A Bit of Cheering (by PSW)

Summary:  Rosie and Sam share a moment after the Hobbits return to the shire.
Category: Lord of the Rings
Genre: Fantasy
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  3501


 

 

The soup tasted just fine, thick with taters and chicken, mushrooms and a hint of onion.  Not enough onion for my liking, really, but of course the injured Hobbits that Papa brought home from the battle would be eating it in bed, and it couldn’t be too strong or it would burn their throats and sour their stomachs.  That wouldn’t do, not for such brave Hobbits as these.

A battle in Bywater.  Bywater. It would be beyond believing, except after all the Troubles lately—what with Pimple (Papa says I’m not to call him that, but Papa says it plenty) and the ruffians and that Sharkey fella, and with all the tearing up the trees and holes and gardens—probably just about nothing would surprise me right now.  Mr. Frodo says he was a wizard, that Sharkey, and I guess I believe that too, especially after what happened over at Bag Row this afternoon. I’m glad I didn’t know it before, because with everything going on I’ve been scared enough already. I’ve been trying that hard, but I don’t think I could have hid it anymore from Papa and Mama and the rest if I’d known that there was a wizard staying in Bag End and causing all this trouble.  Old Gandalf and his fireworks always seemed all right, no matter what Auntie Arnica used to say, but I think I’ve just about enough of wizards and Men both for a long while.

Mama put a stack of bowls by my elbow, then started setting out the trays with bread and tea.  Most everybody would just dish their own out of the kettle, but there were some as would be needing the food brought to them—the four injured Hobbits in the boys’ rooms, Mr. Frodo (who’d seemed right worn out but had still protested all the way as Mama’d shooed him back to her and Papa’s room), and Sam’s Gaffer, who was looking that much punier since I saw him a week back.  Ooo, those Men and their picks and shovels and flimsy board houses, not even taking care of those poor old folk they packed in there after tearing up their poor holes and …

“Rosie!”

“Sorry, Mama!”  I wiped up the soup I’d spilled on the hearth, and set the last bowl on a tray.

Thinking of Sam’s Gaffer got me to thinking about Samwise, of course, and I was glad we were standing by the cooking fire so that Mama wouldn’t notice the heat that sprang up into my face.  I peeked out into the great room as I gathered up the trays, and found him sitting in a corner by the fire. The boys were gathered around him, chattering away and firing questions left and right, but they didn’t seem to be waiting for answers and in truth, that was probably for the best because Sam really wasn’t looking too lively.  His eyes were half closed and his answers, when he gave them, were low enough that I couldn’t even hear his voice from across the room. He looked completely done in, and there was something about the way he sat there with his head down and his shoulders all slumped that made me take another look. I’ve known Samwise Gamgee since I was just a little lass, and spent half o’ my growing-up years following him around Hobbiton and Bywater (which I’d never admit out loud to any of my brothers, thank ya), and I could tell pretty well by now when something wasn’t right with him.

“You bring these to Hamfast and the Hobbits in Jolly and Nibs’ room, I’ll get the other two and Mr. Frodo.”  Mama started off and I followed, looking hard at Sam without letting him know it. I’d gotten a lot of good practice at that over the years, and he didn’t notice a thing.

Course, it didn’t seem to me like he was noticing much right now.

A lot had been going on these last days, and since Mr. Frodo and Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin had been in the thick of things, of course Samwise had too.  He’s a loyal one, is Sam Gamgee. He sticks. He’s not one to let any Hobbit in his care go it alone, not if he can help it. Which meant that he’d been facing down Shirriffs and fighting ruffians and sneaking his Gaffer away from those awful houses since the minute he got back to the Shire, without even a good pipe for comfort at the end of it.  (Those Men and their greedy, thieving ways.) Then, of course, there was all that time he was gone. Who knows what happened to them out there? Everyone talked the whole of last year about how no sensible Hobbit would go wandering off from the Shire, and that they were surely all dead. They all said it was just a shame how Mr. Bilbo had rubbed off on Mr. Frodo, and how Mr. Frodo had rubbed off on Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin, and that poor Sam had gotten caught up in it.  I guess I don’t know why anyone would want to go traipsing around out there either, but do I know that Sam Gamgee doesn’t get ‘caught up’ in anything he doesn’t want to be caught up in, and I never once thought they were dead. Not if Sam had any say in it. He’s got a lot of hobbit-sense, does that one.

