It's a familiar jest between Bilbo and the Gaffer by now, how Sam came rushing down to his da that first afternoon, breathless with the news that Mr. Baggins had an Elf visiting, an Elf with black hair. The Gaffer, who knew something of the nephew daily expected to arrive from Buckland, asked how tall this 'elf' might be. Sam thought for a moment, then stubbornly said, "Well, it's a young elf."

Sam blushes whenever the older folk trot out this story, although Mr. Frodo's too polite to laugh at it any more. Instead, he smiles, and nods, and makes a point, the next time Sam stop inside for a cup of tea on a cold day, to read something aloud in the slow music of the Elvish tongue, as if to apologize for not being an Elf.

Sam always drinks his tea and listens. At such times, he's fiercely, jealously glad that Frodo Baggins is not an Elf. Elves are grand and glorious folk, who live their lives in forest glades or towering palaces, far from the eyes of curious hobbits. He has never seen an Elf: he's not grand enough himself for their company. Mr. Frodo is a hobbit, and Sam can not only see him but speak with him, and clasp his hand in friendship. And if sometimes he catches himself wanting more, if his heart clenches with aching after a certain look in Frodo's eyes, a smile from Frodo's lips, then he bites his tongue and looks away. Elves. Safer to yearn after the Elves, for surely he's more likely to see Elves walking through the Shire than he is to hear lovewords from Frodo Baggins.

Then, one fine March morning, Sam is tending to the garden and Frodo is whittling something small and complicated, a mathom-to-be. The day offers warmth, a glorious change from dull gray winter, and Sam's stripped down to his shirtsleeves in celebration for all it's still a mite chilly. Frodo has his waistcoat carefully folded on the bench beside him so he doesn't accidentally cut it with his knife. They are talking idly, since neither turning soil nor whittling needs all their respective attentions. And Frodo admits he knows where Elves may be seen.

"They pass through the Woody End sometimes, in Spring or in Autumn." Sam, looking up from the soil, catches a glance in his direction from under long lashes. "Bilbo says they're on their way to the harbor beyond the towers -- to the Gray Havens. I saw them once, many years ago."

"What were they like?" Sam rocks back on his heels, the earth soft and cool under his feet. He can picture it: young Frodo, dark curls falling into his eyes, peering around Mr. Bilbo's solid bulk at the tall, beautiful forms of the Elves.

Frodo doesn't answer immediately. He studies his half-finished creation, then sets it aside on the bench and closes his pen-knife with a snap. Sam waits patiently as Frodo tucks his knife into his pocket. "They're not... not exactly like the tales," Frodo says at last. He brings up one leg and folds his hands around his knee. "They're grand and beautiful, but... sad." He shakes his head, but it seems to Sam that he does so at himself, at the lack of words for what he wants to say, rather than at the memory. Blue eyes refocus on Sam. "I only saw them at a distance, Sam, I'm sorry. I can't do them justice."

Sam nods and bends to the dirt once more. He hadn't known Elves came so close to Hobbiton as the Woody End, and his belly is tight with frustrated wanting. If he could see them through Frodo's eyes, it would almost be enough, but he cannot blame Frodo for not finding the words. He himself cannot find words for the simpler beauty of his master sitting on that bench, curls falling into his face, eyes faded with memory, though the image is burned into the dark behind Sam's eyelids.

He can feel Frodo's thoughtful gaze like sun-heat on the back of his neck, and hopes his too-perceptive master doesn't know what's going through his mind. He's caught by surprise when Frodo says, "You'll have to see for yourself. Do you think the Gaffer will allow you a day or two?"

The Gaffer is reluctant. He's never quite understood Sam's fascination with Elves, and he certainly doesn't approve of Elves interfering with the preparations for spring planting. But Mr. Bilbo himself puts in a word, so at last the Gaffer shakes his head and bids Sam go tromping about the Shire as he pleases, only mind the garden won't tend itself.

A part of Sam's mind does worry about the garden -- the seed potatoes that need planting next week, a particular bush that's not coming back from winter sleep quite quickly enough. But when he and Frodo reach the Woody End, and Frodo takes him by the hand to draw him down a trail that winds between tree roots, soft with layers of wood so old it's almost earth, the only thing in his mind is a quiet, incredulous sort of joy. He's walking beside Frodo Baggins, just the two of them, and they're going to see the Elves.

