In the Dark by Teasel
Summary: Sam has never liked the dark. Now, in Shelob's Lair, he must face it.
Categories: FPS > Frodo/Sam, FPS, FPS > Sam/Frodo Characters: None
Type: None
Warning: Angst
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 1 Completed: Yes Word count: 6207 Read: 901 Published: August 01, 2012 Updated: August 01, 2012
Story Notes:
Contains lines taken directly from *The Two Towers* (book version; PJ has deferred the events covered here to ROTK). Many thanks to Oselle and Fyrdrakken for their extremely helpful comments and suggestions.

1. Chapter 1 by Teasel

Chapter 1 by Teasel
Truth be told, Sam had always hated the dark.

It wasn't the kind of thing he ever told anyone. Not his friends, not his brothers, and not Mr. Frodo. Frodo least of all, for Frodo had troubles enough of his own, Sam thought, and needed someone who wouldn't go jumping at shadows, someone to care for him and not the other way around.

So it was probably only Sam's mother who knew his fear of the dark, or at least guessed. Long ago, when he was a little lad, his mother had certainly known how much he dreaded going to the root cellar to fetch taters or carrots or whatever it was she needed. But Bell Gamgee was not one to tolerate impracticality in her children, least of all in her thoughtful and sometimes odd youngest son. "Go on, Sammy-lad," she'd say, with a firm hand on his shoulder, "there's naught there but taters and those dreams of yours, and don't you know that dreams can't hurt you in the broad light of day?"

"There ain't any light in the root cellar," he'd point out, already stubborn and contrary at four years old.

"Nor monsters, neither," she'd say. "Go, lad, and come back right quick, and we'll have a cup of tea together in the kitchen."

And so he had gone. He hadn't had to go far; their hobbit-hole wasn't large, at least not compared to Mr. Bilbo's big place up the Hill. And Sam's brothers often talked of smials even larger than that, great warrens in Tuckborough and Buckland that had three or four levels stacked one on top of the other like layers in a giant cake made of earth and stone. Their root cellars were in the bottommost level, so far beneath the ground that no light ever reached them from the outside. Sam's brother Hal had once frightened Sam half to death with the well-known tale of some Brandybuck half-blood cousin who got trapped down in one of the cellars when a hallway caved in, and sat in the dark for hours as the air got thicker and heavier until his kin dug him out at last.

Sam used to lie awake at night, imagining it. This kind of dreaming with his eyes open was something his mother had told him firmly never to do. But Sam couldn't help it, seemingly: he'd think of the Brandybuck lad, alone with his single candle that he couldn't keep lit for fear of burning it down completely. He'd think of the air, cold and damp and heavy with the untold weight of the smial above. And most of all Sam would think of the dark, pressing around the lad, hiding from him anything that might be waiting in the cellar's depths, leaving him alone, terrified, helpless. And Sam's heart would beat faster and faster. He'd forget that his brother's tale was over and done, and he'd half-wish he could run to Buckland to help the unknown Brandybuck lad. But Buckland was far away, they said, and besides there was naught you could do to help yourself or anyone else, in the dark.

Fortunately the root cellar in their hole in Bagshot Row was nowhere near so dark or deep as the ones in Buckland. All the hobbit-holes in the Row were old-fashioned in that they had only one level, nice and comfortable, the Gaffer said, the way decent folk were meant to live. So at least Sam didn't have to climb down into some dark pit. No, it was a simple matter of finding the last door on his left, the door to the room cut deepest into the Hill, not for the convenience of monsters but because this room was the coolest and most sheltered from the summer's heat.

Or so Sam would tell himself as he clutched a candle in his small chubby fist and walked by himself down the long, long hall -- at least the hall seemed long on these occasions, so long that it might never end, and he might be trapped on this journey into darkness forever.