All of that would surely be a good enough excuse to be looking like Sam did right now, but I couldn’t help being worried because he hadn’t been.  Least, not ‘til just recently.  When he first showed up at the farm, all skinny and travel-ruffled and wearin’ that outlandish mail shirt and lookin’ like the handsomest Hobbit I’d seen in maybe my whole entire life, there was nothin’ of this in his eyes.  There was anger and doggedness and hurry, but none of this … sad sort o’ blankness. When he brought his Gaffer to us later, and again after the battle (a battle, there was a battle in Bywater), he seemed just the same.  It wasn’t ‘til they got back from Bag Row that I first saw it, and it’s only got worse since he and the boys all settled down in the big room.  It could be there was no time for things to catch up with him before, and I guess this is maybe the first he’s really seen o’ the mess those ruffians made o’ Bag End and all o’ Bag Row.  That would be enough to make anybody just want to cry for days. Whatever the case, Sam has a whole night to sit and think on it now, with all the rest of everything settled down, and I’m not sure that’s a very good thing.

A teacup rattled on one of my trays, and I looked back to my own business as I followed Mama into the back hall.  I would keep an eye on Samwise too tonight, I decided—just in case this little something wrong decided ta turn into a big something wrong.

When I finished up and came back out to the big room, though, he was gone.  I tried not to be too obvious about my dismay, but Papa saw me and motioned me over.  I hid my blush at being caught and came up next to his chair.

“Papa?”

“He went out a few minutes ago.”

“Oh.”  There was no point in trying to pretend I didn’t understand.  Papa knew pretty well how things were with me. “Did he …” I tried to hide my disappointment.  I had been glad to see Sam back at the farm, and I had hoped—expected, even—that with both his Gaffer and Mr. Frodo here, he would stay as well.  “Is he going to help out with Mr. Merry or Mr. Pippin, then? Did he say when he’ll be back?” Papa raised one eyebrow, and I hurried on. “Because I can put aside some soup if—”

“I didn’t say he left, lass.  Don’t you fret.”  My face turned a fiery red, I could feel it, and I looked quickly away.  At least the boys didn’t seem to be listening. Papa only pointed to the door with his pipe stem.  I wondered sometimes why he still sat with it at night, since there was no pipeweed to be had, but I guess it was just habit for him—something familiar and comfortable.  We all had been taking comfort in the little familiar things lately. “The others are coming here, anyway. They’ll be by in a bit, said they’d check in at least if they decided not to stay.  No, your Sam stepped outside, said he needed some air.” My Sam.  He was no such thing, even if …  Heat flooded my face again, but Papa didn’t notice his slip.  He smiled, but it was a sad one. “Seemed like he could use a bit of cheering, if you ask me.  This afternoon’s sights were hard on him. He’s been tending those gardens in Bag Row and up to Bag End since he was just a little lad, and they’re all gone now.  Can’t have been easy.” Poor Sam …  Papa shook his head, and his eyes drifted back down to his pipe.  “All gone …”

He was finished talking to me, his thoughts far away on all the other things that we and everyone else had lost.  It didn’t matter, as my own thoughts were already out the door with Sam. “Thank you, Papa,” I whispered, and squeezed his shoulder before hurrying toward the door.  Jolly called out as I passed, but I ignored him and slipped outside. There I stopped, taking in a long breath of the dark night air. Where to even start? The coops or barn?  No, more likely Mama’s vegetable garden, or even one of the near fields. I could be looking for a long time in the dark before …

I almost tripped over him turning the bend—seems I wasn’t in for a long search after all.  Sam was sitting against the hill beside a scraggly little rosebush, shadowed from the moonlight.  He looked up when I ran into him, murmuring an apology as if only half his mind was on the words.

“Sorry Rosie, thought I’d be out of the way here.”