It's not yet sunset when they set up camp deep in the wood, in a clearing that might have been made for the purpose. Sam goes and collects wood while Frodo sets up the fire-circle. Sam half-expects supper to follow, but Frodo takes him by the hand again and tugs him along with a smile, leaving their cloaks behind. "Follow me, Sam."

I would follow you anywhere, sir -- but Sam bites his tongue before he can say it. Not two hours before, he thought himself utterly content. He's not sure what happened. Perhaps it's only that Frodo is beautiful, as if the fading afternoon sunlight were meant to glint off his night-dark hair and star-pale skin. Sam is staring, and he knows he's staring, and yet he can't look away.

Of course Frodo notices -- not least because Sam doesn't move, and in fact nearly stumbles when Frodo tugs at his hand again. "Sam?" he says.

Sam recollects himself immediately, and hurries forward again, keeping up with Frodo's easy walk. "Sorry, sir," he says, and is glad of the growing twilight and forest shade, because Frodo cannot see his blush.

"No, it's all right." But Frodo sounds thoughtful, not reassuring, and Sam can feel (although not see, because he doesn't dare look at Frodo again just yet) Frodo's look at him.

In a few minutes Frodo stops Sam in his tracks with a hand on his arm, then draws him down to the ground. Bits of fallen bark and pine needles dig into Sam's knees as he knees down next to Frodo, behind a fallen log. An ant crawls over Sam's hand as he looks around curiously, then tilts his head toward Frodo, not quite daring to ask what's going on.

Frodo's eyes are fixed forward, over the log. "They come this way," he says softly, pointing off somewhere to the forward and left, and tracing a route that goes directly in front of them. "Walking through the trees -- we'll be able to hear them coming, they sing as they walk."

"Are they coming now?"

"Not quite yet. Not until it's twilight proper -- still a little while. The sun hasn't quite set."

Sam nods, although he's not quite sure Frodo can see him, and sits back a little to wait. It's chilly now, just enough to keep him wakeful. He intends to watch the path Frodo just pointed out, but his gaze drifts back to Frodo. There are leaves caught in Frodo's curls, though Sam can't think when that could have happened. Frodo looks perfectly serious, eyes dark blue in the fading light like deep water in the rose-pale loveliness of his face. Sam realizes slowly, in the way of a mind catching up to itself, that he is wondering what Frodo would look like if he had just been kissed. Would his lips blush a darker red? Would his eyes haze over with the feel of another mouth against his? How would he react if Sam scooted over, just perhaps a foot or so, and tangled his fingers in Frodo's hair?

He's reaching before he quite realizes he's doing so. Frodo doesn't move. Sam musters up his courage, because yearning in a garden is one thing and touching in a forest is another, and after this he will never be able to tell himself he is only admiring Frodo the way he would an Elf, beautiful but somehow untouchable. He strokes Frodo's hair, tugging gently at the leaves tangled there. Frodo's head slowly falls forward, and he wriggles over, closing the distance between himself and Sam. The sound he makes in his throat isn't quite a purr, but it's close -- a mixture of surprise, pleasure, and please-do-that-again.

Sam works at it carefully, stroking his fingers through Frodo's hair as he frees each bit of leaf. He hardly dares breathe, for fear this will turn out to be a dream, touching Mr. Frodo as if he's the right. But when all the leaves are gone, Sam hesitates only a minute. His heart is in his throat, but Frodo is beautiful, and he purred beneath Sam's touch. Sam brushes Frodo's hair to one side, then leans forward and sets his lips to Frodo's nape.

Frodo goes shivery still, and shifts restlessly, but does not pull away. Sam can smell the faint sweet smell of violets from Frodo's soap. He opens his mouth and touches his tongue to Frodo's skin. Frodo shivers again, a wordless sound escaping him, and he tilts his head to allow Sam better access.

The dab of a tongue against Frodo's neck isn't enough. Sam catches Frodo by the shoulder and tugs at Frodo in his turn. Frodo moves away from the log easily: his eyes are alight with a wondering joy to match Sam's, and a smile lingers on his lips. It takes a moment of maneuvering and repositioning before Frodo is settled, astride of Sam, hands braced on Sam's shoulders as Sam's hands are braced on Frodo's waist. Then Frodo leans down, and his mouth meets Sam's in their first kiss.

