"Of course, any friend of Frodo's is welcome in our house," said Eglantine doubtfully once Frodo had introduced Sam to the party assembled for dinner, "but I don't know where we'll find room for another guest. There's not a bed to spare, even in the servants' quarters. Perhaps the grooms' loft at the stable..."
"Don't be ridiculous," said Esmeralda. "We must have him here. What about Uncle Archambalt's room? I thought he'd gone."
"He did," Eglantine answered, "but the room isn't fit for anyone to sleep in. The maids have been scrubbing the floor all day. Uncle Archambalt..." she paused delicately and looked disgusted, "he chews his pipeweed rather than smoke it, and spits at the fire. His aim isn't always accurate."
"Sam doesn't have to sleep there. He can share with me," Pippin offered. "I've plenty of room."
Esmeralda smiled. "There, that's settled then."
Even though he had arrived in time for dinner, Sam hadn't expected to be asked to sit at the Thain's table among the very best people in Shire society. When he'd visited Brandy Hall in the spring, he had acted as Frodo's servant and had spent most of his time with the Hall staff; if the Brandybucks had been aware of his presence in their household, it was as 'that boy who looks after Frodo.' Now, he was seen as a well-regarded assistant to Frodo in all his investigations, who had come from Hobbiton specially to be of help in solving this murder. They had no idea what he could do, but he was of great interest to everyone at the table, and every one of them, even the Thain, had questions about his work with Frodo. Sam, hastily washed and brushed and wearing a borrowed broadcloth jacket that was too tight at the shoulders, was gruffly shy as he answered, and Frodo thought he'd never been more adorable.
He was giddy with happiness, so delighted was he that Sam was here. Each time he spoke Sam's praises, or checked an impulse to lay his hand on Sam's arm, he knew that he was behaving foolishly, obviously so for anyone who had the eyes to see it. If he didn't take control of himself, he would giggle like Ada! Merry and Pippin looked amused, and whenever Frodo caught Esmeralda's eye, she smiled at him with more gentle understanding.
Melilot watched him over the dinner too with increasing interest. When the party left the dinner table, some for the drawing room, some for their beds, she took Frodo by the arm to draw him aside and whispered: "You told me you were in love, Frodo, but you never said with whom. I could see it in your eyes tonight, the way you looked at him." She glanced up toward the far end of the hallway, where Sam was accompanying Pippin up the sharply slanted tunnel to his room; Sam had noticed that the two had stepped aside, and was looking back at them curiously. "I never guessed. You're not in the least like Merry."
"I meant to tell you earlier this evening," Frodo tried to explain. "I thought it was best, after the way Evvy's behaved, for you to have the truth. I didn't want to lie to you."
"I see. Thank you." She studied his face thoughtfully before she asked, "That was one of the 'few things I ought to know' about you. What else were you going to say, Frodo? I stopped you before, but I'd like to hear it now if you still want to tell me."
Why not tell her? It would be easier now that he knew she wasn't going to accept. "You know that I'm not well," he said. "I haven't been since I came home."
She nodded solemnly. "Something horrible happened to you out in the Big Folks' world. Merry and Pippin told us their tales when they were in Buckland. They made it sound so marvelous and exciting, but it wasn't all fun, not for you. I can see that you were injured-" She glanced quickly down at his hand with the missing finger. "And I know you have nightmares. That night when you were last at Brandy Hall, you woke everyone with your screaming." Then she asked, as if dreading the answer, "Are you very ill?"
"I'm afraid so. It is very bad, and I think it will get worse before the end."
Tears welled in Melilot's eyes. "But, Frodo, why did you want me to know this? I mean, why especially tonight?"
"Oh, it was an idea I had," he admitted shyly. "A ridiculous idea. I thought that if Evvy was foolish enough not to marry you, and you didn't want to go home to Buckland, I could give you someplace to go to, another home. Mine. It wouldn't be what you were hoping to have with Evvy, but it's what I could offer."
"What about your friend? Wouldn't he mind?"
"He might, but he's getting married himself."
Her eyes were still glistening as she took his uninjured hand and squeezed it. Her voice was a little choked with emotion as she said, "I got a lot of things wrong tonight, Frodo, but I wasn't completely wrong: You are sweet." She kissed him for the third time that night. "I think you're the most wonderful, dearest boy I know."
Later that night, Frodo was in his room, pulling on his nightshirt in preparation for bed. Merry, who had not undressed yet, said, "You've been so good about leaving Pip and me when we wanted to be alone. We won't drive you out tonight. I was thinking of staying with Pippin in any case, but I'll be happier knowing I haven't left you alone." He grinned. "You wait here. I'll go." And he went out the window.
Frodo stood in the middle of the room, trembling in anticipation. A few minutes later, there was a tap on the window, and Sam came in. He did what he'd been aching to do since Sam had arrived--flung himself at his beloved and kissed him over and over, covering Sam's face with a flurry of swift, soft pecks. Sam tried to land some kisses of his own in return.
"I missed you terribly," Frodo murmured. "You've no idea how much."
"Oh, yes, I do!" Sam wrapped both arms around his waist to pick him up; Frodo laughed out loud giddily, joyfully, as his feet left the floor. He took Sam's head between both hands to deliver another more slow and passionate, deep kiss. This was all he wanted. How could he ever think of anybody else?
While they were kissing, he let one of his hands fall to Sam's chest to fumble at his shirt buttons. When he unfastened the top one, he bent his head to Sam's exposed collar to nuzzle, finding that ticklish spot in the hollow of his throat.
Sam let go of him with an astonished shout, then stood horrified as Frodo dropped, sprawling, onto the bed. "What if somebody hears us?" he whispered. "Who's in the next room?"
"It's only some of my cousins," Frodo assured him as he struggled to get out of his nightshirt. "If they hear anything, they'll think it's Merry and Pippin, unless they make more noise on the other side. Just in case..." he reached up to grab Sam by one brace-strap and pull him down, "we'd better be quiet."
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