“No, I …”  I looked down at the bent curly head, and my heart jumped right into my mouth.  No matter what he’d seen and done in the outside world, no matter what new thoughts and hurts lived behind those eyes now, this Hobbit who sat here silent in the dark was the same Sam Gamgee who had left us.  Everything I’d fallen in love with (yes, I’m willing to admit it if my brothers can’t hear) was still right there. I’d seen it already in a hundred little ways—still so careful of others, so helpful, so respectful, so liable to keep himself in the background.  And that might be all well and good for Mr. Frodo and the others, but it also meant that if Samwise himself needed somebody, he wasn’t very likely to tell. So. I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to hear—the few stories I had heard about the outside world would straighten your hair right out, and no mistake—but Sam Gamgee was my friend, whatever else we were or weren’t to each other.  I took a deep breath and inched forward. “Are you hungry? I can bring you some soup and bread. Tea’s hot too.”

He shook his head without looking around.  “No thanks, lass.”

Now, that just wasn’t right.  A Hobbit doesn’t turn down food when it’s offered.  “I’ll have you know I made that soup myself, Sam Gamgee, and I—”

“We saw such awful things, Rosie.”  I swallowed my protest, and all my half-formed plans to make him talk flew right out of my head.  “There were amazing things, too, and beautiful things, and things that … that were so wonderful and magical I wouldn’t know what to say about them even if I thought for twenty years.”  Samwise shook his head and scraped aimlessly in the dirt with one hand. I inched closer and sank down, hoping that my nearness wouldn’t stop him—but I didn’t need to have worried. “But there were lots awful things, and we just barely escaped from some of them.  Those Black Riders that stabbed Mr. Frodo on Weathertop…”

Stabbed?  I couldn’t stop a gasp, but I smothered it with a quick hand.  He seem to didn’t hear.

“That blizzard on Caradhras where we all almost froze to death.  Moria and all the orcs and the … the Balrog.  We were all running for our lives, and Legolas was screaming—Legolas—and Gandalf died fighting it.”

Dead?  My brain and my stomach both swirled.  The old wizard … but …

“And the Emyn Muil, and the Dead Marshes, and the pass of Cirith Ungol.  Shelob …” His voice broke on that. “She stung him and I thought Mr. Frodo was dead.  He was so still and he wasn’t breathing, and I thought she’d killed him.”

Stung …?  Just what was a Shelob, anyway?  I swallowed back horror and terror and nausea.  No, I was sure now that I didn’t want to hear, but he just kept on …

“And then the orcs took him, because I was too slow to realize.  I was just too …” He shook his head and roughly swiped at his eyes.  “And they locked Mr. Frodo away, and they hurt him, and I thought I’d lost him again but I hadn’t and we escaped from there too.  And we got taken by an orc army, and we almost didn’t make it up the mountain in the end because there was no food and no water and no living thing for days and days.  And Mr. Frodo was so weak that I had to carry him the last bit, and that Gollum followed us and made trouble every step of the way. And after all that, Mr. Frodo …”

I was numb now, so shocked by words and scenes I didn’t understand that I don’t know if I could have spoken even if I’d wanted to.  Sam stopped for a long minute and I wondered if he was done—please let him be done—but then he spoke again, in low, flat kind of voice.

“But we got through all of it in the end, we escaped it all, and you know what?  It was the Shire that kept us going. No matter how scared or thirsty or tired or hopeless we were, we remembered the Shire—though sometimes Mr. Frodo couldn’t, and I had to remember it for him.”

I didn’t understand …

“We knew the Shire was still out there somewhere, and as long as it stayed beautiful and …”  Sam’s voice broke into a sob, and snapped me out of my daze.  “… and innocent and green …” His shoulders shook. I laid a hand on his arm and Sam leaned into it, his shoulder nearly touching mine.  “And then we were saved.” His voice took on a tone of puzzled wonder. “Saved. Even now I can’t believe it sometimes. We finished the quest—Mr. Frodo did it, he finished it—and we thought we would die, neither of us had anything left … but then we were saved and it was all over.  For a little while it seemed like everything was good again.  Like none of it could ever touch us anymore.”

