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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

10 March 1420sr

She will not be able to bear your illness, the voice taunted, over and over.

Frodo prayed over and over, and at last tiredly pushed the voice away as he arrived at Will’s. As he raised his hand to knock, he suddenly felt nervous. Who would answer the door?

The door opened, and relief flooded through him; she was really here.

Lily greeted him with a bright sunny smile and sparkling eyes. Then she stepped forward for a moment and whispered close to his ear. “Rosie’s in the kitchen.” She stepped back again.

Frodo called, “Morning, Rosie!”

“Morning, Frodo! Second breakfast will be ready any minute!” she called back.

Frodo searched Lily’s eyes. “I have missed you, Miss Burrows.”

Lily sighed, pleased. “And I have missed you, Mister Baggins.”

They meant to step into an embrace, but Frodo’s hands gently cupped her face; it would only be for a moment... Lily lightly grasped his lapels and raised her face to meet his lips in a tender kiss.

Their kiss lengthened, and Lily slipped her arms around him, gently, gradually; now they were so close, he could feel her warmth...

He took his hands from her face, and she felt his arms around her, warm against her back. He was pulling her closer yet...

Lily fought to breathe normally. It required all her concentration to do so. For the moment she had no more breath in her body; Frodo had taken it all. She did not care.

Frodo felt her breathlessness as well as his own. He knew they must stop. It pained him to break the kiss.

He reached up his hand to gently touch her cheek. “This is not a dream,” he breathed. “You are here. You are well. I prayed so for this...”

Frodo wanted desperately to kiss her again. She was willing... it was clear in her lovely eyes, more green now than blue. They bespoke desire as well as any words; but he resisted. He dared not risk another. And her kiss had been so beautiful... he sought for words to express how he felt. He only knew it demanded all his strength to turn away from the desire he felt.

“Lily... I -- you are beautiful. I have wanted to tell you, for so long...”

She blushed and lowered her eyes, smiling.

“You have already told me so... you told me on the night -- on the night we parted, in December, and again at my home in Deephallow...”

She raised her eyes to his again.

“Did I?” He searched his recent memory. “Yes, I did... I remember. It was true then, and it is true now. Mayhap I should tell you more often...” He caressed her cheek once more.

His gaze was intense and serious, so much so, that she lowered her eyes, or she would faint, she knew... How shall I ever master this? she wondered, half in a panic, and half enraptured. She could feel the warm touch of his hand, still there on her cheek.

Frodo blinked, as if waking from a dream, but did not take his eyes from Lily’s face. “Did Rosie say something about second breakfast? Whatever it is, it smells wonderful...”

Still he searched her eyes, and went on, laughing softly.

“Do you know, when I am near you, food is suddenly good again? ...the last time I had the slightest interest in eating anything was at Deephallow, and before that, in December... only with you.”

Lily raised her hand to touch his own, still resting on her cheek. “I understand, more than you know... and yes, second breakfast is ready; the table is set...”

Her brows furrowed, and she removed her hand from his to touch his face. “You’ve lost weight, dearest,” she murmured sadly, and then gave him a half-smile. “I should scold you thoroughly” -- she searched his eyes -- “but how may I, when you are clearly contrite?” She wanted to say more, but realized now was not the time. Rosie would be calling at any moment.

“Come, we’ll get some breakfast into you. We can’t have you looking so thin; what will folk think of me? I can hear it now... ‘Have you heard? Poor Frodo Baggins, the lass he’s courting starves him.’ That, or, ‘She cooks for him, right enough, but by the look of him, it’s not worth eating.’” She grinned.

“I never thought of it that way,” Frodo laughed. “I promise to do better. I won’t have folk spreading such tales about you, knowing they’re most assuredly untrue.”

They walked arm in arm into the kitchen. Rosie glanced up from setting a pan of fried tomatoes on the table, and eyed them sharply.

Frodo and Lily stepped apart abruptly.

