Frodo woke gradually. His Lily was still wrapped around him, lying partially across him, her legs tangled with his, and her arms lightly circling him. Yesternight, as his gift to her, he had loved her until she fell asleep. A smile spread across his face and filled him. It was the gift she had requested of him, nothing else did she require she had assured him, for he was all she wanted or needed. How grateful he was for her, and for the first time in his life, he appreciated the thick walls of Bag End as never before.
Hal and Daisy were in a guestroom, with little Pearl in a cradle at the foot of their bed, though they admitted with a laugh that she spent more time in their bed than her own. Then when Merry, Pippin and Fatty arrived a few days ago, Merry and Pippin had determined they would share a room giving the third to Fatty. Lily smiled and told them she had straightened her room so that Merry and Pippin need not share, but they had refused, insisting they would be fine.
Frodo had wondered briefly if Lily knew his cousins took comfort in each other’s company, then he realized she would know they were still haunted by what happened on the Quest, just as he was. She had not pressed further, but unobtrusively slipped extra lavender under the feather mattresses, in the hope it would bring them more tranquility in sleep.
An earsplitting shriek echoed through the smial. A grin crossed Frodo’s face. Lily stirred in his arms.
“It seems,” Frodo murmured, “our Miss Pearl has started the day.”
Lily nestled closer to her husband, and sighed.
“I love you, Lily-sweet.”
Frodo closed his eyes and breathed deeply of his wife’s honeysuckle scent as she responded by kissing the scar at his shoulder. He met her gaze as she then shifted herself atop him, a sleepy smile on her face and her eyes already warm with her desire for him.
Daisy and Lily cooked firsties comfortably together. Lily removed the scones from the coals, and surveyed the table. It was laden with fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden. A smile touched her mouth. There were bowls of jam interspersed, left over from each batch. Most of the food that would be laid up for winter had been done, now they were enjoying what would last through the autumn. But there was still too much, and so they had spent the last several days making jam from the abundance of strawberries, raspberries, peaches, apricots, currants, and Frodo’s much loved blackberries. Invariably, there was always more jam than could fit in the bottles prepared and not enough to fill another, and so it was used immediately. The bowls changed and were passed throughout every meal, except the one filled with blackberry jam; it remained beside Frodo’s place.
When Merry, Pippin and Fatty first arrived, they took gleeful pleasure in hiding the bowl of blackberry jam, until finally Frodo informed them with uncharacteristic sternness that if they wanted to stay... he had let the sentence trail significantly. The jam had stayed by his place at table.
Laughter from the greatroom drew Lily’s attention. Tears of joy pricked her eyes at the sight of her husband’s enjoyment of his friends. She blinked, then nudged Daisy, who was placing a bowl of fried mushrooms on the table. Lily pointed to where Pearl was being passed from one lad to the next. This was a game contrived by the males, who had been assigned the task of gathering the fruit, removing any unwanted bits and pieces, and crushing it, as well as taking care of Pearl so that Lily, Daisy, and Rosie could cook and bottle the jam.
“It appears,” Lily grinned, “that our Pearl is holding court with all five of the gentlehobbits in the smial.”
Daisy suppressed a giggle. “She’s not yet one, and already the lads are dancing to her tune. Whatever’ll I do with her when she comes of age?”
Lily giggled softly. “I don’t think you’ll need to worry.” She gazed at the doting males. “I worry for the lad who thinks he wants to court her. He’ll not only have to satisfy Hal, but two uncles and their cohorts as well.”
Daisy laughed. When five pairs of masculine eyes turned to her, she struggled to catch her breath. “Firsties is--” she choked on a chuckle, then recovered -- “Firsties is ready. Come and get it while it’s hot.”
Merry was the one currently holding the babe. He lifted her to eye level and stated seriously, “Do you hear that, Pearl? Your mum says firsties is ready? And none too soon. Your Uncle Merry was near to perishing from hunger.”
Pearl wrinkled her nose and squealed and kicked her feet, her cheeks rosy and her green eyes twinkling.
Astonishment replaced Merry’s look of conspiracy. “Pearl! I’d almost believe you’d want me to starve!”
Pippin adroitly captured the babe in his arms and headed for the kitchen. He leaned close to the little head and whispered loud enough for everyone to hear. “Uncle Merry doesn’t understand, does he, little one? But your Uncle Pippin knows. Indeed. You’ve been watching him, haven’t you? And he’s many things, but starving isn’t one of them, is it?”
Pearl laughed and clapped her hands either side of Pippin’s face.
