At first breakfast in the common room, Frodo only drank a cup of tea; he decided to leave Strider in the stable and walk the distance. It would give him time to think.
Lily seemed to hold up quite well yesterday, and as promised, she told him when she grew weary. He wondered -- would she still be well this morning, or would she grow worse over time, the more she was with him?
A chill mist hung in the air as Frodo neared Lily’s home just before second breakfast; the mist was fresh in his nose, and yesterday’s rain left the earth smelling new. He breathed deeply of it, and offered a prayer of thanks as he climbed the porch steps. It would be a beautiful day, even if it stayed cool, once the mist burned off.
You should leave, and leave now, before her illness overtakes her.
Frodo hesitated a moment. No. I promised her I would stay, as long as she recovers each day.
You are foolish to even try. Have you thought about tomorrow and what it may bring?
I have thought and thought until I can think no more. Leave me alone.
Frodo struggled to shut out the voice before he knocked on Lily’s door. He suddenly realized he could not greet her as he had yesterday, could he? But he could not simply shake her hand, either...
Lily opened the door with an inviting smile and sparkling clear eyes.
“Good morning, Frodo.” Her voice reminded him of the warmth of summer, warmer even than spring.
She was indeed well. Frodo hadn’t realized he was holding his breath until he needed to speak. “Good morning, Lily...” Frodo knew he was blushing; there was nothing for it. He smiled, and did not hide the twinkle in his eyes.
He stood gazing at her only a moment, and found he could resist no longer, gently enfolding her in his arms briefly, and then releasing her. He felt her reluctance to part.
“How are you this morning?” He searched her eyes carefully.
Under the scrutiny of those eyes, Lily blushed softly. “I’m very well, thank you. Come, breakfast is ready if you are.”
They enjoyed the meal with no mention of Lily’s discomfort or Frodo’s worries, sharing heartfelt laughter and reveling in the pleasure of the moment.
Frodo set down his teacup in its saucer carefully, and met her eyes. “We’ve spent an hour chatting about little things... it’s wonderful. I haven’t the words to tell you what it feels like to be free of -- to be able to simply talk, that is -- about anything, anything we wish...” He looked down at his cup, then sought her eyes again. They were a lovely hazel this morning, that mix of blue and green.
“You’re easy to talk with; I feel free here with you. I can’t think of a better way to say it. First you lay out the most delicious meal, and then... and then... You make a lovely breakfast companion, Lily.”
She blushed and smiled. “I -- it’s been strange to be alone in this house,” she replied softly. “It has been so empty here --”
Lily tried to meet his eyes. Their beauty always surprised her, and now they were shining with love: Frodo was not hiding it. She decided to study the lace pattern in the tablecloth for a moment. Her voice caught a little in her throat.
“My heart was emptier still, Frodo, before... before we met.”
She felt just brave enough to say this to him. They spoke words of love to one another when they parted in December; they kissed yesterday, and so beautiful it was in her memory that she dare not think on it just now; weeping might make him afraid she was unwell.
Frodo sensed her shyness. It pleased him to realize he was able to read her face so well. He placed his left hand near her right, where she was fingering the lace.
“My heart was empty too, dear Lily. You don’t know how empty. And not only my heart...” Frodo picked up her hand and kissed the back of it once, then again, more slowly.
Lily gazed first at their hands, and then into Frodo’s eyes. She suddenly felt as though she might drown in those blue pools, and abruptly cleared her throat.
“When you’ve eaten your fill, I’ll--”
Frodo raised his eyebrows, his eyes questioning her.
Lily bit her bottom lip to keep her smile from turning to a grin. “We’ll clean up together.”
“Pass me another scone and some more of your delectable blackberry preserves, please.” Frodo grinned.
After Lily returned the last dish to its place in the cupboard, she turned to Frodo, her voice tentative.
“The day is so lovely; may we go for a walk?”
Frodo realized he would happily give Lily whatever she asked. “Anything you would like; anything at all.”
It was actually warm enough that they did not need their cloaks, only a coat. Frodo helped Lily with hers, and opened the door for her. As they stepped out onto the porch, Lily shyly slipped her hand into Frodo’s and searched his face as he glanced quickly down at their hands; he tightened his hold on her, then searched her eyes in return. An appreciative smile touched his lips, and then it broadened, as Lily relaxed into an easy smile of her own.
They walked and talked together for several hours, unaware of the passage of time.
Lily began to feel lightheaded. She stopped mid-stride and tried to steady herself.
The smile on Frodo’s face vanished instantly. “Lily?”
She tried to focus on his face.
“Frodo?” She was having more trouble with her balance. “Please, let me sit for a moment.”
