A Matter Of Taste

The knock came just at the wrong time. After three days of gentle caresses and soft words, over breakfast – their first meal alone since arriving in Minas Tirith – Frodo had finally persuaded Sam that he was less interested in coddled eggs than in cuddled hobbit. As Sam's lips parted under Frodo's kiss, and Sam's hands came up to grip Frodo's shoulders, someone knocked at their door.

Sam of course immediately backed off, not only away from Frodo but off the bed entirely. Fortunately for the health of whoever had come knocking, he then took Frodo's hand and kissed his palm, glancing up at Frodo through his lashes. Frodo gave serious, if momentary, thought to simply pulling Sam back into bed without mind for either their visitor or the breakfast tray that would go scattering, but by that time Sam had crossed the room and opened the door.

"Good morning, Master Samwise – Master Baggins!" Gimli bowed to Sam, then to Frodo. He was already dressed, with his cloak thrown about his shoulders as if he meant to go out. "I must beg your pardon," Gimli added, with a keen-eyed glance at the tray that still sat on the bed next to Frodo. "It seems I've interrupted your breakfast."

Frodo restrained the impulse to tell Gimli he'd interrupted something even more important than breakfast, and would he please go away now. "Not at all," he said instead, trying to discreetly tug his nightshirt into a semblance of order. "We were just finishing. Would you care for some tea? Or perhaps a slice of toast? We've some blackberry jam." The last offer came out rather wistful. He had fond memories of Sam and raspberry jam, and he'd hoped to add to them this morning.

"No, no," Gimli said. "I was just heading out." He shrugged his cloak closer about his shoulders. "Aragorn – Elessar, I should say – would have Legolas and I tour this city, and see where we or our folk could help in the mending. I was going to ask if you two cared to accompany us, but I see you haven't even gotten out of bed." One eyelid drooped in a wink, and Frodo tried not to blush.

"Mr. Frodo needs his rest," Sam said stoutly from behind Gimli.

Gimli laughed, and turned and bowed to Sam. "You needn't defend your master to me, Samwise. He has more than enough reason to linger, with so fair a bedpartner."

Poor Sam blushed scarlet at the clumsy compliment, and Frodo forced his hands to relax from their fists in the bedclothes. Gimli meant only teasing by it, he reminded himself, not flirtation, and rushed into speech to cover Sam's embarrassment. "You're one to talk, master dwarf, with an elf for your bedfellow!"

Oh, dear. That came out rather more bluntly than he'd intended. But Gimli only laughed again. "I have too much work to do to be allowed to linger in bed. Otherwise I'd be tempted, I admit." His smile widened into a reminiscent glint. "You don't know what you're missing – elves aren't as warm as dwarves, they're too stretched out for that, but they make up for it in other ways."

Sam made a soft hmph sound as if to say he wasn't impressed by the recommendation, and Frodo swallowed a smile. "I shall make a note to tell Bilbo for inclusion in his book," he said gravely, and waved his hand as if scribbling in the air. "'Elves are the best lovers.'"


Sam hid behind the door, and Frodo let his hand drop to his lap and wondered if he could just hide beneath his blankets and pretend that hadn't just happened. Legolas leaned against the doorsill and gave Frodo a quizzical look as if to say, well, answer my question, what were you talking about? Legolas also wore his cloak, and his hair was braided back entirely as if he meant to go incognito (insofar as a tall, elegant, beautiful elf who helped save the city could go incognito). Gimli merely bowed. "Nothing, my heart. Idle talk only. The hobbits aren't dressed yet, and want to finish their breakfast besides, so we shall have to leave without them."

"As you will," said Legolas, though Frodo couldn't be certain whether that was meant to be directed to him or to Gimli. Legolas's gaze flickered from one to the other, then settled on his lover, and he unselfconsciously bent to take a morning kiss. Despite the height difference, it didn't look awkward or uncomfortable, but rather like a moment's communion deeper than words. Good morning, beloved: my heart rejoices that I will share today with you. It looked like an excellent idea to Frodo – as soon as their unexpected visitors left. He cleared his throat.

Legolas and Gimli didn't appear to hear him, but they did separate after a moment more. Legolas murmured something in Elvish, too quietly for Frodo to hear clearly, and then stepped back a pace.

Gimli shifted a bit, as if trying to re-settle his cloak back onto his shoulders properly, and then said in a normal tone of voice, "Are you bringing your bow, then?"

"Yes," Legolas said calmly, and for the first time Frodo truly noticed that indeed, Legolas had his quiver slung over his shoulders. He'd become so used to the sight during the journey with the Fellowship that he hadn't registered its presence now.

"Well, then. I shall go down the hall and retrieve my ax. Your servant, Master Baggins." And Gimli was gone.

Legolas turned to follow him, but not without giving Frodo a final raised-eyebrow look over his shoulder. Frodo shrugged, and said before he could think better of it, "Are elves the best lovers?"

Legolas stopped in the doorway again, and Sam peered around the edge of the door to give Frodo a round-eyed, what-do-you-think-you're-doing look of his own. But Legolas merely shook his head, and said dryly, "Is that what you were talking about? Doesn't Sam keep you occupied?"

"Gimli wanted to boast," Frodo said, feeling a bubbly, reckless feeling, such as he hadn't enjoyed since his childhood in the Shire, rise up in his heart. "And Sam would keep me occupied if we didn't keep getting interrupted." Wait, that was a little too reckless...

"My apologies," Legolas said, with the faintest hint of a smile. "But Gimli is wrong. I would rather a single kiss from my dwarf than a year of empty wantonness with one of my kinsmen."

"Legolas?" Gimli's voice, just down the hall as he approached again.

Legolas turned and stepped out into the hall, closing the door behind him. "Here, my friend–"

Their muffled voices receded, and Sam moved to join Frodo at the bed again. Frodo took his hand and kissed it in his turn. "I should ask you to lock the door next time – during breakfast at least."

"It wouldn't be polite," Sam protested, although he came at Frodo's tug on his hand and curled up next to him, arms coming around Frodo's waist as if he meant to hold Frodo to him for the rest of eternity. "You've too many visitors, and not only during breakfast."

"Oh, yes - nurses, friends, not to mention the curious sycophants who only want to meet the Ringbearer..." Frodo sighed. The words came out too bitter and dark for his meaning. He wasn't really that angry, only frustrated. "I don't want visitors today. I want you, Sam."