But he would reach the cellar door at last. When he opened it -- it creaked, despite his father's best efforts to keep the hinges well oiled -- he would find himself in what seemed to him at four years old to be another world. Cool dry air poured from the cellar, smelling of earth and taters. You'd think this familiar smell would reassure Sam, but it didn't, because something about the dark converted everything to a mystery, and Sam could never shake the feeling that the tater-smell concealed something else, something damp and stuffy and half-rotten. "There ain't no damp in that cellar," his father had said indignantly when Sam once hesitantly asked him about this. "We built it better than that that, Sam. There's an art to keeping a nice dry hole, lad, and there's none as can say but that the Gamgees don't know it as well as most folk, or better, even."

"But sir . . ."

"No, Sam-lad, you're seeing things as ain't there, and if you don't stop that dreaming of yours, you'll come to a bad end, and no mistake."

A bad end. At four Sam didn't know what a bad end might be, but it didn't sound like something he'd want. Perhaps it was what had happened to that Brandybuck lad; perhaps a bad end was something worse than even Sam could imagine. So Sam would take a deep breath and walk into the cold darkness.

Sometimes it was easy. Sometimes the thing his mother had asked him to fetch could be found in the front of the cellar, so near the light from the door that he didn't really need the candle at all. He'd pick it up, and come right out, and half run down the hallway to find his mother and his tea and the bright sunlight streaming in through their little kitchen window.

But sometimes he'd been asked for something in the back -- and years later, the phrase "it's in the back" could still give Sam a little chill up his spine. Then he'd have to twist himself in a cramped and complicated dance through the tiny passage left amid the stores, for the cellar was small for such a large family, and every bit of space had to be used. By the time he'd reached the back, then, the light from the door was a memory. Sam would be surrounded by looming indistinct piles wavering in the candle flame, and beyond this tiny circle of illumination lay nothing, nothing but dark and silence and the smell that his father claimed wasn't there. But the flickering flame would play tricks on him, and out of the corners of his eyes he'd see crawling things and shadowy faces that leered in the darkness but vanished when he tried to look at them head on.

Sam was an obedient lad, and he would do his best to find the object of his quest and go. But there was another Sam, the Sam that dreamed of the Elves, the Sam that didn't just plant and harvest but that wondered at the green life he held in his hands. In the cellar this Sam shrank into himself and held perfectly still: watching, listening, straining for something beyond the candle-flame, something that he knew was out there, waiting for him in the dark.

"Mam," Sam said once when he was five, "do we have to keep the taters in the root cellar?"

She laughed at that. "Don't be daft, Sam-lad. It's the only way."

The only way. The only way. Sometimes, Sam told himself at five, at eight, at fifteen -- when the root cellar suddenly seemed much smaller, somehow -- sometimes the dark was the only way. And so he schooled himself to face it when he must.

"Is this the only way, Sméagol?" said Frodo.

Sam scarcely listened to Gollum's reply. He knew what it would be. Somehow he had always known, from the moment Gollum had mentioned a hidden way, a secret way into Mordor, that it would come to this: this hole in a rock face that stank of -- well, he wouldn't like to say. "Some beastly hole of the Orcs, I'll warrant," he said, "with a hundred years of their filth in it."

Frodo looked at him and smiled. It was not much of a smile, to tell the truth, just the faintest upcurving of the lips in a grimy face, a face lined with weariness from their long and desperate journey. But the smile let Sam know once more what he had known in the Shire and had come to know again and again on this trail of horror: that he would follow Frodo anywhere, that he would do anything Frodo asked and a great deal that Frodo wouldn't ask as well. Even follow him into this dark and stinking hole.

Frodo in the dark. Sam shuddered to think of it. Surely his master could be spared this somehow? And Sam wondered for the hundredth time whether Frodo had been the Brandybuck lad who had almost died in the cellars of Brandy Hall so long ago. This question had been the first thing in Sam's mind when he had first seen Frodo, a quiet and grief-stricken orphan standing uncertain in the doorway of the Bag End parlor. Sam had never dared ask about the cellar incident, but through the years had found himself protecting his master from the dark as if the tale had indeed been Frodo's own. No, sir, you just sit; I'll get those taters out of the second cellar. No, Mr. Frodo, don't you be stirring out on a dark night like this, I'll fetch the twine from the tool shed. Frodo would protest but would generally sit back and allow himself to be looked after -- although his bemused half-smile would make Sam's heart turn over, as it did now, when looking after Frodo involved dangers that Sam could not even imagine.