Frodo guided her to a nearby tree stump and knelt on one knee in front of her. “Wait here, Lily. I’ll get Hal to help you back.”
She grasped his hand, shaking her head. “No, please... just give me a moment.” She rubbed her forehead with her fingertips, struggling to concentrate.
“What is the time?”
“It’s almost time for luncheon.”
Frodo wondered at the giggle that escaped her. “Lily?”
She sighed heavily. “Frodo, I am quite all right. Really, I just need something to eat. I did not realize it was so late.”
He patted his pockets and pulled out an apple from one of them, and handed it to her.
She gazed at him, bemused. “Where did that come from?”
Frodo shrugged. “Old habit. You never know when you might get hungry.”
Lily made short work of the apple; though still weak, she felt much better.
Frodo helped her home and prepared a light meal for her from what he found in the kitchen. He still felt uncertain as to whether or not he was the cause of her illness.
The meal eased her lightheadedness quickly; Lily had to coax Frodo to eat as well. By the time they finished, she seemed completely recovered.
“I’m sorry, Frodo. I did not intend to worry you needlessly. I know I need to eat regularly. It never occurred to me I might completely lose track of the time in such a way. I -- I was -- I’ve never been so distracted before...”
Frodo smiled briefly, nearly blushing, but the worry did not leave his eyes.
Lily berated herself silently for not being more careful. He was now on edge, and that wore on her, as well. I’m glad we’ll be taking tea with Hal and Daisy today, she sighed. It offers me the chance to rest... Frodo might enjoy playing with little Pearl, and I can still see him -- at this, Lily gazed across the table; Frodo smiled for her. I shall see him after I rest...
Suddenly, she realized he had been watching her face all the while, and the colour rose in her cheeks as she spoke.
“Dear Frodo, I’m glad you’re with me.”
Lily reached her right hand across the table and laced her fingers into his left, and wondered why there were tears in his eyes.
At the Banks’, Lily approached the front door instead of the kitchen door. Before Frodo could ask she explained. “I don’t want to surprise Daisy too much.”
Lily knocked, and without waiting for an answer stepped into the smial and headed to the kitchen. “Sorry, Daisy, we’re a bit early for tea. I hope you don’t mind.”
Daisy returned Lily’s smile, pleased to see her so happy. Daisy noticed they were still holding hands, pleased their courtship looked to be on the mend. Then she realized her sister’s question had yet to be answered. “No, sweet, I don’t mind in the least.”
Lily knew what would happen if she told her sister what occurred earlier in the day, but decided it was worth it if Frodo’s mind were set at ease.
“Daisy? Would you please tell Frodo it’s not unusual for me to become a bit faint if I miss a meal?”
“What happened?” Daisy’s concern was evident.
“We were out for a walk, lost track of the time and missed elevensies. I got a little lightheaded, is all.”
“Lily Burrows, what were you thinking?” her sister chastised her. “You know you can’t miss meals. You’ve never been able to miss meals. Really, how many times have I told you to stuff a piece of bread in your pocket, or some such thing?”
“Frodo had an apple.”
“Good; at least he showed some sense. Honestly!”
Frodo wasn’t sure he cared for Daisy speaking to Lily in this manner, but then Lily giggled. He turned to her, surprised.
Lily shrugged. “She’s right, you know. She’s always reminding me to be sure to bring something with me whenever I’m out and about, just in case there’s a delay.”
“So this happens often?” Frodo began to relax.
Lily was amazed at the change she felt in him.
Daisy answered for her. “Almost her whole life!”
Daisy turned and appraised Frodo. “Do you always carry an apple about in your pocket?”
Frodo smiled. “In truth, I got it for Strider this morning, but he had no interest in anything I had to offer, with his nose in his grain.” He caught Lily’s surprised expression from the corner of his eye, and smiled ruefully at her.
Daisy nodded knowingly. “Never get between a pony and his grain bucket, Da always said...”
Lily giggled, partly at Daisy’s words, but mostly at Frodo’s apologetic expression; she smiled at him and almost winked, but decided such an action was far too bold; what would Daisy say if she caught it? Lily continued her sister’s thought instead. “Yes, he did used to say that, didn’t he?”
Daisy missed the private interaction between the couple, as she began bustling about the kitchen retrieving some of the tea fixings. “Aye... where was I? Oh, yes, since you’re here, little sister, you may as well help get tea on the table...”
A wail echoed through the smial. Both Daisy and Lily laughed at Frodo’s wide, startled eyes.
Daisy turned to her sister. “Looks like you and Frodo are going to be getting tea ready by yourselves, dear. The Queen of the May is a bit put out today, and we just haven’t been able to set things to rights yet.”
“She’s not ill, is she?” Frodo asked.