Sam's arms tightened around Frodo for a minute. Then he leaned in and kissed Frodo – not a 'good morning' kiss at all, more of a 'I love you, it's been far too long, now take off that nightshirt because I want to do unspeakable things to your naked body possibly involving jam' sort of kiss. Frodo responded enthusiastically.

Naturally, just then came another knock at the door.

Sam broke the kiss and let his head drop so his forehead rested against Frodo's collarbone. Frodo dropped a would-be comforting kiss into Sam's curls. Sam smelled of baking and clean linen and warmth. Frodo tightened his grip on Sam's waist and nuzzled Sam's curls again, but whoever was at the door knocked again, and Sam broke Frodo's hold, leaving Frodo to grit his teeth and move the breakfast tray over so it covered his lap. Hopefully this new visitor would see and understand that he and Sam were eating breakfast and not to be disturbed. Failing that, at least they wouldn't see the condition Frodo was in. He entertained a wry thought or two about arousal as proof of his returning health, and attempted to look cheerful yet not at all social as Sam opened the door.

The 'not at all social' melted away as soon as he saw the woman waiting outside. Not another healer bent on taking his pulse and feeding him foul-tasting potions, nor some bored dame of the court, but a lady to whom Merry introduced him only a few days earlier, shortly after Frodo's arrival in Minas Tirith. "Lady Eowyn," Frodo said. "This is an honor. Please, come in."

Eowyn inclined her head to him, as if he were some great lord, and came into the room. She wore something long and dull-colored, good clothing for working in, rather than fine court garb. "I beg your pardon for this intrusion, Master Frodo. Master Meriadoc–" Her accent twisted the name, so Frodo had to listen closely to be sure who she meant, "–asked a boon of me, that I would come and tell the Ringbearer that my brother the Lord of the Mark bade your friend to his duty, and therefore Meriadoc would not be able to come and join you for breakfast."

"I had believed that such must be the case," Frodo said, when he was quite sure she was finished. "Of course his sworn duty must come before the claims of friendship. Thank you for telling us." He hesitated for a split second, glancing over at Sam, who was hiding behind the door again. He wanted, oh, he wanted, but the demands of courtesy... "Would you like a cup of tea, my lady?"

"I..." She glanced from him, to the breakfast tray, and then peered around the edge of the door at Sam. Sam looked up at her with that belligerent, protective expression he got when he thought someone wasn't treating Frodo properly (according to Sam's notion of 'properly', which tended to be more stringent than Frodo's own), as if to say he offered, and if you aren't polite enough to say yes, then I'll do for you, slayer of the Witch King or no. Eowyn blinked, then smiled. She was handsome when she was solemn: when she smiled, she was beautiful. "Yes," she said, looking back over at Frodo. "Yes, I would like a cup of tea."

This led to a small flurry of activity. Frodo moved the tray off his lap again (Eowyn would have to sit on his legs to reach the tea, if he kept the tray where it was, and Frodo preferred his feet to remain uncrushed). Sam closed the door, retrieved the teapot from the tray, and went over to the fireplace to fuss with the kettle and the tealeaves. Eowyn came all the way into the room and carefully seated herself on the chair beside the bed, nudging the foot-stool back out of the way. And Frodo found himself at a loss for small talk.

"I don't believe you've been introduced to my companion," he said at last, as Sam straightened up from the fire, teapot in his hand, newfilled with steaming water and fresh tealeaves. "This is Samwise Gamgee, the most loyal friend who ever lived."

Sam set down the teapot back down on the tray and bowed to Eowyn. She rose in her turn and made him a courtesy. "I had heard of you, Master Samwise, but the tales do not do you justice."

"That's as should be," Sam said, and picked up the teapot again to pour Eowyn a cup and refill Frodo's. "I only followed Mr. Frodo. He's the one who deserves the songs and such."

Eowyn picked up her cup and blew on it, watching Sam curiously. "Do you envy him?"

Sam paused in the act of pouring himself a cup, and blinked thoughtfully. "Not so much I might, begging your pardon. I'm a gardener when I'm at home, lady, and happier to be so. It's grand enough here in his shadow. I don't think I should care for being in the glare myself."

"You are wiser than I was," Eowyn said dryly. She took a sip of tea, grimaced, and set down her cup again on the tray. "I used to dream of being in a bard's tale, a sword-maiden to outdo all the Riders."

"But... I thought you were," Frodo said.

"After a fashion, yes." Eowyn looked down at her tea again, and tapped one fingernail against the cup. "And after a fashion, you went alone into Mordor, with no more than your esquire to attend you. Mithrandir says that men begin to forget, as time passes after great events, and rather than remember the truth, they instead seek to shape the events to the tales they know. So I am made into a sword-maiden without a heart, and you are denied your Samwise by your side." She picked up her cup again and raised it as if in a toast. "I am honored to have your acquaintance, Master Samwise, both for your master's sake and your own."

Sam bowed again, and perched on the edge of the bed next to Frodo's legs. "And I'm pleased to have met you, lady."

Frodo hid his smile in his tea. Sam never seemed to believe that anyone besides Frodo would really honor him for what happened in Mordor, that anyone could see the light that gleamed from his beloved's eyes and face. Which reminded him, speaking of 'sword-maiden without a heart'... "There is one tale which I hope is true, because I heard it from Merry," he said lightly. "Are you indeed betrothed to the lord Faramir?"

Eowyn's grip on her cup tightened, and her gaze dropped for a moment before rising again to meet Frodo's. Joy lay half-hidden there, like jewels in deep water. "I am."

Frodo murmured congratulations, retreating back into his tea lest he look impossibly smug, and Sam said, "You've chosen well – not that he hasn't also chosen well in choosing you, lady, but we met him on our way, and I'd put him against the finest in the land. Though I suspect you know it. You look happy, for all you're not shouting it to the sky like some I could name."

"So do you," Eowyn said, with a smile at Sam and a glance at Frodo. Sam stiffened a bit, and Frodo reached out to take his hand as Eowyn quickly shook her head. "No, no, I do not think it something of which to be ashamed. Such bonds are hardly unknown among the Riders. Besides, I am happy, and would rather share my joy than force others to hide theirs." She swallowed the last of her tea, and Frodo squeezed Sam's hand in silent reassurance and apology. "It is a bit of a change, I confess," Eowyn went on, setting down her cup again. "I spent years believing that my only joy must lie in barren nobility – in swordcraft and death. But now–"

"Now you're enjoying a different sort of swordcraft," Frodo suggested, which won him a look of there you go again from Sam, and a throaty chuckle from Eowyn.