So when Frodo gave him that faint smile now, as they paused before this last wall of rock that stood between them and Mordor, Sam tried to look as stalwart and unshakable as he had been in the face of Bag End's second cellar. And he reminded himself as always that Frodo's smile meant nothing, nothing at all, except perhaps that Frodo was for the moment not entirely discontent. That was enough for Sam. He had learned over the years to make do with little blessings like that. He expected nothing more, and had learned to live with it. Like this hole in the rock, it was the only way.

But Frodo did something that surprised Sam so much he almost forgot the dreadful place where they were about to go. Frodo reached out and touched him – just the faintest brush of his fingers across the back of Sam's hand, but the touch made Sam go hot and cold at once, as if he had a fever. "Orcs or no," Frodo said, and there was an apology in his voice and a hint of something else, "if it's the only way, we must take it."

Sam nodded, too paralyzed to do anything but look at him. And there they stood, silent, until a hissing sound reminded them of their companion. Sam whipped his head around to look at the wretched creature crouched in the entrance to the hole like some enormous pale spider. Gollum: from the half-light of the entrance his eyes gleamed and darted back and forth as he glared at them suspiciously.

How Sam hated those eyes, always watching them, staring hungrily at Frodo whenever Gollum thought no one was looking. Those eyes were so unnaturally big and bright: round as marbles, luminous as the moon, blue as . . . blue as .. Sam didn't know what the color reminded him of. Or rather he did, but the comparison made him feel sick to his stomach. He looked back at Frodo. But for once this gave him no pleasure: Frodo's gaze was locked with Gollum's in one of those moments of strange communion between them that Sam could never understand. Those moments frightened him, in their way, more than the terrible winged creatures that now and then screamed across the smoke-filled sky.

With an incomprehensible muttering Gollum lowered his gaze at last and turned without a word into the darkness, making his way in that strange loping half-crawl of his and not once looking back to see if the hobbits followed.

Sam could feel Frodo sigh next to him as if he had just put down a great weight. But as Frodo caught Sam's eye his smile returned, and he murmured, too low for their companion to hear, "You don't like the dark, do you, Sam?"

"I . . . " Sam could not think of a word to say. To lie to Frodo would be unthinkable. So would telling the truth. For a moment he occupied himself with adjusting the straps on his pack. "I can manage it well enough, sir."

There it was again, the feel of Frodo's fingers on the back of his hand, just for a second, as if a butterfly had flown from a midsummer's day in the Shire and brushed Sam with its wings. "I know, Sam," Frodo said quietly, without saying just what it was that he knew. "And I'm so sorry."

"Don't you be sorry, sir," Sam said gruffly. He shouldered his pack and wondering how in Middle-earth Frodo knew how he felt about the dark. "Now we'd best be following that Gol -- that Sméagol, sir, if we're not to be left behind."

"As you say." With a slight grimace Frodo turned toward the dark entrance, and Sam's stomach twisted to see him brace himself for yet another danger. But the expression vanished almost at once from Frodo's face, so completely that Sam wondered if he had imagined the fear that for an instant had seemed so plain. But Sam would not ask, nor would he offer comfort when the offer might make matters worse. If Frodo wished to bear their ordeal without complaint, then Sam would have to bear to see him try.

When at last they were ready they took a deep breath and passed inside.

Look at him, some voice in Sam's head commanded, look at him while there is still light. Startled by this strange sense of urgency, Sam looked at Frodo's drawn face as if he were seeing it for the last time. While they were still close to the cave's entrance Sam could make out the pale skin. The soft tangled mass of Frodo's curls. The line of his profile, which Sam knew better than the line of the horizon seen from Bagshot Row. The delicate nostrils, flaring slightly as the stuffiness of the cave nearly smothered them. The tender curve of his lips, for they had indeed curved upward again, and Sam realized that Frodo was smiling at him, even here, one last time before all smiles would vanish. And of course the eyes, the light of Frodo's eyes, which proved to be the last thing Sam could see as the darkness closed in: one final glint of blue that made the voice in Sam's head scream don't forget, Sam Gamgee, never forget that now. But then even this last bit of light was extinguished and Frodo was gone. Sam was lost in a darkness so total that he felt as if his own eyes had been put out, and perhaps some part of his soul as well. No, he thought. No.