Rosie laughed. “It worked! I’ll do! Had to make sure I could be a proper chaperone to you two. It’s all in the look, you know.” She nodded sagely. “All right, enough of the guilty looks. You couldn’t have done much, there wasn’t time, but that’s the whole idea. Sit. We need to iron out the details of Lily’s visit, so as everything is kept right and proper and above reproach. Don’t need to be feeding the market gossipers any extra; they’ll make up plenty on their own.”

At the small square kitchen table, Frodo seated first Lily, then Rose, then himself.

“Now,” Rose continued, pouring the tea for the three of them, “Will told me there were a couple of jobs he needed to finish up, so he’ll be gone the next few mornings, but home in the afternoons. In truth, he’s not a good choice for chaperone anyway, what with him seeing Bell. He’s far too distracted himself to make a proper one. Besides, I don’t hold to a brother chaperoning his sister, especially when he needs it himself!

“Frodo, is it all right if tomorrow you wait to come until elevensies? I need to go to the market, and Lily may as well come with me. Lily, your brother’s pantry is practically bare. I can’t imagine what he’s been eating; no, wait -- he’s probably been eating at the Green Dragon... Listen to me! A regular babbling brook this morning. I’m just a little nervous. I’ve never been a chaperone before.”

“Rose, if yesterevening was any indication of what we may continue to expect from you as our chaperone, we shan’t complain.” Frodo smiled warmly.

“Yes, about that,” Rose blushed. “I probably shouldn’t have let you go walking off alone like that, but seeing as how Hal was willing, and really still Lily’s proper chaperone until he went back home, I suppose it was all right. I do hope you understand. I know Hal and Daisy allowed you to go for walks alone and such, but it’s not quite the same here. In Deephallow, you were under the watchful eye of Lily’s married sister. Here, it’s just her single brother, who is himself courting a Hobbiton lass. You do understand, don’t you?” Rose could not disguise the anxiety in her voice.

Lily smiled warmly. “Yes, dear Rose. You will be with us wherever we go, so as to keep tongues from wagging too freely. Thank you. We truly appreciate you putting aside your own activities to be with us.” Lily’s voice caught. “We will never be able to repay you.”

“Oh, fuss and bother. No need to be thinking that way. I’m the envy of every busybody in the Shire. They’ll seek me out far and wide for every juicy bit of news of you, and I’ll take far too much pleasure in telling them nothing.” Rosie did not hide the gleam in her eyes as she smiled.

Lily giggled. “Rosie Cotton, you’re naught but a kitten with a ball of yarn! Careful you don’t get tangled up in it!”

Rosie gave them a wide-eyed gaze. “I’ve had plenty of practice, I’ll have you know. Folks have been asking me about Frodo here for years.”

Frodo could not hide his surprise. “Whatever for?”

Rosie rolled her eyes and smiled as she shook her head. “No need to go worrying about it all now, Frodo. Just know I’m good at keeping mum.

“Now, you’re going for a walk this morning, I believe? I’ll clean up and give you two a head start. Don’t be thinking it’s a long head start, for it won’t take but a few shakes to set things to rights here. I suggest you head for Bag End. We’ll have elevensies there.”

Lily smiled as Frodo blinked, feeling dismissed. He shook his head and smiled as well. “Thank you, Rosie.”

She waved them off.

---------

As they walked through Bywater, they talked of simple things -- the new gardens being started, the weather, and Lily’s blackberry preserves. Frodo wondered when the next batch would be ready, and she laughed at his question, for he knew full well when the next crop of blackberries was due -- in late August or early September. They were comfortable with the silences in between their talk.

Before they passed the Green Dragon, Rosie caught up to them but stayed a fair distance behind; close enough to keep them in sight, but far enough away they could still converse without being overheard.