Everything seems to move slowly, as graceful as snowfall. Sam hasn't much attention to spare from the taste of Frodo's mouth on his: he doesn't remember unbuttoning Frodo's shirt, although he likes the feel of Frodo bucking up against him as Sam's fingers rub up against the rosy darkness of his nipples, and the sound of Frodo's muffled moan. Nor does he remember Frodo unbuttoning his shirt, although he notices when Frodo breaks the kiss to push Sam's shirt down his arms, and lick Sam's collarbone as if he thinks it a new delicacy. Trousers are an obstacle to be quickly undone and shoved down out of the way. Sam doesn't care about curious ants now, or cold, or bark-bits digging into his knees, because Frodo is hard against him, eyes wide, mouth open on soft gasps and cries of pleasure, moving against Sam as if he'll die if he has to stop. And when Sam loses that rhythm, release shuddering through him like echoes of thunder, Frodo is right behind, his cry in Sam's ear more beautiful than any Elvish poem.

Frodo recovers his ability to speak before Sam, though it takes him a little while longer to say anything other than Sam's name. At last he takes out his pocket hankerchief and begins helping Sam put himself to rights. "I didn't mean--" He breaks off, and laughs, but it sounds forced to Sam's newly sensitive ear. "This wasn't why I brought you out here."

"I'm not sorry, sir," Sam says quietly.

Frodo looks up at that, hankerchief clenched tight in his hand. He reaches out with the other and brushes the back of his fingers down the line of Sam's jaw, light as thistledown. "Sam." His voice aches the way Sam's heart has ached these past years, and in Sam's name are all the lovewords Sam never thought he'd hear.

Sam opens his mouth, though he has no notion what he'll say besides I love you. Then he hears something whispering on the breeze, voices like bells made of silver. He cocks his head and looks at Frodo in puzzlement. Frodo's breath catches, and he draws Sam over to kneel behind the log, the way they began the evening. Sam looks out and sees them.

Frodo was right: they are beyond words. For all their sweet song, the Elves are not so much the grand people of the tales, but rather sad and distant as starlight between the leaves. They walk clothed in light, pale hair and dark tumbling down their backs. They wear no jewelry that Sam can see, except a circlet of metal here and there resting atop their hair, but they need none. Sam's head swims.

"Elves," Frodo says softly. "High Elves: their song names the lady Elbereth. Few of that fairest folk ever enter the Shire."

"But not none," adds another voice. Startled, Sam looks over to his right. An Elf stands there, fair in his brocades and draperies, dark hair bound loosely back over his shoulders. He smiles down at the hobbits, but his eyes are colder than the breeze around them. "We had not thought to find watchers along our path."

Sam feels Frodo shift behind him, and looks back in time to see Frodo rise to his feet. "Forgive us," Frodo says. "We meant no harm." His words speak of penitence, but Frodo meets the Elf's eyes as proud and defiant as if he did not wear no more than a pair of trousers and the marks of Sam's loving on his skin.

"No harm was done, Frodo Baggins." The Elf's eyes turn to Sam, and he meets Sam's gaze for a terrifying long second. Sam watches him warily, unsure what he thinks of this cool arrogance to his master. If the Elf means to have words with Frodo, he'll have to go through Sam to do it, and that's all Sam has to say on the subject. The Elf's gaze warms a little as Sam thinks this. "No harm at all." If Sam didn't know Elves were above such things, he'd think he heard the lazy heat of arousal in the Elf's voice. He wonders how long the Elf was watching them, and what the Elf really knows of the matter.

"Tend to your master well, Samwise Gamgee," the Elf says at last, and then looks back at Frodo. "Such love is rare. It must be treasured more than all the gold of the Dwarves, or the wisdom of my people." He bows to them, says something in Elvish, and then isn't there any more.

Sam breathes again, and hears Frodo let out a long breath behind him as well. The Elf wasn't what Sam had expected at all, and he doesn't rightly understand why the Elf spoke to them at all, but he will treasure those moments.

Then he looks back up at Frodo, and changes his mind. He will remember those moments, the short encounter with an older world. He has better things to treasure, and he needs no Elf to tell him to do so. He reaches up and takes Frodo's hand. "Shall we go back to camp, sir?"

Frodo looks down, and in his eyes is all the starlight glory Sam could wish. "Yes." He pulls Sam to his feet, and they pick up Frodo's shirt, and they go back to their camp without even a glance behind them for the Elves as they vanish into the shadows between the trees.

- end -

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