But it was the only way.

Your eyes will get used to the dark. That was what his mam had said when Sam was four, and as Sam grew older he found that often as not it proved true. Sam would think there was no light at all in the cellar, or on a dark night when thick clouds covered the sky like a shroud. But there was light enough in the world, usually, to see by, if you looked hard enough and long enough. In the root cellar there might be the light from the kitchen, floating through the open door like the echo of distant laughter. And outdoors there was always moonlight or starlight somewhere, however far away or hidden it might be. In Bag End, even in the cellars that burrowed to the heart of the Hill, there seemed to be some light always, from somewhere, even if no lamp or candle was lit and the last ember of the parlor fire had died. In his dreamier moments Sam half-fancied that the light somehow came from Frodo, lying asleep in his bed like a second sun that infused every corner of the smial with a gentle pale radiance. And Sam would laugh at his own odd fancies, but inside himself he knew: he is all the light I need to see by.

And Sam had never needed that light more than here, for here was not just the absence of light but the presence of darkness. The very idea of light was dwindling in Sam's mind to some rumor he'd heard long ago. Instead of getting used to the dark Sam hated it more with every step he took.

Frodo, he thought, and everything he had ever wanted in his life would have been spoken in that single word. But he said nothing. There were other things to worry about, he told himself severely, besides fear and heartache and longing. There was the simple business of finding their way through the passage, and they'd best take care of that. By silent consent they separated and each of them trailed his fingers along one of the smooth cold walls of the passage. While that made it less likely that they would lose their way, it meant also that they were lost to each other, too far apart to touch.

The darkness was almost palpable, something thick and slimy that wrapped itself around Sam's arms and legs and mouth and eyes. It closed in slowly, squeezing him, tighter and ever tighter, until every breath was pain.

With a rising sense of panic Sam poured all his soul into the simple act of listening, and at first that almost took the place of sight. He could hear footfalls; his own, certainly, but Frodo's too, even though Frodo moved more quietly even than most hobbits. And Sam could hear breathing. His own was harsh and labored. Frodo's was softer but still uneven, its rhythm a response not to their endless steady trudging but to something less regular and more dangerous, to some feeling, perhaps, to the ebb and flow of a fear that he struggled unsuccessfully to suppress.

And the sound of that breathing became a connection between them. It was a communion more intimate in its way than speech. Every little gasp and sigh told Sam something: now he is afraid, now he is calmer, now he is afraid again. Sam marveled that this sound, this simple sound of air entering and leaving Frodo's lungs could tell him so much more than years of their lives in the Shire. There they had been together so often, so casually. Yet in a way they had remained as far apart as if Frodo had always been smiling in the sunshine of the Bag End garden, and Sam had always been suffocating here in this dark forsaken place.

But even this last contact with Frodo gradually began to slip away as they climbed further and further into the heart of the mountain, for something about the heaviness of the air and the unrelenting darkness seemed not just to blind Sam but to deafen him as well. Sound and even feeling became muffled, and Frodo's breathing became harder and harder to hear, until Sam didn't think he could hear it at all.

Frodo. He longed to say it, he would -- but he wouldn't, he couldn't . . . and then events put Sam out of his misery, for the smooth wall abruptly dropped away beneath his fingers, and his right hand waggled against empty air. Now he had to speak. "Mr. Frodo," he whispered.

"Sam?" The whisper was muffled and strained, somehow, but it was Frodo, and Sam almost cried for joy. So Frodo had not been a dream after all.

"There's more than one passage here," he whispered with an effort: it seemed hard to make his breath give any sound. "It's as orc-like a place as ever there could be!"

Frodo sighed, and Sam knew, though he did not know how he knew, that Frodo was shuddering. "We cannot choose our road, Sam," Frodo said, "I believe it has chosen us."

"Yes, sir, I know," Sam said hastily. He had not meant to burden Frodo with his fear. "It's the only way."