With Bywater out of sight behind them, and Hobbiton not yet in view, Lily could no longer keep her earlier thoughts to herself. “Frodo, there are some things I wanted to speak to you about before breakfast, but there was not time.” She tightened her hold on his hand, and looked up at him, but he did not meet her gaze, sensing the questions would be difficult.

They stopped walking. Lily glanced back at Rosie, who settled herself on a nearby log, as though resting; within sight, but out of earshot. Lily turned to Frodo. His eyes were downcast. With her free hand, she touched his cheek, then his hair, then laid her hand flat on his breast. He immediately placed his hand over hers, but did not raise his eyes.

“You need not speak, dear Frodo. I see it in your face. I feel it in your spirit... You try very hard to hide it, but dearest, you have not slept... I see the shadows under your eyes. You’ve lost the weight we managed to help you put on in Deephallow.”

Lily felt the malevolence within him resisting her, even at this moment, as she tried to console him. She fought it, and went on.

“The darkness returns to you when we are parted. I know this, and I worry. I know now you barely slept, even when you were visiting me in Deephallow. A neighbor told me he saw you wandering in the night, near the inn. He did not notice you at first, but then you pushed back the hood of your cloak to gaze at the Moon. It gave him quite a start. I also heard it from other folk; it was not only that night, but every night that week. It waits for you, does it not? Frodo, this cannot go on. I -- I cannot lose you to it.”

Frodo nodded, barely. “I shall not lie to you; indeed I cannot.” He raised his eyes, finally, to meet her calm countenance, and endeavored to draw strength from it, fighting against stinging tears.

“I don’t wish to be lost to you. I don’t wish to be lost at all, but even more, I don’t wish to be lost to you, Lily. Yes, your presence brings me strength to fight the darkness, and a measure of health--”

He sighed deeply, then went on, still holding her hand against his breast. Lily felt the steady beat of his heart quicken slightly beneath her hand, and hers skipped a beat as he gazed down at her, speaking more softly.

“But more than the healing you bring, beyond all that, I long to be with you...”

He closed his eyes tightly for a moment, then opened them again, capturing hers once more.

“I know only that we must pray for help,” he continued. “I see no other recourse, no other way. I know of no other aid we might seek. I’m easily discouraged when you are away, and yet we cannot be together for very long at one time. If it is not the Creator’s will that we be together... I cannot conceive of what we shall do...” His voice trailed away.

Lily smiled for him, refusing to allow her own tears to form. “Since He is our only hope, we can only hope, and go on, day by day. Perhaps if we fight the darkness long enough, we may defeat it, with the Creator’s help. I shall not leave you to bear this burden alone. You shall not lose me, whether we may marry, or no.”

Frodo’s tears began to fall then, and he took her in his arms, holding her tightly; hope was at war with despair in his heart. He could not speak. Lily held him close, and prayed for them both. She knew there was nothing else to be done.

They heard a sharp whistle from Rosie’s direction and stepped apart, each brushing tears away. Then they glanced toward Rosie. She was strolling leisurely toward them, a warm smile on her face.

“We’ll never make it to Bag End at this rate,” she teased, avoiding their eyes, and started them walking.

Frodo reached for Lily’s hand, but Rose stepped between them. They glanced at each other, and then at Rose, confused.

From behind them, they heard a pony and cart.

They stepped to the side of the road to let it pass, but it stopped.

“Frodo, how are you?” called Will Whitfoot. He tipped his hat to both Rosie and Lily.

“Very well, thank you, Will. And yourself?”

“Much better, thank you. How’s being mayor sitting with you?”

Frodo smiled. “Any time you want the job back, Will, it’s yours.”

Will laughed. “Not quite yet, if it’s all the same to you. Try as I might to put in a full day’s work, I still find myself tuckered out well before tea!”

Frodo inclined his head. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Will tipped his hat again. “Miss Cotton, Miss Burrows. Good day to you.” He snapped the reins and was on his way again.

Lily watched him drive away in surprise. “How does he know my name? I’m certain we’ve never met.”