"I would not have phrased it so," she said, although any sternness in her words was undercut by the twinkle in her eye. "It is not a thing of which I may speak – my lord will not wed me until I may come to him from my own land in all honor. But in Rohan we are not so stern between a betrothed couple as they are in Gondor."

"I'm pleased to hear it," Sam said, though his cheeks were still pink. "After all I've heard about the glory of Gondor, it's right pleasant to hear that Rohan has summat to offer besides horses."

"Not entirely," Eowyn said, and she sounded almost wistful. "My Faramir is of Gondor, after all. He does not have the beauty of one of the First Folk, or the majesty of the lord Elessar, but I would rather Faramir in my heart and my bed than any other." "Then I hope and trust your marriage will be long and happy," Frodo said, though the words sounded rather more formal than he felt the situation called for. He struggled for more, gave up, and instead raised his cup to her in a silent toast of his own.

Eowyn thanked him, then rose to her feet. "I must return to the Houses of Healing – I left only to deliver your friend's message. I hope to speak with you again."

"I as well," Frodo said, with as deep a bow as he could manage given he was still seated on the bed. Sam went over to the door and held it open for her, bowing her out. She paused on the threshold and said something quiet to Sam that made Sam smile, then vanished down the hall again.

At last the door was closed and they were alone again. Alone at last. A pity that when Sam came back, the first thing he did was refill Frodo's teacup, and the second thing he did was to fill his own plate with eggs and bacon. Frodo sighed. Then he sighed again, louder. Sam ignored him quite determinedly: he didn't even look up from his plate. Frodo gave up and took his own plate off the tray.

Under other circumstances, it would have been an excellent breakfast. Frodo was hungry, and the cooks, while not up to hobbit level, were superb of their kind. Then Sam's toast – soggy from having sat too long – tore apart, leaving jam all over Sam's hands.

Frodo whimpered.

Sam frowned at the tattered toast, and gingerly returned the bread to his plate. Then he began to lick the dark blue jam from his hands. Broad swipe up his palm, flash of pink tongue. Sliding his fingers, one at a time, into his mouth, and drawing them out slowly as he sucked the jam from them. Consideration of his fingers, head slightly to one side, and then a careful lick up one finger to catch a bit of jam he'd missed...

Frodo didn't know what sort of sound he made then, only that Sam finally looked up and – so far as Frodo could tell – realized exactly what he'd been doing to his master. A dozen different thoughts flickered through his eyes, and then Sam, with perfect gravity, slid two still-sticky fingers back into his mouth.

Right at that moment, Frodo wouldn't have cared if the entire population of Minas Tirith knocked at his door. He reached out and caught hold of Sam's wrist, distantly aware that his own hand was trembling, and brought Sam's hand back to his own mouth. Sam's fingers were cool against his lips, damp from Sam's tongue, and tasted faintly of the jam's tart sweetness.

"Frodo..." Sam's voice wavered. He glanced down at his other hand, where a bit of the jam still gleamed blue-black on his skin. Slow as ages, he extended his arm and offered it to Frodo.

Frodo let Sam's fingers slide out of his mouth, and accepted this new treat. The blackberry taste of the jam coated his tongue, blocking the Sam-ness. He swirled his tongue around the skin, opening his mouth wider to accept Sam's fingers into his mouth again.


"Yes?" Oh, that elicited a wonderful shiver from Sam, but would probably be more understandable if he took Sam's fingers out of his mouth again. Frodo tried again. "Yes?"

"Er... given that I think we're both finished with breakfast, how about I take the dishes down to the kitchen?"

Since Sam was now breathing quite hard, and shifting uncomfortably on the bed, this was not what Frodo had expected to hear. "Sam–"

"We've been interrupted twice this morning, is what I'm saying," Sam said, almost begging. "I won't say I don't want you, nor that I don't ache for tip to toe, but I'm not minded to scramble about like some tween with more wanting than sense."

Frodo shook his head, trying to make sense of this despite the fact that most of his brains felt as though they'd migrated to between his legs. One moment he had Sam's fingers in his mouth, and next Sam was... talking some sort of nonsense, or so it sounded to Frodo. Scramble about? As if they had to hide? "Everyone knows," he said.

"It's not about hiding that," Sam said patiently. "It's that I don't care to be caught with my trousers about my ankles – nor do you, for all you've ever said."

Oh. It was about being caught, only in a different sense. And Sam was right, worse luck: Frodo hated being embarrassed. That did not excuse the fact that Frodo was achingly aroused right now, and it didn't appear that any relief was in sight unless he locked himself into the washroom. "Very well," Frodo said with a sigh, slid the tray over closer to Sam, and threw back the covers.

He could feel Sam's eyes on him as he stepped on the floor, as he stripped off his night-shirt, and especially as he bent over the drawers of the low dresser Aragorn had thoughtfully provided them. But when he turned back, shrugging into his waistcoat, Sam's attention appeared to be focused solely on the breakfast tray, which he was rearranging to make it easier to carry.

Frodo considered kicking something, but gave it up as Sam left the room. When Sam made up his mind, nothing could change it. Which meant that delightful dreams of spending today in bed with Sam, indulging in affirmation of life, joy of survival, and general wanton debauchery, had to be postponed, and he must get to work.

Work meant paper, pen, ink, and memory. He'd promised Bilbo notes, and even before he'd healed enough to be allowed out of bed, he'd begun scribbling them down, trying to frame the events of the past four months – Valar, was it only that long? – into plain words. It was an excellent antidote for arousal.

He was deep into it by the time Sam returned. Sam said nothing: in fact, only the breeze of the door opening, and the creak of the chair in which Sam usually sat, proved that Sam had in fact returned. That, and the prickling of the skin of Frodo's back. Sam always sat just behind Frodo, bent over his needle and thread as he took in Gondorian clothing so hobbits could wear it properly. He never touched Frodo, never spoke. There was only that feeling of heat, the warmth of Sam's body just close enough to keep Frodo's longing at a smolder.

Frodo stared down at his papers. He should say something. He was the elder, and besides he was the one behaving like a sullen, prideful tweenager, pouting because Sam refused to tup him (or to be tupped: Frodo's fantasies weren't particular on the point). They'd have time enough this evening, really. He needn't push the point.

Frodo mustered his courage, took a deep breath – and as if waiting for just that moment, someone knocked at the door. Someone with Merry's voice. "Hallo! Are you two decent?"