“Oi! Miss Pearl!”
Hal roared with laughter. “Pearl, darlin’! No need to go slapping the lads away just yet, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to practice a might.”
Pippin threw a hurt expression toward Hal.
The jovial hobbit grinned broadly. “Just wait till you have a lass of your own, Pippin, then you’ll understand.”
Merry chortled. “Pippin’ll have to get over his fear of a certain lass, before ever he needs to worry about being a protector.”
Frodo raised one brow. “Merry, being a protector is part and parcel of caring for a lass.”
Merry turned to Frodo, still chuckling. “I’m thinking lasses are quite able to take care of themselves.”
Fatty piped up, “What? Because a certain lass hasn’t allowed you to dally with her affections, you think lasses don’t need protecting?”
“Firsties is getting cold,” Daisy declared.
The bell sounded, and the rounded door opened.
“Good morning, all!” Sam ushered Rosie into the smial. The couple chorused, “Happy Birthday, Frodo!”
They were greeted by a round of hullos and good mornings from the kitchen.
Rosie glanced around the table. “We’re not late, are we?”
“No!” Lily laughed. “Your timing is perfect. You managed to interrupt a debate about whether or not a lass needs protection.”
“But of course she does,” Sam retorted, then blushed slightly. “I mean, it ain’t like they can’t take care of themselves, of course, but it’s a right, and a privilege. I’m sure and certain Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin understand all about guardin’ and protectin’ what’s good and beautiful, what with them bein’ in the service of Rohan and Gondor, not to mention the way they rallied the Shire against those ruffians.”
Frodo chuckled. “Leave it to dear Sam to state it so clearly that even a stubborn Brandybuck can understand.”
Merry threw Frodo a dark look, then laughed. “Don’t you be forgetting you’re half Brandybuck yourself, Frodo Baggins.”
A broad grin lit Frodo’s face. “But of course I am, so I should know, shouldn’t I?”
Lily wondered if her heart might burst. What joy it was to watch her beloved laugh and tease. A few days ago, his sleep had been disturbed by unpleasant dreams, but she had easily soothed him, and it had not occurred again since, not that she believed it never would again. She knew the dreams would persist, from time to time, but she would help him.
Before things could get too out of hand, Lily stood and raised her mug of small ale.
The other hobbits quieted.
Lily smiled around the table, then turned to face Frodo. “To Uncle Bilbo and Frodo. May they enjoy many more birthdays.”
Cheers rose from around the table. “Hear! Hear! Uncle Bilbo and Frodo!”
As they finished firsties, a low rumble could be heard in the momentary lull. Quick glances were exchanged around the table.
Sam was closest to the window, and quickly rose to gaze out. “Looks like we’re in for a bit of rain.”
Glances flew around the table. As one, they rose quickly from the table.
Daisy handed Pearl to Rosie. “You take care of the lass.” She glanced at Rosie’s belly, then up again. “I know you’re having an easy time of it -- lucky you -- but I don’t want you overdoing.”
Rosie did not argue, but took the babe and watched as the others gathered up bowls and hurried outside.
As they entered the garden, Frodo glanced quickly at the sky. “Sam, how much time do you think we have?”
Sam followed his gaze. “Fifteen, maybe twenty minutes.” Then he called out to the other hobbits, “Softest first!”
The hobbits set to work gathering the ripened fruit and vegetables above ground. Rosie, with Pearl in her arms, made sure there were extra bowls, so when one was filled it would be set inside the back door, and another would be grabbed and filled. Pearl watched, wide-eyed, clutching Rosie’s chemise at the shoulder, and her little thumb in her mouth.
The gathering continued feverishly until drops began to spatter on the ground, softly at first, then more heavily.
Sam surveyed the garden. “Looks like the lot. But no matter now, we’ve got as much as we could! Everybody inside! Quick like!” He ushered everyone inside again, all of them laughing and shaking off the rain.
The filled bowls were carried to the main pantry, where the lasses would be able to sort through what would need to be used at the next meal and what could be saved for a day or two. The lads took Pearl with them and cleared up firsties.
By the time the fresh produce was sorted it was time for secondies.
“So, what’s planned for the day?” Merry pinned his cousin with a broad smile.
Frodo dragged his mind from the lass beside him, the feel of her hand in his under the table. He needed to blink and catch his breath before he could answer. “Not much will change, Merry, as you well know. We may be caught indoors, but most of what’s planned can be done just as easily inside as out. We’ll be feasting the whole of the day, with singing and storytelling.”
Fatty sighed happily. “It sounds wonderful.”