Sam’s shoulders shook again, and he curled his face down into his knees, rubbing his eyes on his trousers.  Somehow I knew what was coming, and my heart ached for him—for all of them—and I tightened my grip. I don’t know if he even noticed.

“And then we came back here, Rosie, and the Shire wasn’t …”  Sam shook his head and scooted closer, and I leaned into him, shoulder to shoulder.  “It’s not green or … or innocent anymore. It’s all torn up and burnt down and …” He took a shaky breath.  “And now it seems somehow like all those other things aren’t really gone, either. Like we maybe didn’t completely leave them behind, like I carried some of it here along with me when I hoped it was all gone for good, and now the Shire is the worst of it because we can’t escape it.  We can’t go anywhere or run from it. This is home.”

His voice trailed off, and soft sobs overtook him.  They tore right into my heart, and I knew then and there that there was something worse than having to listen to all those horrible stories.  It was listening to my Samwise cry.

I wouldn’t let it keep on, not if I could do anything to stop it.

I leaned into him and reached for his cheek.  Sam’s skin was rough beneath my fingers, battered with weather and travel.  I pulled his head away from his knees and turned his face toward me, and my heart was hammering so hard that I could barely breathe.  His eyes glittered with tears even in the moon-washed dark, and I tasted the salty wetness when I pressed my lips against his.

I didn’t know what he’d do—Sam hadn’t spoken before he left all those months ago, though I’d hoped he would—but his hand came up to grip my curls and he returned my hesitant gesture with an intensity that left me in no doubt of my welcome.  For a long minute my entire world narrowed to my racing heart and Sam’s ragged breathing and his warm lips on mine. Suddenly, though, he broke off, pulling away as if a hornet had stung him. I opened my eyes and he was staring at me, tense and shocked.

“Rosie …”

“No, Sam.”  I touched his cheek again and Sam’s own hand followed slowly, fingertips brushing mine.  His eyes were wide with surprise and wonder. “When you need somebody, you come to me, you understand?  I know you won’t be wanting to worry Mr. Frodo and the others, but it seems like you’ll be needing to talk sometimes, and when you do, you find me and I’ll listen.  There’s no need for you to be sitting out here alone in the dark.”

Sam’s grip tightened, and he let out a long, slow breath.  “Rosie, I …”

“Sam?”  Neither of us had been paying any attention to the yard around us, and we weren’t expecting the sudden fall of yellow lantern light.  Mr. Merry’s voice was relieved. “Sam, they said you left almost an hour ago without saying where, and we didn’t know—” He trailed off, and for a long minute we all three just stared at each other.  Mr. Merry’s gaze flickered from Samwise to me and then back again, and I thought I saw a hint of a smile starting—though it could have just been the mix of light and shadows from the lantern. He stepped back and nodded, directing his next words to me.  “You take good care of him, Rosie.”

“I will, and you needn’t ask it!”

I was horrified even as I blurted the words.  But I’d known Sam forever, and even though he’d been away with Mr. Frodo and the others for so long—even though I could see that these important Hobbits thought the whole world of him—it still felt wrong for Mr. Merry to be asking me to take care of Sam.  I would have done that anyway. I hoped—oh, I hoped—that Samwise might even want me keep on with it.  I shook that thought away and ducked my head, smiling a shy apology.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Merry.  I only … of course I will.”

He didn’t seem upset.  In fact, his smile widened and to my surprise, he swept a brief bow.  “I have no doubt of it, Miss Rose.” Mr. Merry glanced toward Samwise, and his eyes danced in the flickering light.  “In fact, I’ll just leave you to it.” He backed away, still grinning, then swung around toward the front of the family hole.  I looked to Samwise as Mr. Merry disappeared, and what I saw in his eyes before the last flash of lantern light faded sent shivers straight through me, from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes.

“Rosie …” Sam whispered again.  He tightened his grip on my fingers, and brushed my curls with his free hand, and then his lips found mine again.  I relaxed against him and let myself fall into it.

Our first kiss had been that anxious and desperate and needy—comfort given and received in a world where everything else seemed to lay in ruins around us.

Our second kiss was something else completely.

***The End***

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