Lily’s heart clenched. He worries so; when will he know peace? she wondered.
“No; it’s only her sleeping habits are changing a bit. She slept through the night and woke up happy, but her morning nap was entirely too short and now she’s quite tired... but she’s refused her afternoon nap... and since she can’t tell me what’s bothering her, I’m now left to haphazard guessing. I’ve a niggling feeling she’s more frustrated with my wrong guesses than anything else! It’s all very normal, or so the midwife says. It’s times like this I miss Mum most.” Daisy smiled sadly.
Lily touched her sister’s arm, and Frodo spoke to her gently. “Lily told me she was lost to fever a year ago January. I’m very sorry.”
“Thank you, Frodo. It was the 17th of January. It seems like only yesterday, and yet far too long ago, as well. She was such a dear and --”
Lily abruptly cut her off, before she used the familiar endearment, a word she knew Frodo could not bear. “--and she meant the world to us,” she concluded.
Daisy nodded and sniffed.
Lily continued softly, “What’s left to prepare tea?”
Daisy wiped the tears from her eyes and cleared her throat. “Really all that’s left is to get everything on the table, steep the tea, and then serve.”
“All right then. Why don’t you find Hal; I’ll fetch Pearl and let Frodo know what to put on the table.” Lily turned to Frodo, hoping he would go along with her. “If that’s agreeable?”
A warm smile spread across Frodo’s face. “Most agreeable, so long as I am not left alone with the babe.”
Daisy smiled, and Lily giggled and silently sighed in relief. Frodo noted it, and nodded reassuringly.
“I do hate to leave you two to do everything.” Daisy looked straight at Frodo and asked, “You don’t mind, do you?”
“Not at all. Go find Hal. He’s probably still working down in the garden. We’ll be fine.” Frodo assured her.
He helped her into a coat, and opened the door to outside for her. She slipped through with a nod and a grateful smile.
Lily gazed at him as he stepped close to her again, but was yanked away from her thoughts by another piercing wail.
“Thank you. Would you mind clearing off the table, while I get Pearl?”
Frodo grinned. “I don’t mind in the least. I’d much rather clear off the table than try to figure out Miss Pearl.”
Lily almost reached up and kissed his cheek, but stopped herself, realizing they were alone in the smial. Yesterday’s kiss in her home was to prove to Frodo she was quite well... now, things were different. She sighed contentedly and headed down the hall to get her niece, returning quickly to help Frodo with the place settings.
Bouncing the babe on her hip to keep her happy, Lily told Frodo where to put things away and what to get out, until all was ready but for Hal and Daisy’s return. Then the two burst in laughing, and wet.
“What happened to you?” Lily exclaimed.
Both were gasping for air, still laughing. Hal caught his breath enough to talk first.
“You’d never believe it! You know how lovely it was just this morning, not a cloud in the sky. Well, it’s cloudy now, and raining!”
Daisy held the stitch in her side, giggling. “Well, not really raining, not like a spring rain, but more a winter drizzle, cold and wet, all the same.”
The giggle reminded Frodo of Lily; he grinned as he realized the sisters shared the same little laugh.
Wet coats were shed and the pair stood close to the fire to dry and ease the chill.
“Here, Frodo.” Lily quickly shifted Pearl over to his arms, then disappeared from the kitchen.
Moments later, she returned with large towels and handed one to Daisy and then Hal. Lily’s heart warmed as she watched Frodo talking softly to Pearl, gently bouncing her in his arms.
It didn’t take long for the pair to dry off, and soon they were all seated and sharing afternoon tea. Pearl, happy for the moment, was seated on her mother’s lap.
Hal talked of his progress in the garden, and then Daisy told Hal of Pearl’s mostly sleepless day. Frodo was pleased to note no mention of Lily’s spell today was made at all. Daisy scolded Lily at the outset, Frodo recalled to himself, but it doesn’t seem to be considered very important, now; and they haven’t even brought it up to Hal.
Frodo caught himself sighing with relief. Her weakness earlier that day really had not been his fault. He knew now she needed to eat regular meals. If I were the hobbit I once was, I’d have noticed for myself we’d missed elevensies... I shall be more careful for her in the future...
Lily and Frodo cleaned up after the meal as Daisy found herself again with a fussy Pearl.
Frodo observed with interest as Pearl settled when passed to Hal, and then fussed again until passed back to Daisy. Again she would settle for a bit, and then fuss, and they would start all over again.
Lily put away the last dish and placed her hand on Frodo’s arm. He dragged his attention away from the game being played and searched her eyes. She smiled and spoke softly.
“I’m going to rest for a bit...” Her brows raised in question.