Rustle of fabric behind Frodo: Sam putting away the clothes he'd been working on. Sound of footsteps and the door creaking and Sam saying, in that blank voice he used when he was upset and didn't want to show it, "We're both dressed, Mr. Merry."

"You don't look very happy, Sam." Pippin's voice sounded clear, vibrating as with laughter. "Did we interrupt something?"

Frodo sighed and turned around to face these new visitors. Both of them were wearing their new-won finery, Merry in the green and gold of Rohan, Pippin the black and silver of Gondor. Pippin was flushed: either the wind was brisk outside, or Merry had been getting fresh on the way up here. Merry carried another tray of food – a basket of bread, a roll of cheese, a platter of sliced meats, and a steaming pot that might be soup.

"No, you haven't interrupted anything," Frodo said, since Sam kept his eyes fixed on the floor and didn't seem about to answer Pippin's question. Sam looked up at Frodo's words, eyes dark and uneasy. Despite their audience, Frodo reached out, offering a pleading hand to Sam. Sam let out a breath, then came over to take Frodo's hand in a tight grip.

"We haven't?" Merry murmured, just loudly enough for Frodo to hear him.

"You haven't," Frodo said firmly, looking back at Merry. "We've had too many visitors. I wasn't even allowed to finish breakfast, much less to finish Sam."

Sam flushed, although he didn't let go of Frodo's hand, and he met Frodo's gaze without flinching, as if to say I know or I love you too or This isn't a matter for teasing, Frodo-love, I'm aching near as bad as you are, or some combination of them all. Merry and Pippin laughed. "You're in a better mood than lately," Pippin said.

"Or just a bawdy mood," Merry said with a grin. "Shall we go away?"

Sam let go at that, and went over to take away the lunch-tray, while Frodo mustered a smile and said, "No, no, of course not. I'm not in such a randy mood that I'd pounce Sam right now." Not any more. Not yet. He was rather glad of the current looseness of his waistcoat, and how long it hung, covering a multitude of physical give-aways.

"You should have heard him earlier," Sam muttered, mostly to the lunch tray, which he'd set down on the bed. The glance he threw Frodo's way held a glint of mischief: this is what you get for embarrassing me in front of your cousins.

Frodo set aside his papers into a neat pile, then moved purposefully over toward Sam. "It's not my fault our conversations tended that way," he said, accidentally-on-purpose leaning into Sam as he peered over Sam's shoulder to see what was for lunch. "Besides, it was very instructive."

"I think you're right, Merry." Pippin sounded like he was choking back giggles. "We should leave them alone."

"Not that sort of instructive, you fool of a Took," Frodo said, and to prove it he reluctantly backed away from Sam and sat down on the bed with his legs folded under him, his hands folded in front of him so he wouldn't reach out for Sam. "More a sort of... poll about the difference races of Middle Earth. So far we've had one vote that elves are the best lovers, one for dwarves–"

"Gimli and Legolas," Merry said immediately, and Pippin chimed in, "No prizes for guessing those."

Frodo pretended he hadn't heard them. "–and one vote for Men."

"Men? Oh, Eowyn." Merry thought about this for a moment. "You don't seem to have found out anything for certain."

"I don't think you can even be sure the votes are right," Pippin said indignantly. "No offense meant to the White Lady, but men are terrible lovers. Terrible kissers, at any rate. They're far too pushy, and their mouths are too big."

This won him everyone's attention – Merry's mouth actually dropped open, and Sam looked up from his rearrangement of the lunch tray. Pippin lifted his chin, and said, "Well, they are."

Frodo shook his head in bemusement, and Sam sat back on his heels, as Merry finally found words. "How – you – but–"

"Who was it?" Sam said quietly, undercutting Merry's more incoherent splutterings. "Boromir?"

"What? No, no, of course not." Pippin came over to the bed and climbed up onto it, next to the lunch tray, across from Sam. Merry followed. "Boromir used to flirt with me and Merry, but only a little, before Lorien. After that he was..." Pippin shook his head, eyes dark for a moment, and then he dismissed the subject with a wave of one hand. "No, this was a day or two after I came to Minas Tirith. Everyone kept calling me prince of the halflings, but I don't think anyone except Gandalf and perhaps Denethor knew what to do with me. Beregond was nice enough, but most of his friends kept watching me as if they expected me to pop into Gandalf any moment."

"Get to the point, Pip," Merry said, with an edge to his voice. Beneath the cover of the lunch-tray, Sam took hold of Frodo's hand again, and squeezed it.

"I'm getting there," Pippin said in an injured tone. "Where was I?" He held up one hand to keep Merry from prompting him. "I know, Beregond's friends. Most of them were suspicious, but one or two weren't, which was rather a relief. And then I was walking back toward the citadel with one of the not-suspicious ones, and we came to a more private stretch of avenue – as private as anything gets around here – and the next thing I know, he's on his knees in front of me and pushing me into a wall and kissing me."

"That sounds rather awkward," Frodo ventured, after a moment of mentally contemplating the image Pippin painted. He tightened his grip on Sam's hand. Mine.

"Not nearly as awkward as afterward," Pippin said gloomily. "I had a beast of a time explaining that I wasn't interested. Don't look at me like that, Merry: he took no for no, he just didn't understand why I was saying no."

"Who was it?" Merry asked. He still looked rather grumpy: he and Pippin had been lovers ever since Pippin decided that it felt good if he touched himself there, felt even better if someone else touched him there, and would feel best of all if his beloved Merry touched him, and consequently flung himself at a bemused but enthusiastic Merry.

"Never mind," Pippin said, and took Merry's hand the way Frodo was holding Sam's. "He won't do it again, I promise." He turned Merry's hand over in his, tracing delicate patterns on Merry's palm (Frodo felt Sam shift on the bed beside him, and settle in more closely to Frodo, one arm coming around Frodo's waist to rest over his belt). "You were luckier, I suppose."

"No Men tried to kiss me, if that's what you mean," Merry said, closing his hand on Pippin's and giving him a glare. "I think one of the orcs tried to make a pass at me, but that's hardly the same thing."

Pippin coughed hard, eyes wide, and Frodo said weakly, "Orcs? Are you sure?"

"Not really," Merry said. He let go of Pippin's hand, and began to fiddle with the lunch tray, taking the top off the soup and forking out cold meat onto the top plate Sam had uncovered. "I didn't think orcs bothered to make passes – they either took or they didn't take, and to be honest, I spent most of the trip from Amon Hen quite convinced they were going to rape either me or Pippin at their next rest stop. But I suppose the leaders wouldn't allow it – alive and unspoiled, they said. This particular orc waited until the leaders weren't looking, anyway."

