm, "I did some nasty things last night, that I did." He froze suddenly, as if he feared he had said too much, too coarsely. Frodo was a gentlehobbit after all. Frodo was startled, taken aback a bit of course, but his heart kindled as he recalled a few of those "nasty" things vividly; and pleasantly he found. Frodo didn't mind remembering them anymore, certain now they could not take away his dearest friend.
In fact, if Sam didn't mind.. his quick mind was leaping ahead, laying plans. He was surprised at himself, to find such needs and desires, which he had shunted aside most of his life for more pressing matters, alive and well. He began to quite look forward to the evening's new possibilities. It was late; the sun was near setting already. The fireflies were out again. Sam loves the fireflies, Frodo thought. His reverie was broken by the sound of Pippin's clear voice carrying up the lane.
Frodo cursed, startling Sam, "I completely forgot about them."
"Yes. Now those two, they would be trouble," observed Sam, "no hiding naught from them."
Frodo nodded, thoughtfully. "They'd have to be let in on our, ah, little joke, at some point. But mind you, not a word for now, Sam!"
He rose to help Sam gather the dishes before it was too dark to find them. Watching Sam though, he felt oddly moved. He reached out and gently touched Sam's face; Sam let him, shyly, kiss him, his expression open and frank, though his heart pounded Frodo knew.
"Mr.- " he managed, his wits scattered, "they're almost here - !"
"Hey, what's the joke?" Pippin's voice came brightly, he peered with Merry over the gate. Frodo turned. "We heard you two laughing back there."
"You had to be there," Frodo replied evenly, tongue in cheek, smoothly settling into the role of host. Sam rolled his eyes in alarm at his master, and stumbled to escape with the dishes into the house. Sam muttered to himself:
"Don't say nothin', Mr. Frodo? Oh no.. I've no mind for explanations. Especially as I haven't got one!"
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