Frodo nodded and laid his hand lightly over hers. “Rest... Do you think Pearl might come to me now?”
A smile lit Lily’s face. “You could ask. I hardly think her parents would refuse a bit of time away from her.” Her voice lowered. “Especially now.”
“I wasn’t sure.” Frodo grinned and leaned down to kiss her cheek, then stopped suddenly. Hal and Daisy were right here with them, and still there was no firm agreement between Lily and himself... he forced himself not to sigh outwardly.
The movement was not lost on Lily. She sighed as well, and nodded towards her sister. “Ask her; or perhaps the one you really should ask is Pearl.” She smiled once more for Frodo and left to take a rest in her room.
Frodo tentatively approached the trio. “Do you think she’ll come to me?”
Daisy turned Pearl toward Frodo so her daughter could see him; his arms were open wide to take her, if she wanted to go to him. At first Pearl looked away from him, but then looked back again and leaned toward him, and Daisy handed her over with a sigh of relief.
She and Hal stared in quiet wonder as they realized everything in the room disappeared but for Pearl, as Frodo turned all his attention to the bundle in his arms.
His eyes captured hers and held them as he spoke softly to her. For all the world it sounded as though they carried on a coherent conversation, as Frodo gave answers to every gurgle and coo. Hazel eyes began to blink sleepily, opening and closing more slowly with each passing minute.
Frodo’s narration became longer and more sing-song as the babe gradually relaxed completely and became limp in his arms. He eased himself into the rocking chair by the fire and continued to rock the small bundle, more singing than talking to her now.
The babe drifted into a sound sleep, and Daisy relieved Frodo of his little burden with a grateful smile. She then padded down the hall and tucked her daughter into bed.
When Daisy returned, she found Frodo still quietly sitting by the fire, gently rocking. She placed her hand on his shoulder and had to keep herself from jumping as startling blue eyes met hers.
Her voice was hushed. “Thank you, Frodo. We were at our wits’ end. How did you learn to do that?”
Frodo chortled softly. “I used to do that for a couple of cousins of mine. I’d all but forgotten until I watched Pearl being passed back and forth between you. I’d watched my cousins do the same thing. It’s as though they cannot choose between their mum and da. I gave them another choice.”
Hal spoke up. “Well, thank you kindly, Frodo. Puts us in your debt again, I’d say. I’ve been able to make some plans for the gardens and the farm. Always best to save it for a rainy day as something to do when you can’t get the outside labour done.”
Frodo shook his head. “It was nothing, truly. I enjoy Pearl, and it’s the least I can do for your hospitality on my behalf...”
He paused a moment. “... and for taking care of Lily.”
He knew such a statement was not his right to make, not yet; but he felt gratitude toward them, all the same, and hoped they would not take offense.
He would never know, for Lily entered the room at that moment, looking refreshed.
She smiled for him. “So, did our little fussbudget finally settle?”
Before Frodo could speak, Hal answered. “Yes, thanks to Frodo.”
Frodo lightly blushed as Lily’s smile brightened.
Daisy leaned in close to her sister and whispered loudly, “He has quite the way with the Burrows lasses. You’d best watch yourself; I think you’ve got competition.” Daisy winked broadly and started to prepare dinner, enlisting the aid of all three.
Dinner was passed in comparative quiet, in an effort to keep from waking the sleeping babe. Daisy explained there were times when she and Hal could make enough noise to be accused of being disturbers of the peace, and Pearl would sleep soundly through it; but she sensed this was not one of those times.
Frodo and Lily started to clean up, but Hal and Daisy protested, until Frodo again reminded them of the barn animals. It was becoming a regular joke, one the tired parents enjoyed immensely.
Just as they returned, Lily and Frodo were saying their goodbyes for the night, gazing into each other’s eyes.
Daisy interrupted with a cough. “Are you sure you won’t stay for supper, Frodo?”
Without looking away from Lily, Frodo shook his head.
“No, but thank you for the generous offer, Daisy. With the rain, I imagine my walk will be a bit wet; best to get to it now...” He raised Lily’s hand to his lips and softly caressed the back of it.
Lily tightened her hold on his hand, wishing to reveal how much more she wanted from this solitary touch; she longed to lace their fingers and feel herself drawn into his arms. But for now, Lily decided, this must suffice.
Her eyes continued to hold his, now unable to bear looking away. “You’ll come for second breakfast tomorrow, just as this morning?”
“I’ll come.” Frodo’s voice was low and rough.
They sighed together, and smiled. Each gently squeezed the hand of the other, and then finally released their hold.
“Tomorrow,” Frodo repeated.
Lily nodded and bit her lip to keep it from trembling, as Frodo slipped silently out the door into the night.