They continued, and Sam was almost glad (though he knew he should not be) when another passage branched off, for that meant that one or the other of them could speak, Frodo on the left or Sam on the right. But after a time they came to a part of that evil place where there seemed to be no branching passages on either side, so even Frodo's whispers were gone. That soft whisper in the dark was all that remained of Frodo, and Frodo was all that remained of the world they had left behind -- when? How long had they been traveling? Hours? Days?

Fear gathered in Sam's chest like some clawed animal that clung to him and tore at his heart. Sam could barely lift his feet to take the next step, and yet the next step had to be taken. Was it really dark, Sam found himself wondering, or was there no such thing as light? He tried to remember the green hills of the Shire, his home in Bagshot Row, the old Mill by the Water, but although he could remember the words for these things no picture of them would come to mind. As the darkness thickened, and with it the peculiar, stuffy smell that seemed part and parcel of it, even the image of Frodo's face began to fade, though Sam had always thought he would lose his soul before he ever forgot it.

Sam struggled against a feeling that the darkness had not merely hidden Frodo but snuffed him out of existence: unmade him, or perhaps remade the world in a nightmare image in which Frodo had never been. Is he there? Sam wondered. Is he really there? And suddenly Sam was quite sure that he was alone.

Sam still moved his arms and legs. He still walked. But now there was only the dark. And Sam knew no reason why he should walk any further. He could see no reason why he should not simply lie down and die.

But he did not. Instead he abandoned the wall he had been following with his fingers; he crossed the passage with his left hand outstretched, reaching for something. At this point Sam could not articulate to himself what he was reaching for. He did not seek anything, for he could no longer imagine anything to seek. His movement was a pure instinct, like a dying man in his final agony who turns his face dully toward a light.

His hand closed on something solid, and he clung to it, and it returned his grip with a warm firm pressure. And Sam's awareness came back in a rush, for the pressure came from Frodo's hand. "Frodo," he gasped, and then he stopped, for he knew he had done something wrong, though he wasn't quite sure what it was. But it didn't matter, for Frodo's hand was light, it was life. It was the living breathing world wrapped in soft skin and a warm palm, and in strong fingers that intertwined fiercely with his own.

Please, Frodo, thought Sam. Please don't let me go. Please never let me go.

And Frodo didn't. "Sam," came a soft sigh out of the darkness.

They walked on, holding hands. They might miss a turn with neither of them touching the right-hand wall, but Sam did not return to the other side; he could not separate himself from Frodo now if his life depended on it. For Frodo alone made it possible to walk in the dark, in the thick heavy air, in the stench that was almost unbearable. If Sam lost the touch of that hand . . .Sam could not think of what would happen. The thought made his mind just stop.

Then the hand almost jerked away from him as Frodo stumbled into some gap on the left side. Sam lurched and fell forwards, fearing above all things that he would lose Frodo altogether, but Frodo did not let him go. "Up," Frodo said in a hoarse breath without voice. He pulled Sam to his feet and they balanced precariously against each other. Sam would not lose Frodo after all. "It all comes from here," Frodo gasped in his ear, "the stench and the peril. Now for it! Quick!"

Every instinct Sam possessed told him that Frodo was right, that something was there in that horrible gap in the rock and that they had to escape it at all costs. Sam forced his limbs to move: one step, two steps, three steps -- at last six steps. Then it became easier to move; as if in passing that dreadful gap they had escaped the worst of an unseen lurking menace. They struggled on, still hand in hand.

But almost at once there was a new difficulty. The tunnel forked; they did not know the way, and Gollum was long gone. They felt their way down one passage, reaching forward blindly with their free hands, but soon their questing fingers encountered a pile of great stones and loose rubble blocking the path before them. "The tunnel has collapsed," Frodo whispered -- a thin panicky whisper, as if fear were tearing the sound from his lungs. Sam could feel Frodo's hand grow cold and sweaty, like ice that had fallen into fire, and Frodo gripped his hand so hard that it hurt. Now he is afraid, Sam thought, now at last he is truly afraid. What if the other passage was blocked as well? What if they became trapped -- aye, trapped like the Brandybuck lad, trapped in the dark with that thing --whatever it was -- that they both had felt in the gap behind them?