Rosie smiled. “That’s Will Whitfoot. He was the mayor until he was thrown into Michel Delving prison -- glad it’s the museum again. I don’t imagine you saw much of him down in Deephallow. He asked Frodo to take over for him.”

“He’s still the rightful mayor,” Frodo protested. “I’m only filling in until he feels up to it again.”

Rosie shook her head. “You’ve done a fine job; took care of the important things when they needed doing.” She leaned toward Lily. “I imagine he’ll be right pleased to be rid of the title as soon as Mayor Whitfoot will take it back. By the by, the mayor knows your name because you’ve been here for more than an hour. He makes sure he knows everyone coming and going through Hobbiton and Bywater. He probably knows where you’re from, and who you’re related to, as well.”

Frodo touched Rosie’s arm, and smiled. “Thank you, Rosie. It never occurred to me how much being our chaperone would entail; one must needs be a lookout as well, it seems!”

Rose blushed. “Can’t have folks spreading rumors about me not knowing how to do my job.” She cleared her throat. “Get going. I don’t want to miss elevensies.”

“Neither do we,” Frodo chuckled, and they began walking toward Hobbiton, Frodo’s hands behind his back, and Lily’s held in front of her.

Rosie sighed in exasperation from behind them. “Take her hand, Frodo.”

The couple glanced behind them at their chaperone, who raised her brows and asked, “Well?”

They intertwined their fingers and stepped closer together.

“Not too close, now,” came another directive.

Frodo and Lily looked at each other and laughed, then parted only slightly, and continued to walk. Their chaperone seemed satisfied, for the moment.

Lily watched the road ahead. “Has the darkness retreated, even a little? It seems stronger...”

Frodo glanced at her and then studied the road ahead as well. He tightened his hold on her hand. “Yes, dearest Lily. It always recedes when you are near.”

“Always?”

“Yes, but you also grow weary, always...”

“But if I didn’t...”

“Would it still withdraw?” Frodo loosened his hold on her hand. “Lily, it’s not right--”

Lily tightened her fingers on his hand and gently pulled him closer as they walked. “Frodo, the choice is not yours to make, but mine... isn’t it?” Her tone held only love and patience, and her eyes sought his and held them.

They slowed to a stop and faced each other.

Frodo searched her calm eyes, only a little green showing against the blue there. “We always come back to this... I fear for you, Lily. I could not bear it if anything happened to you.” He reached up and caressed her cheek with his free hand.

Lily laid her hand over his and pressed it against her cheek. “And I cannot bear to see how the darkness wears on you, knowing that by simply being near you, your burden is eased. I am mindful of the toll on me...”

Her eyes widened in sudden understanding. “It is not you who doubts me. We talked of it yesternight, but I did not fully grasp it... The darkness doesn’t only cast shadows on what you believe within yourself; it gnaws at everything I tell you... nay, more; at all that is light, and good...”

A tear slid down her cheek and onto his hand, still held there. “Oh, dearest Frodo, how do you endure it?”

He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. “I must.” He brushed each tear away as it fell. “But that doesn’t mean you--”

“‘Tis true, but I choose to be with you, Frodo, and happy... rather than safe, and apart. It is not safety I desire, but the feeling of -- completion you bring me. I -- feel complete with you.”

Frodo’s eyes brimmed with tears again. He listened quietly, his expression full of love, and relief, and wonder.

“Dearest,” Lily continued, “I need to understand. I sense the darkness is so much stronger now than it was when you were in Deephallow... Is it because of the coming illness of which you warned me?”

He nodded sadly. “I fear so.” He drew her into his arms again, not thinking of Rose. “Oh, Lily...” He spoke against her ear. “This waiting for an answer to our prayers is so very difficult... Mayhap this is a test from Ilúvatar...”

“I do not know, dearest,” she replied, her cheek warm against his, “but if it is a test, we shall pass it, I know.”