Lily added with a smile, “Even most of the games can still be played, though mayhap with a few slight adaptations. The three-legged race will be quite short, I’m afraid.”
They all laughed.
Hal chortled, “I’m thinkin’ it might be better if some of the games are put off for another day.”
When Pearl went down for her nap, Daisy stayed with her, and per routine Rosie and Lily also rested. The males usually spent this afternoon time outside. Today, they gathered in the greatroom, enjoying the warmth of the fire and a pipe while the thunder rumbled outside and the rain pattered against the window. Merry nudged Pippin, then Pippin caught Sam’s attention, then Fatty. Fatty caught Hal’s eye, and he cleared his throat loudly.
Merry shook his head, and spoke loudly. “It’s pathetic, really. He hasn’t even lit his pipe. You’d think he married only last week the way he’s pining for her, and she’s only napping.” His voice rose. “It isn’t even as if she’s off visiting her sister, who’s here.”
Pippin shook his head. “It’s hopeless, cousin. He’s not here.”
Frodo glanced up to find everyone gazing at him. “What?”
Hal glared at Merry and Pippin, then gave Frodo a broad smile. “You’re looking a bit tired, Frodo.”
Frodo started to shake his head, but Hal forestalled him. “I can see it in your eyes. Why don’t you get some sleep yourself?”
Again, Frodo shook his head and started to speak, but Merry interrupted him sharply. “Cousin,” Merry softened his voice. “You’ve been staring into the fire for the last quarter hour. Go to her.”
“I don’t wish to wake her,” Frodo mumbled.
Fatty shook his head sympathetically. “Frodo, don’t be daft. I’m thick as they come, even more than Merry.” Fatty grinned at the offended look Merry gave him. “But even I could see the way she was watching you.” He sighed, then met Frodo’s gaze earnestly. “What I wouldn’t give for a lass to look at me the way she looks at you.”
Frodo blushed to his ears.
Sam chortled. “It’s amazin’ it is, the way the right lass makes you feel you’re all that matters.”
Hal nodded. “And besides, it’s an important day, Frodo. She never hoped to spend a birthday with you, let alone a lifetime.”
Wide blue eyes shimmered with tears. The others nodded.
Frodo padded from the room.
Hal drew his brows together. “He’s gone now. Tell me the story.”
Merry and Pippin exchanged a wary glance.
A gentle smile spread across Hal’s face. “Don’t think I don’t notice how no mention is made of your time away whenever he’s in the room.”
Sam nodded and shrugged his shoulders. “We’ve got time.” He sent an inquiring look to Merry and Pippin.
Finally, all eyes were on Merry. “All right then.” And so he began.
The conversation in the greatroom faded behind him, and Frodo paused at the doorway to the master bedroom. He carefully peeked into the room. His wife lay curled on her side, her eyes closed. A part of him was still reluctant to disturb her. Then he heard her sigh. So she did not yet sleep. He slid in quietly, closing the door silently behind him. Without a sound, he removed his coat, then lay down beside his wife.
“Frodo,” Lily breathed.
She felt her lover nestle close, easing his arm around her waist and drawing her back against him.
“You need to rest, Lily-sweet,” he murmured.
Lily turned in her husband’s arms. “I need you, Frodo-love.”
He reached up and with one finger softly traced the outline of her mouth. She kissed his finger, and he felt it to his core. His hand shook slightly as he continued to trace the features of her face.
His voice came out in a hoarse whisper, “You are so beautiful.”
Lily smiled as she watched his gaze wandering over her face, taking in every feature, almost as though he had never seen her before, and needed to learn her anew. She found herself closing her eyes at the gentle touch, savoring the feel of his skin against hers.
He paused in his exploration of her face, and she opened her eyes. She recognized the desire she saw, and reveled in it. Never had she imagined such power might be hers, to be able to arouse her lover with a simple glance.
They lay on their sides, facing each other.
Lily cupped her husband’s cheek, then began her own exploration of his face. “A year ago, you celebrated the day of your birth with Uncle Bilbo.”
“Tell me what you were doing, Lily-sweet.”
Her breath caught as her husband pulled on one ribbon, untying the bow on her vest.
“It was easier in Deephallow,” she murmured breathily. “The ruffians did not venture there often, not like the trouble in Hobbiton and Bywater. They stole most of the harvest, and we worried there might not be enough for us through the winter.”
Lily did not want to see the worried frown on her husband’s face, so she smiled. “Then you came home.”
Frodo resumed the gradual unlacing of his wife’s vest, his brows drawn together unhappily. “And I did not even know you were here.”
