It was the middle of the night when Sam woke to the soft but distinct and all-too familiar sound of Frodo whimpering in his sleep. Then, Frodo cried out, "No!"
Sam got up and went into the adjoining room.
Frodo was not awake himself, but enough moonlight came in through the window over the bed for Sam to see that his eyes were wide open and glassy. His hands were out, shoving to push away some unseen foe.
Sam sat down at the edge of the bed. Capturing Frodo by the wrists, he spoke softly, but urgently. "Frodo, wake up!"
This was why he would have come to live at Bag End even if he didn't love Frodo as much as he did: What would happen if Frodo screamed in the dark, and no one was there to come to him?
"Can't you hear me?" He gave Frodo a shake. "Please, wake up!"
"Right here." Frodo's eyes were still wide and unfocused; Sam let go of his wrists and took his head between both hands, forcing Frodo to look at him.
At last, Frodo's eyes found his. "Oh, Sam..." he sobbed, and sank into his arms. "It's gone!"
Sam would be glad of that, if the loss wasn't tearing Frodo apart. He cradled Frodo, resting his cheek atop Frodo's head as he rocked him like a child. "There now, my dear," he murmured. "It's all right. It's past now. You're safely out of it."
"Sometimes," Frodo said, muffled against his chest, "I'm afraid I won't ever be out of it."
Sam didn't like to admit it, but he was afraid of this too. As bad as these nightmares were, they were nothing to the truly terrifying fits Frodo had suffered on the first anniversaries of his injury at Weathertop and of the Ring's destruction. On the latter day, he'd lain abed weeping and moaning, "It's lost! It's lost forever!" in such a fearful state that nothing Sam could say or do would bring him around. Frodo was fine again the next day, but the incident remained frighteningly vivid in Sam's mind. What if the same thing happened next year, or the year after that? For how long would it continue? Would Frodo ever be free of the taint of that evil?
At a knock on the door, Sam started guiltily, suddenly mindful that they were not alone. There was a houseful of hobbits around them, Frodo's relations. Reluctantly, he set Frodo down and went to the door.
When he opened it, he found himself faced with the Mistress of the Hall in her nightshift and dressing gown.
"Is Frodo all right?" Esmeralda asked. "I heard him cry out." She raised her candlestick to cast some light into the dark room behind Sam and find Frodo curled on the bed with his head in his arms.
"He's all right, Missus Brandybuck," Sam hastened to assure her. "He's just had a bad dream, remembering how he hurt his hand. I'll take care of him, ma'am, don't you worry. I've been through this with him plenty of times, and I know what to do."
For the first time since he'd entered the Hall, Esmeralda considered him, as if she were only now aware of his existence. "What is your name, lad?"
"Samwise Gamgee, ma'am."
Her expression brightened. "Why, you're the 'Sam' that Merry and Pippin speak of so often, aren't you? You went with them on their adventure with Frodo?"
"Yes'm, and I look after Mr. Frodo now we're home again. 'Tis my work, you might say."
"Frodo isn't well, is he?" she asked in a lowered voice.
Normally, Sam's fierce sense of loyalty kept him from discussing Frodo's health with outsiders--but while Esmeralda Brandybuck was a stranger to him, she was the nearest Frodo had to a mother. Hadn't Frodo said so often enough? If anybody had a right to know, she did.
"No, Missus Brandybuck," Sam told her in an equally low and confidential tone. "He's been poorly since before we came home."
Esmeralda nodded solemnly. "I was afraid of that. The poor, dear boy looked so pale and weary when he arrived yesterday, and this recent family misfortune has been so very distressing for us all. I'll leave you to care for him. If you need anything, please don't hesitate to call upon me." Other members of the family who slept nearby had come out into the hallway, murmuring in confusion and concern; as she turned away from Frodo's door, Esmeralda spoke to them softly, told them, "It's nothing. Only a bad dream," and shepherded them back to their rooms.
Sam shut the door and returned to Frodo. "Do you want me to sleep here with you the rest of the night?"
When Sam climbed into bed, Frodo cuddled close, head tucked against Sam's collar and legs drawn up. Sam stroked down his back in long, slow sweeps to comfort him.
"All the time we were on the quest," Frodo said after awhile, "I thought of the Shire as if it were the one place in the world where there were never any troubles. But I was wrong. There are troubles here too. In some ways, it's worse, because this is home."
"You've worn yourself out with all this running about and fretting after Mr. Merry," Sam told him. "You were pushing too hard--I was worried you would. And then I didn't help you any, saying what I did about your family. I should've kept my mouth shut."
"No, Sam, you only said what was already in my mind. That's why I snapped and flew at you the way I did. I'm sorry." Frodo snuggled closer. "I blame myself. I didn't think things through. When I started looking into this, I only meant to help Merry. I didn't consider how the rest of the Brandybucks might be involved. And yet, when the clues began to point toward them, I found myself looking at Merimas, Dodi, even Melly, as possible murderers! I didn't want to have such awful thoughts about my own cousins--but I am. I have from the first. I can't help it."
"And it's brought on one of your bad spells. Was it the same dream as before?"
"Yes, except that it's not a dream," Frodo answered. "You know that as well as I do. It's my worst memory."
Sam felt a stab of dread in his heart at these words. "I thought you didn't remember what happened there in Mordor at the very end?"
"I don't, not all of it. It's all in bits and pieces. Flashes of horrible things come back to me from out of the dark." Frodo lifted his head. "You've never been seriously ill, have you, Sam? Never been feverish, delirious, out of your head with pain and fear?"
"No." In fact, Sam had never been sick a day in his life.
"It was like that after I was wounded the first time at Weathertop. What I recall of those days, before I awoke in Rivendell, seems like a strange and terrible fever-dream, not something that actually happened to me. If I didn't have the scar and that old ache in my shoulder, I might almost believe it didn't happen. It's the same when I try to remember what I did in Mordor after I passed into shadow. It seems like a bad dream... and it returns to me in just that way."
Frodo's nightshirt had ridden up and he had twisted around in Sam's arms until Sam found it easier to stroke his bare flank rather than down his back. As Sam's hand moved over Frodo's thigh, Frodo quickly covered it with his own; he raised his head, stretching up for a kiss. Mouth sought mouth and, as they met, Frodo led Sam's hand up beneath his nightshirt, around to the small of his back, and wrapped his leg around Sam's hip. Then, still kissing, he reached under Sam's nightshirt to grab him by the haunches and bring them snugly up against each other.
Sam was surprised that Frodo would be in the mood for this so soon after waking from a nightmare, but if it was what he needed in the way of comfort--what would help him to forget again--then Sam was ready to give it.
He unfastened the row of tiny carved-bone buttons that ran down the front of Frodo's nightshirt, then pressed him to the mattress and lowered his head to place a kiss on the bared skin between the parted folds of cloth. Frodo's hands tangled in his hair, guiding him as he nuzzled upwards from chest to throat; when he nibbled on the lobe of one ear, Frodo threw back his head and let out a cry. Sam quickly lay a finger over his lips.
"Hush, love," he whispered. "We've got to be quiet. Somebody might hear."
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