"Now who's going around the forest to get to the trees?" Pippin demanded.

"I'm getting to it," Merry defended himself, and handed Pippin a plate of meat and cheese and bread, with a cup of soup carefully balanced between. "He didn't do much to tell, actually. Groped himself – through his clothing, thankfully – and croaked something that I think was supposed to be a compliment, but he spoke the Common Tongue so badly that I can't be sure what he said. Then Ugluk came back and he went away again."

"Groping and guttural noise." Frodo shook his head, and accepted his own plate from Merry. "That sounds like an orc idea of a pass."

"I doubt it's noise to them," Sam put in unexpectedly.

"It might've been," Merry pointed out. "There were some Mordor orcs and some Isengard orcs - they spoke with different accents, anyway, although their Westron always sounded horrible."

"They must've been able to talk amongst each other somehow," Pippin said. "I saw two of them having sex."

Sam stared aghast as he took his own plate from Merry, and Merry himself pulled an awful face. Frodo cleared his throat, and snuggled closer to Sam, ignoring the plate of food on the coverlet in front of him. "You did?"

"It was after nightfall, it was dark, and I'm going by the noises I heard," Pippin said, with a grimace of his own at Merry. "And the fact that they pulled on clothing afterward. I didn't go for a closer look: even without orcs making passes at me, I have quite as good an imagination as Merry does about what orcs could do to captives. Besides, I was mostly tied up."

"Just as well," Sam said (as Frodo felt Sam's fingers slip below the edge of Frodo's trousers). "I'd rather picture Ted Sandyman naked than imagine orcs tupping each other."

"Ted Sandyman? No, he wouldn't go for you, Sam – he's been after Lotho Sackville-Baggins this past age."

"Pippin, you're not helping," Frodo said, managing a stern tone despite the almost tickling feel of Sam's fingers exploring along his belt-line. "Besides, that doesn't help with the list. So far, the votes go that orcs are terrible lovers, elves are good lovers (unless it's with other elves, in which case it's boring), dwarves are good lovers (at least with elves), hobbits–"

"You've been tupping Sam for years," Merry observed, setting a final roll on his own plate with a flourish. "If you're not satisfied, you've done an excellent job of hiding it."

I'd be more satisfied if we could be alone for a little while... Sam's hand, safely out of Merry and Pippin's sight, was exploring up and down Frodo's back. "I'm not finished," he said, proud of how steady his voice was. "We're still missing a few races. Did anyone notice if that troll in Moria even had dangly bits?"

Everyone shook their head, and Sam said, "We were a bit distracted, sir."

"Yes, with that Balrog," Merry agreed. "I think you can add him to the list as an awful lover, Frodo."

"Yes, but on whose testimony? Gandalf's?"

"Why not? 'Excuse me, Gandalf, but while you were fighting that Balrog to the death, did you happen to notice whether it had dangly bits?'"

"Eat your lunch, Merry," Frodo said firmly.

They tucked in – and as anyone who has been at a hobbit meal knows, during the meal there's no unnecessary talking going on. Frodo rather hoped that the subject would be dropped after they were done eating. It was one thing to joke with Sam about which race had the best lovers. It was another to bring Merry and Pippin in on the joke. Merry was a magnificent conspirator – as Frodo knew from several examples, the grand conspiracy of Crickhollow being only the latest. But he did tend to make things... elaborate. Frodo shuddered to think who Merry might send up here, under the most innocent of pretexts.

Unfortunately, no sooner had they pushed the tray away then Merry took up the notion again. "If we're judging solely by dangly bits, then Ents can't be very good lovers at all. I didn't see anything."

"I thought you said they were dressed," Frodo said, frowning at Merry (and at Pippin, who had taken advantage of the space freed by the tray to sprawl over half the bed, his head in Merry's lap – an example that Sam was unfortunately not emulating).

"Who can tell?" Merry pointed out. "There is the evidence of the Ent-draughts to contradict me, though."

"You didn't say they were arousing, just–"

"Invigorating, I know. We were in public, Frodo."

"Besides," Pippin said, stretching luxuriously, "that would explain Huorns better than Treebeard did. 'Shepherd gets like sheep, and sheep like the shepherd' indeed. I think the Ents got lonely for the Entwives, and the Huorns are the result."

"More likely, if you take that theory, that they're the reason why the Entwives moved on," Sam said dryly.

Merry laughed aloud, but whatever scandalous nonsense he would have said next was frozen at his lips, as another knock came at the door.

Sam sighed impatiently, then climbed down off the bed to answer the door. Merry and Pippin followed more slowly, leaving Frodo the only one still on the bed when the door opened to reveal – well, not someone Frodo recognized, but Pippin caught Merry's wrist in a tight grip and hissed something into Merry's ear, too quick and low for Frodo to catch. The Man glanced from Pippin and Merry, to Frodo, to Sam (who left the door and went to stand beside his master), then bowed low to Frodo. "I beg your pardon for interrupting your meal, milord. I seek only... a moment of your time."

I'm not a lord. But Frodo had tried protested the title, his first day in Minas Tirith, and succeeded only in getting deeper bows and the even more hideous title of Ringbearer. Not that. Never that, never again. He wished he could be alone with Sam, who never called him anything worse than master or sir. But Shire-bred manners forbid. "I have already finished eating, thank you."

"Which means we should be going," Merry said, just quickly enough to rouse Frodo's suspicions. "Pippin is on duty within the hour, and I must report in as well. Frodo, Sam, we will speak to you later." Both he and Pippin bowed and left, Pippin nearly dragging Merry by the sleeve. Frodo watched them go with a frown. Either Pippin was later than Merry had admitted... or something was very wrong with this new visitor.

Well. He had faced down Gollum, the Nazgul, and the Ring itself, not to mention Sam's Gaffer back when he first realized that Sam wasn't just going up to Bag End for the tea. Frodo looked back at their visitor, who wore clothing brightly colored as any hobbit's. Except no hobbit would wear anything that clung so tightly in some places, nor draped so carelessly in others. It wasn't the sort of outfit one wore to walk in. "I don't believe I have the honor of your acquaintance," Frodo said, for lack of anything better.

"Hallas, son of Tarostar, at your service," the Man said, with a sweeping bow that set his draperies to fluttering like curtains in a breeze. "I am a minstrel, and performed before the court upon... the first night of your return."