With Lily in his arms, Frodo thought suddenly of Galadriel, and her Mirror, and of what took place when he had offered her the Ring. She had passed the test, Frodo remembered, despairing, but I did not pass the very same one...

The darkness leapt at its chance. Lily felt its approach, but for Frodo it was too late.

“I could not give it up! I could not... I claimed it!” he whispered harshly, in a daze, and released his hold on Lily, but for her hands, which he still held. He did not see her at all, for a chasm of fire filled all his sight.

“Frodo,” Lily whispered firmly, “come back to the Light.”

Frodo’s vision began to clear.

“Lord Elrond commanded the same of me, another time, and place... I was gone, wasn’t I?”

“Yes, but only for a moment. You are yourself again, and I -- oh, Frodo...” Lily gazed down at their hands for a moment, breathing as steadily as she could, trying to regain her composure.

She had almost said what she longed to tell him. For another moment she studied his hands, which she loved so well. She wanted to kiss them -- even the missing finger warmed her heart; but refrained. “This waiting is indeed so difficult. I want so desperately to hear an answer to our prayers, as well.”

Frodo smiled for her, still shaking slightly from the attack, and drew her into his arms once again, to comfort her. He sighed deeply in an effort to stop the trembling. He would not think about what had just happened. “Even if this should be a test from the Creator, He would not do such a thing without also offering a solution, or an answer. For indeed, there can be no other reason for a test...”

“A way shall be provided... He loves us; you taught me this.” She pushed the ill feeling away.

He pulled back from her and saw her tears. “Your lovely eyes are green,” he smiled, to cheer her, and it seemed to suffice, for she returned it. He kissed her cheek, then her brow. “You are the dearest person on earth to me, Lily, and I shall wait as long as it may take until He answers us. We shall pass the test.”

Rosie approached them and cleared her throat. “I’m sorry to interrupt again, but someone’s headed this way from Hobbiton. See? There’s a plume of dust. I’m guessing it’s a postal rider. They won’t stop to chat, but anything they see will be spread all over the Shire by day’s end.”

Frodo and Lily nodded, and continued to walk with Rosie beside them. By the time the postal rider passed them, Hobbiton was in view.

Lily gave Frodo a reassuring smile. As they made their way through the village, they talked of the various changes they saw. Then they crossed the bridge, and the party field came into view.

Rosie could not contain her excitement. “Do you see it, Lily?”

Lily turned her head to follow Rosie’s gaze. She gasped, “Sam’s acorn! It’s grown so tall, so quickly! It’s not like any tree I’ve ever seen! It’s beautiful.” She turned wide eyes to Frodo.

He returned her smile and basked in her excitement. “It’s a mallorn. Remember the trees I told you of; the ones in which live the Elves of Lothlórien?”

Lily nodded eagerly. “Yes, I remember. They built--” she searched her memory “--flets in the branches, with stairs winding round the trunks to reach them, or ropes...”

“You remember well.” Frodo could not hide the pride he felt in Lily. It had been two months, at least, since he’d told her of Lorien.

Without a word, as if led by something outside himself, Frodo left the road and cut across the field. It was only a short distance to the mallorn. Lily and Rose glanced at each other and followed him, feeling the early shoots of green grass, cool under their feet.

They had not gone far when Frodo stopped. He looked round the whole field, as if assessing it, or trying to recall a memory. At the far end of the wide field, just the other side of Bag End, three hobbit-lasses, not more than five or six, were playing hide-and-go-seek, laughing in the early spring sunshine. Lily and Rose were quiet.

Two fat red-breasted robins flew past the mallorn’s lowermost branches, then wheeled back to perch on a thick silver one. The green-gold leaves all round the birds appeared to glisten like sun on water; to the threesome on the ground, the beauty seemed almost unreal. The birds began to sing. Frodo stood mesmerized.

“Look,” he whispered, almost to himself. “The first robins... I haven’t seen robins here since... since... I can’t sort it out.” He seemed saddened.

