There were no trees on the seashore, of course; but in the area beyond the sands, where two ponies stood tethered, cropping grass, the leaves blazed gold.
A small grey-cloaked figure stood rigid, his only movement due to his quickening breath, as a grey ship slipped into shore. To his eyes, the sole occupant was another small figure, likewise grey-cloaked, gazing around with an air of equal parts bewilderment and unquenchable joy.
Until his eyes fell on the figure standing in the twilight, half-hidden in the shadows.
He stood still as stone, until shaken from his near-trance by the gentle bump as the ship drew up to the harbour. He waited expectantly as the gangplank was put down, started to walk down it, then stood stock-still, gazing at the equally-still figure on the shore.
Stock-still, that is, until the one on the shore held out his arms.
Then the other fairly flew down the gangplank into his arms, and for a while, above the susurrus of the waves and the creaking of the sails and timbers as the ship drew up its gangplank and drew away again, the only sound was quiet weeping.
Eventually Sam lifted his head from Frodo's shoulder, dashing his tears away from his eyes. "Come now, this won't do. We shouldn't be crying now you're back." He didn't stop rocking Frodo gently in his arms, though.
"Maybe we didn't cry enough when I left," said Frodo, nevertheless wiping his own tears away.
"We did so cry," returned Sam.
"Not as much as we needed to," argued Frodo.
"If it was a matter of needing to, I'd've wept from then until now." Then, seeing Frodo wince, he said gently, "But there now. You're back, that's the main thing."
"Yes, dear Sam," said Frodo softly, wiping away fresh tears from beneath Sam's eyes, then his own. "I am back."
A moment later he gasped, then laughed, as he was crushed in Sam's exuberant embrace. Wrapping his arms around Sam in turn, his fingers suddenly clenched in the folds of Sam's cloak as Sam tilted his head and kissed him.
Their lips had just begun to soften and cling when Sam broke away, then held out a hand, smiling a smile that Frodo had never seen before.
"'Come now,'" Sam quoted softly, "'Ride with me.'"
Frodo looked at him with startlement, then his own slow smile crept across his face and he curled his fingers around the hand extended to him.
"I can think of nothing I'd rather do," he said, his voice quiet but full of joy.
As they walked from the quay, then climbed from the sand to the grass, Frodo halted in amazement as both ponies lifted their heads and whinnied a welcome. "That's never -- ?" he exclaimed.
"Yes it is," said Sam,. "My Bill and your Strider. Still with us."
"But are they all right to be ridden?" asked Frodo, laughing softly as he patted the ponies, who were nuzzling him in welcome.
"If we take it slow. Which we can and will. Harvest's over, Tolman's acting as Deputy, and Rose and the childer aren't expecting me back for -- oh, the better part of a month."
"A month? What is the date?"
"Guess," said Sam with a quiet smile of pride.
"Not October 6?"
The smile fell off Sam's face and he shook his head. "No, not yet."
"Oh, Sam," said Frodo, lifting his hand from the ponies to stroke Sam's hair back from his forehead. "Then --?"
"Guess again," said Sam, his face still solemn even though he turned his cheek into Frodo's stroking hand.
Frodo frowned in thought, then smiled. "Our -- sorry, my -- birthday?"
"Yes," said Sam. His eyes misting at the thought of Bilbo, he still nevertheless reached out to embrace Frodo, who stood there half in a trance, his brow furrowed in thought, his fingers absently brushing the curls off Sam's face. "What is it, Frodo?" His voice cracked on the name, the first time he'd spoken it since Frodo had set foot on the shores of Middle-Earth.
"Odd," said Frodo absently, his gaze seeming to stare through Sam. "I know Bilbo is ... dead," his voice quavered on the last word, and Sam's hands went up to clasp his. "But I barely remember how. Or anything else. It's in my mind, but when I try to remember... it's like a fading dream."
"You mean you don't remember anything, s-Frodo?" asked Sam, instantly concerned.
"I can remember everything before," Frodo reassured him. "But nothing since I sailed. Well -- not quite. If I don't think of it, it's all there, but if I try and remember something..." He shrugged. "Gone."
Sam squeezed his fingers reassuringly. "Just so long as you're back, Frodo. Just so long as you're back."
"Yes, dear Sam," said Frodo, stroking over the backs of Sam's hands with his thumbs. "I am back."
Brown eyes met slate, held; until both hobbits found themselves blushing, and looked away. "So," said Frodo, "do we ride on tonight or make camp here?"
"I thought we'd stay here a few days," said Sam. "I want to see if I can get the sound of the waves out of my heart."
"Oh, Sam," said Frodo, sadly looking at him. "But I'd be happy if I could get it out of my dreams."
"You dreamt of it? I mean, since the Ring?" asked Sam.
"No Sam. Before. Long, long before."
Sam said nothing, but shivered.
"So," said Sam later that evening, as they sat around a fire of driftwood. "What's this about teaching me to swim? Or is it too cold?"
"It's mild for September, but a lake or a river might be best to start," said Frodo absently, looking up into the sky. Then, in a puzzled voice as his full attention returned to Sam, "Swim?"
"I see what you mean," said Sam.
"About you forgetting. You said in your letters that if you ever saw me again you'd teach me to swim."
"I'll show you the letter when we get back," said Sam. Then, "How much do you remember, Mr. Frodo?"
"That I said to drop the Mister for a start," said Frodo severely.
"Well it's easier in letters than in speech."
"Well, practice will remedy that. But we've come too far and been through too much for us to stand on ceremony."
"You want me to practice using your name?"
"Without the mister, yes. But if you call me Mr. Frodo," said Frodo, with a flash of his old humour, "I shall have to call you Mayor Samwise."
Sam gave him a startled look, then a wicked smile spread across his face and he began singing Frodo's name, repeatedly, in time to an old tune.
Frodo howled laughing and threw an apple at him, which Sam expertly fielded.
"So," said Sam, after a brief tussle, when they were again seated side by side, "what else do you remember?"
"That Bilbo is dead," said Frodo, musingly. "That I am not healed. That I never will be healed apart from you."
"Oh, Frodo," said Sam, taking Frodo's hand in his and caressing it, stroking the fingers, especially the finger that had been missing.
"And that my finger had grown back," added Frodo, entwining his fingers with Sam's.
"I never heard of no finger growing back," said Sam musingly.
"Nor I, dear Sam. Nor I."
"Maybe you're healed more than you thought," said Sam.
"We'll see," said Frodo quietly, squeezing Sam's hand, then smiling as Sam laced his fingers with his and squeezed in return.
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Back To Me by Timberwolf
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Story notes: First story in the 'Pagan Shire' series, inspired by (and heavily drawing on) "Letters over the Sea" -- found at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/tolkien_slash/files/Rescue%20Frodo/lettersoverthesea.html (if you're on tolkien_slash) or please e-mail me if you want a copy.
Otherwise, this series starts in late September SR 1428. It's primarily book-based, but elements of the movie(s) do creep in.
Thanks to Bron DuWynn for brainstorming this with me in the early days, Zig for betaing, general handholding and 'so when are you going to post it?' emails.
'Pagan Shire' series: Back to Me, In the Swimm, In the Firelight, , Might I But Moor, 'Twas But a Dream of Thee.
Inspired by "Letters over the Sea".