Frodo said nothing of what must surely have been going through his mind, but Sam could feel him shaking. Still gripping Sam's hand, so hard now that Sam felt his bones might break, Frodo said, "This cannot be the way." Frodo took a deep shaky breath and gagged; the air in the passage was foul with the reek of the thing that lurked in this dreadful place. Sam wordlessly put an arm around Frodo's shoulders as he recovered; eventually the convulsions ceased. "Right or wrong," Frodo whispered at last, "we must take the other."

They stumbled their way back to the other passage, but now they were closer to the gap where they had almost fallen. Sam could feel his courage fail, and Frodo was shaking so hard that Sam didn't know how he could still stand. With a low moan of fear Frodo fell into his arms and they both staggered back to the wall where the tunnel forked, Sam leaning against it and Frodo leaning against him.

"Frodo," Sam whispered, and he closed his arms reflexively around the trembling warm body so close to him. Something soft touched his face: Frodo's hair, for with a strangled sob Frodo buried his face in Sam's shoulder and clung to him as if they staggered on the edge of a precipice. Sam could feel Frodo's chest rise and fall in harsh choking gasps, each breath warm and damp against Sam's neck. He pulled Frodo closer with one arm and ran the other up and down his back, taking comfort himself in the feel of the elven cloak and the solid body beneath it. Something wet touched the skin of his throat, and he thought, No, not tears, he should never cry, not my Frodo. He turned his head into Frodo's curls; he could feel the tip of Frodo's ear beneath his lips. And so they stood entwined, rocking gently against each other, utterly unable to go on.

"Sam." Frodo's voice was a whisper almost completely muffled against Sam's shoulder: Sam felt it more than he heard it.

"Frodo?" he whispered in return.

Silence, and dark, but oddly the tunnel's foul stench had passed, or seemed to have, for as Sam inhaled he could smell nothing but Frodo's hair, Frodo's skin. It was a half-sweet, half-spicy smell he had just managed to catch a thousand times before, when he had brushed against Frodo in the hall of Bag End, or when Frodo had come smiling into the garden and tried to help him bind up the rose bushes to prepare for a summer storm. Sam closed his eyes and flexed his fingers against Frodo's back and breathed, breathed the scent of the Shire, of home, of everything he had ever loved.

"Sam," came the whisper, the soft lips moving against him, "I'm so glad you're here."

"You hush now," Sam said, senselessly but urgently. "Hush."

Another gasp, something between a laugh and a sob. "Oh Sam," -- oh, but those lips were warm -- "Sam, when I was a lad -- did I ever tell you this? -- when I was just a lad I was -- I was --" He stopped.

" -- trapped," said Sam, "trapped in a cellar at Brandy Hall, aye, I've heard the tale." Sam knew, he was quite sure of it now. He supposed he always had known. It had been enough to look at Frodo whenever Frodo had glanced into one of Bag End's cellars, whenever he'd smiled abashedly and let Sam fetch a bag of flour from a dark high shelf in the back. Sam now felt that he had known this even in the Shire, and known it, too, as they stood before the entrance to this foul place and he watched Frodo gather his courage to face the dark.

More silence. He felt Frodo take a long, slow breath against him, felt Frodo breathe in his scent as hungrily as he was breathing in Frodo's. Then came the whisper: "I was so afraid . . . "

"I know . . ."

"I wanted to die. I was alone . . ."

"Hush now," Sam said. "You just hush now. You're not alone any more. Your Sam's here."

"Yes. Yes. Oh Sam, please -- "

And then from the dark behind Frodo there came a sound, startling and horrible in the heavy padded silence: a gurgling, bubbling noise and a long venomous hiss. They both gasped, and Sam could feel Frodo's entire body jerk instinctively forward, away from the sound, clinging to Sam as tightly as if he wanted their bodies to merge into one. Still as stones they stood, waiting for they did not know what.