"Ah. I remember." He didn't. His first night in Minas Tirith, he had been too tired to register more than the fact of music, without noticing any of its details. He remembered Sam's face that night far more clearly than that of any of the minstrels who performed – Sam, so worried over Frodo's health that he half-carried Frodo to their rooms, and spent the night curled around Frodo as if he fancied himself a new sort of blanket. Frodo woke the next morning rested and wanting for the first time in far, far too long. "It was a fair song, and well-sung." A guess, true, but Aragorn would accept nothing less in his halls.

The compliment won him another low bow. "I thank you, milord," Hallas said. His voice was soft and high, and dark liquid eyes looked at Frodo through his lashes as if – as if – as if he were flirting. Oh, no. But Hallas glanced up, then away, then back again, playing the sort of looking-games that courting couples played back in the Shire. Sam was near to vibrating next to Frodo, though Frodo hoped Sam saw the glances as disrespect, not flirtation. "I would I could devote my life to such songs," Hallas went on, the words rapid and breathy. "But alas, such chances... are few. We cannot afford... to live life on the heights."

Frodo laid a would-be calming hand on Sam's arm, while he tried to sort out what exactly Hallas thought he was implying. 'We cannot afford to live life on the heights': was that aimed at Frodo and his current luxury? Or perhaps at Sam? An attempt at philosophy? An oblique request for money? He'd plenty of experience with fobbing off the latter, at least, and better reason now than he once had. "I fear I cannot be of much help," he said politely. "I am housed and fed myself only through the grace of the king."

That won him a more direct look, and Frodo understood why Pippin had all but run from the room – he was almost tempted to do so himself. Despite Sam's presence, Hallas's gaze stroked over Frodo from the top of his head down to where his feet were folded under him, lingering at lips and chest and groin, as if Frodo were a milk-calf and the man a farmer eager to buy. Hallas's lips curved up in an appreciative smile that made Frodo want to hide behind Sam. "I would not ask you for... gold," the minstrel said, voice even huskier than before. "There are... other things I'd rather have."

No. No, no, no. But before Frodo could even take breath to protest, Sam crawled up onto the bed next to him, and settled down behind him, one possessive hand coming down to rest somewhere on Frodo's belly, not quite close enough to where Frodo would've liked to be touched. Frodo stifled a gasp, promised himself to thank Sam the instant they were alone again, and mustered his coldest look from somewhere. "I already have a lover." A bit blunter than he'd quite meant to be, but if it shut Hallas up –

Instead, the minstrel took a step closer. "I don't mind two at once," he said, and licked his lips. "In fact, I rather prefer it... although I've never tried hobbits before." His gaze lingered speculatively on Sam's hand.

Sam shifted again behind Frodo, and Frodo glanced back in time to catch the edges of an angry glare. "He said no," Sam said, as if to a very small child. "I'm saying no. Go on your way."

Hallas merely shifted his weight, and licked his lips again. "You don't know what it's like, little one. Tasting and being tasted... two focused on you at once... or better yet, tasting and being taken–"

"I know all that I want to know," Frodo interrupted, and this time he didn't need to search for the cold tone. "I'm quite satisfied with what I have." And to prove it, he turned in Sam's arms and kissed him.

He hadn't meant more than a quick kiss – deep and passionate, to be sure, just to prove his point with this fool. But he'd been waiting to kiss Sam since breakfast that morning, and his starved body wasn't satisfied with a mere nibble. It wanted the taste of Sam's mouth, not for a sip but drinking deep. It wanted the feel of Sam's skin, of Sam's startled jump as Frodo slid his hands up beneath Sam's shirt, of Sam's heart beating rapidly as Frodo's hands caressed every sensitive spot years of loving had taught him. It wanted the sound of Sam's moans, muffled against Frodo's own mouth.

Then Gandalf cleared his throat loudly, as only Gandalf could, and said, "I believe you've seen quite enough. I'll take that, thank you."

Frodo sighed, and looked up at the ceiling, and tried to persuade himself that he didn't mind getting interrupted before Sam could get up his courage to do more than kiss Frodo back (most enthusiastically). Sam buried his face in Frodo's shoulder and made a sound that was not a passionate moan. Frodo could hear behind him the sound of rustling paper – paper? Had Hallas been taking notes? – and the sound of the door hastily closing. He looked back over his shoulder, and discovered Gandalf standing there, thankfully alone, bushy eyebrows crooked forbiddingly. He held a few papers crumpled in one hand. "I see you're recovered."

"I... er..." Not quite as bad as the time Bilbo nearly walked in on him and Sam, but Frodo nonetheless felt his cheeks heat. "It wasn't intended–"

Sam kissed Frodo's neck, and murmured softly, "I don't think any of this was intended, sir."

Frodo would have thought that too quiet for Gandalf to hear. But Gandalf's eyebrows went up. "Any of what was intended? If you tell me you didn't intend to wrap yourself around your master like a clinging vine, I warn you, I won't believe a word."

Sam blushed and promptly unwrapped himself, while Frodo tried very hard to find words. "No, I – we – you see–" This really wasn't helping. Sam was entirely warm and alluring next to him, and Gandalf's eyebrows remained somewhere up near his hair. Frodo gave up. "We were taking a poll," he said. "Of sorts. About which race is, er, the best lovers."

Gandalf's eyebrows did not go down. "Are you." He strolled around the bed, pausing only to toss the papers into the fire, and settled himself into the chair next to it. Frodo exchanged glances with Sam, and the two of them quickly rearranged themselves so that Frodo could face Gandalf and Sam could keep an eye both on Gandalf and on the door. Gandalf waited until they were finished, and then said, "Well? What have you learned so far?"

"Well." Frodo looked down at his hands, ticking off the votes with his left hand against his thigh. "One vote for elves, one vote for dwarves, one vote for men, and two votes for – come to think of it, I don't think Merry and Pippin exactly voted at all. They only talked about it."

"Hmmm." Gandalf stroked his beard thoughtfully. "I'm as glad they didn't: those two are entirely too prone to share their adventures with the world at large as it is."

"They wanted to cast negative votes," Frodo said, watching Gandalf warily. "Against orcs."

"No one worth his salt would lie with an orc," Gandalf agreed, eyes drifting close. "I had an Elf or two for a lover, but my memory is not what it once was–"

Sam hmphed in Frodo's ear. "Dull as a sword-edge, his memory," he muttered.