Lily began gently unbuttoning her husband’s waistcoat. “No, beloved, you simply did not remember.” She smiled into his eyes. “And I did think of you on that day.” She giggled. “I thought of you every day, but I knew it was your birthday, and hoped you were well.”
They finished unbuttoning and unlacing at the same time. After slipping off their garments, Frodo slowly untied the bow of Lily’s chemise, and she began to unbutton his shirt, her fingers trembling.
Lily resumed her thoughts aloud. “I made a special cake that day, though my father didn’t know why.” She giggled. “I did not explain.”
Frodo smiled, then he breathed in sharply and closed his eyes, as Lily’s hand eased his shirt off his shoulders and lightly explored his chest.
Something niggled quietly at her mind. This was not their usual game of talking until they could talk no more. Her husband wanted to touch her, and perhaps even share love, but she sensed a deeper need -- for what? She grinned to herself, distracted from her thoughts by her husband’s obvious pleasure in her caresses.
She watched him swallow hard, then his eyes opened, and his blue gaze burned into her. Her own breath caught, and she shivered, as her husband pushed her chemise off her shoulder. He caressed her skin until she could bear it no longer. She pressed herself against him, sliding her fingers into his silky curls. She shared his breath for a moment, then covered his mouth with her own.
Her heart raced in her chest, the faster for feeling his heart beat against hers. She felt him allowing her to assuage her hunger, but only briefly.
His wife’s desire for him always caught Frodo off guard, and it invariably took him several moments to catch his breath each time this happened. He felt an indescribable delight in the realization that she wanted him so much, and frequently found himself unable to resist reveling in the knowledge, if only for a moment. Then his own passion for her would flare, and he could hold back no longer, all thought driven from his mind.
Lily felt the change within him and thrilled to it. She could not get enough of him. Their shared dance filled her. The storm outside reminded her of their time in the cave, and an evening in Rivendell... but very soon she could not think on the past at all, only on the present, moment by slow, loving moment.
Lily nestled close to her husband, rubbing her head against his chest as his hands caressed her, holding her snug.
“I love you, Frodo Baggins, and look forward to spending many more birthdays, just like this.”
Frodo felt her smile as she softly kissed him, just above the scar at his shoulder. His throat tightened, but finally he was able to roughly voice, “Lily-sweet, my love for you seems to know no bounds, and yet it grows.”
Lily sighed. “We’ll need to rejoin our guests soon.”
Suddenly she knew that whatever had been troubling him he was about to reveal, and tightened her hold on him.
His voice hitched. “I’m sorry I didn’t remember you, from that first day we met at the Fair.”
A relieved sigh escaped her. “I’m not, beloved.”
She felt him start, and shifted so she could lean on her elbow and gaze into his eyes. She slid her other hand up his chest, along the warm column of his throat, caressing his face, finally smoothing the frown from his brow. For several long moments she searched his eyes.
“Because you did not remember me, the Ring could not use that memory against you. I could not have borne that.” A soft smile touched her lips, then she leaned close and tenderly kissed her lover.
Frodo felt afresh his wonder at the lass in his arms, and his kisses for her were deep, even reverent, as he gathered her closer.
When Lily and Frodo were the last to join the group for tea, Merry and Pippin shared an amused glance. They were quick to banish their smirks when Hal glared at them. No one else seemed to notice. Pearl shrieked happily, reaching for Frodo.
Lily watched, her heart brimming. She knew her husband would be a good father. She suppressed a sigh. Next year... next year, he would hold their child... she hoped. Today, she assured herself, she would not give in to her worries and doubts.
Tea, then dinner, and finally supper was spent with Merry, Pippin, and Fatty regaling the others with tales of previous birthdays spent at Bag End while they toasted muffins over the fire.
Frodo laughed and basked in the joy of the moment. He gazed about the room at his friends and family, his heart full. His Lily was pressed close to his side, an unspoken promise between them. He knew she was nestled far too close to him to be considered proper in company, and was glad no one present cared. In truth, it seemed to speak to the others. Daisy held to Hal while he jiggled Pearl on his knee gleefully. And Sam tucked Rose close to him, an arm around her shoulders and his other hand possessively pressed to her belly. There was still no evidence of the child she was carrying, but he held her there anyway, her hands covering his.
He caught sight of Sam smiling quietly, and knew his friend shared his joy. They had been spared by Ilúvatar for this moment, this day in the Shire, with the rain falling on the land they loved so well, surrounded by their loved ones. It was enough.