We're going to die, Sam thought. Frodo is going to die here. And as he stood, darkness about him and blackness of despair in his heart, he heard another sound: "Sam . . . " The curls that trembled against Sam's mouth and nose now moved as Frodo's head shifted, and the warm breath that Sam had felt against his neck now fell moist and gentle on his lips, like the sweet humid air of an August dawn in the Westfarthing, when the morning sun first burns on tall grass and on tangled wild roses heavy with dew. We're going to die -- but not yet, not yet. Not yet: for Frodo was here in his arms; and not yet: for Sam could feel Frodo's heart pounding against his chest; and not yet: for they still breathed the pure golden air of midsummer from each other's mouths; now, now, in this one tiny sliver of perfect time . . .

Their lips touched, and there was nothing in the world now but their two beating hearts, solid and sure and strong against each other: stronger than darkness.

And it seemed to Sam that he saw a light: a light in his mind, almost unbearably bright at first, as a sun-ray to the eyes of one long hidden in a windowless pit. Frodo, he thought, you are all the light I need to see by, a light to me in dark places, a light when all other lights go out.

And he opened his eyes and saw blue.

Blue eyes before him, laughing and happy -- how? How in the name of all that was good? For there was light. Light from somewhere, from Frodo, as if all of Sam's strange fancies had become the sober truth. Sam looked down at Frodo in wonder, and there at his master's breast blazed something pure and clear. For a bewildered instant Sam thought he was seeing Frodo's soul, shining before him on this earth as plain as day, until suddenly he knew --

"Master, master!" cried Sam, and life and urgency were back in his voice. "The Lady's gift! The star-glass!"

"The star-glass?" murmured Frodo, as one answering out of sleep, hardly comprehending. "Why yes! Why had I forgotten it?" Slowly his hand went to the light at his bosom, and he held aloft the Phial of Galadriel.

Then Frodo released Sam and turned to face the danger. And something in Sam cried no, no, don't let him go, don't you ever let him go again. But it was too late. They touched no more. Frodo was turning away, holding in his hand a pure light, a light given to him long ago but dormant until now, when it had kindled and grown between them.

But the light broke and was fragmented on the many-faceted eyes of the thing that had been waiting for them in the dark. The thing that Sam had known – had always known -- would be there.

And that is what Sam would remember all the days of his life. That is what would poison his sleep and wake him years later, in the heart of the Shire, as he lay by the side of a lass who deserved better than what he could give. For there in the dark Frodo's every soft gasp, every cry, every heartbeat, every murmured yes and please and oh, Sam -- everything that shattered Sam's heart and made it whole again -- everything, all of it had been heard, had been gloated over with cold pleasure by the creature lurking in that foul place. And that creature took his Frodo from him. It seized the body Sam had held; it sank its fangs in the flesh Sam had caressed; it gagged the soft warm lips he had kissed.

Oh, he got Frodo back eventually, though at the cost of blood and tears, a cost he paid gladly. But when he fought his way through the prison of the Orcs, something was gone from the naked shivering creature that he finally found: some crucial light had died. As Sam gently laid his hand on that torn and filthy flesh, he almost jerked it away when Frodo's eyes opened and looked into his own. He almost hated those eyes: round as marbles, luminous as the moon, blue as . . . blue as . . No. He would not think about those eyes, and how they had changed, no matter how many times their image woke him in the night.

In years to come Sam would rise from his bed at Bag End, leaving Rosie wakeful and silent, and he would walk down the dark hallway to the parlor and sit by the ashes of the long-dead fire. On some nights moonlight and starlight would shine through the window, but on other nights the clouds obscured them. Those were the nights Sam liked best, the nights when he came to the parlor alone, pulled by an instinct and a need that he would have to unmake himself to deny. For it was dark, and there in the dark he saw once more a gangly young Brandybuck cousin pause uncertain in the parlor door of his new home. He saw once more this half-grown lad, awkward but beautiful, who met the startled eyes of a six-year-old Sam, and said what have we here? with a smile that lit Sam's soul like the sun sparkling on the Water on the first warm day of Spring.

But now that light was gone, gone forever beyond the Sea. And Sam sat in the dark and cried. And he longed for a place that was darker still, and for the light of the single kiss that would just have to last him a lifetime.
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