"–not what it once was," Gandalf repeated, as if he hadn't heard Sam. "And that was long ago, back when the world was young and my name was still Olorin."

Frodo was tempted to ask who the Elf had been. Then he realized he was mentally picturing Galadriel with Gandalf. He immediately shut his mouth again and assumed an attentive expression.

"Dwarves – dwarves are, I fear, too short. I went around with a crick in my neck for days afterwards."

The urge to ask who was even worse this time, especially after years of growing up with Bilbo's tales of Gandalf and the dwarves. Frodo bit his tongue and leaned back against Sam.

"As for Men – I will not dispute the lady Eowyn's word, not least because Faramir is hardly the ordinary sort of Man. In him the blood of Numenor runs nearly pure, as it does in Aragorn. But I can tell you that the ordinary sort of man is indeed hasty, if not downright perfunctory, and not the sort of lover to be sought out unless there is no other choice."

Celibacy, Frodo almost said – but Gandalf had produced his pipe out of his sleeve, and was rummaging about for pipeweed, a sure sign of settling in for a long session of storytelling. "What about hobbits?" he said.

"No, no hobbits." Gandalf found his bag of pipeweed and began to fill his pipe, tapping down the leaves in between phrases. "The height problem again." Tap, tap. "And besides, very few hobbits–" Tap, tap. "–are sufficiently open-minded–" Tap, tap. "–to accept an old wizard as a friend–" Tap, tap. "–much less as a lover."

Frodo could bring to mind half-a-dozen occasions over the years when Bilbo took special care over a meal when he knew Gandalf would be coming, and brought out the best wine, and insisted on having Gandalf all to himself even when a certain curious young relation wanted to hear the wizard's stories as well. But now was certainly not the time to bring that up. The height problem, after all. "You've already said no orcs," he said aloud, enjoying the slow, absent stroke of Sam's hand down his arm. "I presume no trolls, either–"

"The creatures of the Dark Powers, by and large, cannot reproduce," Gandalf said gravely, attention on his flint and striker. "Orcs are an exception, but only as a lingering privilege of their elvish heritage. Trolls cannot bear children any more than a Balrog could. Ah!" His pipe finally caught, and he tucked away his flint back wherever he'd found it.

"I wasn't imagining you were seducing trolls," Frodo assured him. "Or Balrogs, either. What about Ents?"

"Of course not," Gandalf said, looking up from his pipe. "An Ent can take all morning to say how d'you do. The foreplay would take years, and the act itself an Age."

Sam's fingers dipped under the edge of Frodo's cuff, a slow, circling caress. A loving that lasted an entire Age – that sounded just about right. Frodo squeezed Sam's knee, that being what was most convenient and least likely to make Gandalf glare at them again. "I think that covers all the races," he said.

"Not entirely," Gandalf said. "There are still... other options." He sucked in a long draught of smoke, then blew it out in a series of smoke rings. Frodo waited through one series, then another, and finally half-way through the third said, "Other options?"

"Well," said Gandalf, not at all flummoxed, "I once had a lover among my distant kinsmen."

That helped not at all, in Frodo's view. He knew better than to think that Gandalf was a Man, the way he once had, but despite all the hints Gandalf delighted in dropping, that didn't mean he knew what this one meant. 'Distant kinsmen' – "You mean another Istari?" he ventured.

"Yes." And that was apparently all Gandalf was willing to say on the matter, as he went back to blowing smoke-rings.

Frodo shivered, mostly because Sam licked him just behind his ear, and began to wonder if Gandalf intended to fill the room with pipesmoke, and whether he could persuade Sam's hands to be bolder if Gandalf did. Sam himself was apparently less distracted: he leaned a bit forward and whispered into the same ear, "Wonder if it's that nasty piece Saruman."

It took a moment for Frodo to force his attention back to the question, because Sam followed up his remark by nibbling on Frodo's ear. But at least he managed to choke out, "How long ago?"

Gandalf blew out another smoke ring. "Long enough." His eyes were dark and distant behind the smoldering bowl of his pipe. "It's long ended now, and better so."

"Was, er..." It was presumptuous to ask. But presumption – if not outright recklessness – had rather been his watchword today. "Was that the best?"

"No," Gandalf said, so abruptly that Frodo and Sam both jumped. "No. The best was – well, a privilege the likes of which I doubt I'll see again, nor are any living likely to see at all. There are advantages to living in Valinor, Frodo Baggins."

Frodo tried to swallow and couldn't. He could feel when Sam worked it out – his entire body went tense. "D'you mean to say, one of the Val–"

"There are some things not to be discussed, Master Gamgee," Gandalf said, over-riding Sam's choked guess. He rose to his feet, went over to the fireplace, and tapped out his pipe into the ashes. "And I'm sure you're been desiring my absence longer than you have my presence. I suggest you don't take off too many clothes: you may have lost track of time up here in your tower, but by the reckoning of Minas Tirith, it's nearly time for dinner." And with that, Gandalf was out the door, leaving behind two thoroughly bemused hobbits.

"Did he just say–"


Momentary silence. Then Frodo ventured, "I don't think we should count that."

"Likely it's true," Sam said. But he sounded just as uncertain.

Another momentary silence. Then Sam said firmly, "If it's all the same to you, sir, I'd suggest we don't tell Master Merry of that vote."

"Agreed," Frodo said, and kissed Sam for saying it.

This was possibly a mistake. Despite Gandalf's lingering, Frodo's arousal had not died down all that much, and Sam's (from what he could feel pressing against his thigh) was just as demanding. Frodo wriggled around, trying to get a better angle, and wound up toppling flat on the bed, Sam toppling right after him. Frodo might have objected, except he rapidly decided he didn't need to breathe, after all. It was far more important to have Sam's mouth open against his and Sam's leg pressed right there and Sam's touch gentle against the fabric of his shirt, the sensation dulled just enough to make it a tease rather than a demand. Frodo caught Sam's hands to make him stop for a moment – a breath more of that faint teasing touch against his sides, and he would lose control.

Naturally, someone knocked at the door.

Frodo closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, counting to ten in Westron, Sindarin, and broken Quenya for good measure. He could feel Sam trembling against him, and hear a few muffled blunt gardener's terms directed toward the knocker. Then Sam levered himself up off Frodo, rolled off the bed, tugged down his waistcoat to a more discreet level, and (with a glare at Frodo, as to say get rid of them or I will) went to answer the door.

Frodo sat up and waited. He should straighten himself – Sam had left him thoroughly rumpled, and his lips felt red and swollen, and if their visitor was Hallas or someone like him, the songs would reach all the way to the Shire. But Frodo had a suspicion who their new visitor would be, and that visitor wouldn't care if Frodo were entirely naked, for all Gandalf's warnings.

Sure enough, as Sam opened the door, Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar Elfstone the King of Gondor, stepped through, bearing a tray with two plates. Their supper. He looked at Frodo, raised one eyebrow, glanced back down at Sam (who was studying the wooden door with great determination), then said, "I see I needn't ask if the rumors are true."

"Rumors?" Frodo went up onto his knees to take the tray from Aragorn and arrange it on uhe bed. "What rumors?"

"That the Ringbearer has spent the day with his mind between his legs," Aragorn said dryly. "Legolas mentioned it first this morning – you amused him immensely, you know. The lady Eowyn, in my hearing, teased Merry about the earthiness of his people. Pippin asked the most annoying of my courtiers some very personal questions, all because (he said) of a poll that you were taking. A minstrel came downstairs, white-faced, and insisted on seeing Faramir with outrageous accusations that either you or Gandalf, he wasn't clear which, had said something utterly obscene to him. And Gandalf himself bade me hurry with this supper, or else I'd find my knock unanswered."

Oh, dear. Frodo looked down at the plates of food, and tried not to blush. "It started out as a series of interruptions," he said. "And then it turned into, er, a sort of poll. Although not on purpose."

"A poll?" Aragorn sounded as though he was trying not to laugh. "I should object – you've asked everyone else, and let your king know last of all."

"Seems like you knew in any case," Sam said, looking up at Stride for the first time. He didn't sound nearly as grumpy as Frodo had expected. "And besides, we could guess what you would say – or do I miss my guess that you've been celibate while you wait for your lady?"

Frodo nearly choked on his startled laughter at that piece of impudence – the day had worn at Sam more than he'd realized. Fortunately, Aragorn laughed as well. "That depends on your definition of celibate." He leaned against the bedpost, eyes hazy with a reminiscent smile. "There are things a man can do by himself, after all. And things that will allow a maiden to stay virgin, but still bring pleasure."

There are more ways of loving than one, Sam – my hands can pleasure you as well as they can me, can't they? His own voice drifted out of memory, along with Sam's breathless agreement. They'd hardly been courting a month then. Frodo took a deep breath, and tried to ignore the ache between his legs. "So is that a vote for elves or for men?" His voice came out sharp and demanding.

Aragorn only smiled, his eyes focusing again. "Not for men." He moved away from the bedpost, and moved to the door. "Arwen will be here soon enough." And with a final bow, he vanished into the corridor.

As Sam closed the door behind Aragorn, Frodo opened his mouth to say something – but when Sam turned around again, Frodo forgot what it was. They'd spent the entire day teasing each other, and now Sam was done with teasing. Frodo shut his mouth, picked up the dinner tray, and carried it over to the side of the bed, setting it down on the floor with care. He straightened up again to find Sam waiting.

They made it up onto the bed only because Frodo refused to collapse onto the floor, no matter how wobbly his knees might feel once Sam kissed him. Sam was no help whatsoever, being far more interested in Frodo's buttons and what lay behind them. By the time they were up on the mattress, coverlet pulled back to expose the smooth cool sheets, Frodo's clothing had been lost to eager fingers, and Sam wore only his trousers.

It took entirely too long to get rid of those trousers – Sam seemed intent on slow, deep kisses that made Frodo whimper helplessly against Sam's mouth, unable to think of anything except the heavy ache between his legs. The loss of the trousers didn't really help, as it only meant that Sam's bare legs twined with Frodo's, and his naked body pressed Frodo's down into the bed, heat against heat. Frodo pulled back, gasping for breath, and then turned his head to taste Sam's cheek, his collarbone, his arm. Sam turned them so he lay beneath Frodo, relaxed into a wanton sprawl, and Frodo took full advantage of it: a faint brush of his lips against the center of Sam's chest, a teasing lick around the circle of Sam's belly-button, a wet nuzzle against the curve of Sam's hip. Then, when Sam's breath came in hitching gasps and he near to growled Frodo's name, Frodo bent and took Sam properly into his mouth.

Ah – how could he have forgotten that taste? Almost bitter in its intensity, the taste of Sam strong on his tongue, filling his mouth and throat until he couldn't breathe, couldn't think. Back and forth, the motion slow as torment, and then Sam's fingers tightened in his hair and pulled him back and away. Sam's eyes were dark with his arousal. He reached up toward the head of the bed, took something from the headboard, and pressed it into Frodo's hand.

Frodo looked at the jar of lotion and nodded once, sharply. He sat up on his heels, moving carefully – by now he'd been aroused so long that it bordered on pain. But Sam deserved care, the slow, deliberate touch deep inside.

Sam cried out, and his fingers tightened on Frodo's arm. No more. He was as aroused as Frodo, angry red and wet with the nearness of release. More preparation would only be torment in its own right, and Sam's deep, sobbing breaths begged without words. Frodo abandoned the lotion and leaned forward over his Sam, pushing Sam's legs up and back. "Look at me," Frodo said, and heard his own voice shake. But he had to say it, had to see Sam's eyes when he did this. "Sam, love, look at me."

Sam's eyes met Frodo's, love and wanting clear as starlight – and Frodo slid home in a single stroke.

Hard and fast, this loving. Frodo couldn't last long, buried deep inside Sam, and Sam lost his control even as Frodo spilled within him. Indeed, it took longer for Frodo to regain the use of his muscles enough to withdraw from Sam and move up to curl around beside him, rather than slump on top of him. He absently stroked Sam's chest, petting the soft skin over Sam's heart until Sam captured his hand under Sam's own.

"Give me time to recover, sir. That wasn't – I didn't–"

Frodo smiled, and kissed the nearest part of Sam convenient (which happened to be Sam's ear). "I didn't mean to twist either of us quite that tightly," he said quietly. Then, after a moment's thought, "For all our talk of bed today, I don't believe we even learned anything. I've lost track of the votes. I think Elves came out ahead as the best lovers."

Sam snorted.

"I'd have thought you'd be happy at that result," Frodo said, amused.

"Gimli and Strider can have the Elves for their beds," Sam said firmly, turning his head to face Frodo. "I want only you." He stole a quick kiss, then sat up slowly. "We'd best eat supper before it gets cold, sir." He patted Frodo on one hip. "I mean to see that you need your strength, before the night is out."

– end –

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