Lily drew close to him and stood by his side. “You weren’t here last spring, Frodo, but you were, the spring before that. Two years ago. Before -- before the Quest.” She hoped she said the right thing. She sensed what Frodo was searching for, but did he want to hear it?

“That’s what I was trying to say... thank you, dear Lily.” He smiled at her, but his expression revealed something else.

Truly, he cannot ever hide his real feelings, Lily mused.

Frodo gazed up at the tree again. More robins came, lighting underneath the spreading tree, searching for grubs and earthworms, the ground still damp from an overnight rain. Frodo’s voice was hesitant.

“I -- the new tree is lovely. I cannot deny it. But I miss the old Party Tree, as well. Somehow I must learn to love this new tree, now. It is a reminder of the respite we found in Lorien...” He closed his eyes and shook his head, then gazed up at the tree again.

“Sam planted it. That will help me to love it. It will help a great deal...” He sighed deeply.

“I don’t think I shall ever understand what happened, nor why. Why any of it had to happen.”

“Frodo,” Lily assured softly, “...none of this, none of us would be here, without you... you and Samwise... Can you take some comfort in this? Frodo--”

She did not care if Rose heard her words to him; Rose was her friend, and would know soon enough, if she had not guessed already. “My heart is near to bursting, like the new life all round us. I am so happy. The earth is new again. Yes, much was lost... But we are here; Rose is here. Sam is out planting living things... the children there are playing. So much was gained. Please, let me help you. You know what I would say...”

Frodo turned to Lily and brushed a stray curl off her left cheek and behind her ear. He wanted to throw all propriety aside and kiss her, Rose or no Rose... He sighed and chastised himself. Dear Rose was doing just as she ought, and could never be blamed for it. She was helping them through this strange time of their love, a love with no apparent future. It was nothing like what Rose shared with Samwise. They had no darkness to battle, no uncertainties at all...

Frodo fought down despair once more, and refused the envy already threatening to rise and fill his breast. Being envious of Sam and Rose was uncharitable, unkind; unfair. His friends could not help what happened on the Quest, nor could they help conquer the darkness which even now tried to push its way to the surface of his mind. Please help me, he prayed. He forced himself to smile at Lily, and to speak. He did not see Rose back away several paces, in an effort to give the couple more privacy.

“Yes, dearest Lily. I know what you would say. I see it in those lovely eyes of yours. Thank you. You give me hope and strength, as ever... indeed I can never thank you enough... I do want to go on... I realize more each day, I could never have fought this battle at all, without you... All of this, and all those I love, would still be here, but had you not been sitting on the front steps that first night we returned, Lily... I do not know where I might be... my life would have crumbled about me, lost bit by bit... the only question is which would have gone first -- my mind or my body... And as I grow ever wearier of the battle, in time all should be lost to me...”

They fought back both tears and desire. They could not express their love in words, for Frodo was not yet prepared for the bond that would result from it, nor could they embrace, here in the open. There would be other times. Frodo smiled anew, swallowing hard.

“Lily... Rose?” He turned to Rose, and she approached, somewhat shyly. “Look... the robins are building their nests. I can see one now, on the third branch up. Can you see it, there?”

He pointed, and they saw it.

Rose’s voice was full of emotion. “That’s the first nest I’ve seen in the new Party Tree, Frodo Baggins. You’ve got sharp eyes, but then Sam always said you did. Lily, this is where all the biggest parties in the Westfarthing were held...”

“I know. I was at Bilbo’s grand 111th birthday party, remember?” She gazed at Frodo once more, but smiled broadly so Rose would stay near.

Rose glanced at her in surprise. “Wait... yes. You were there with your family. But you two didn’t meet that night, if I remember right... how odd!”

Frodo looked to Lily again, and they shared their private smile. They both remembered their talk on the long drive to Deephallow in December. The Quest would not have been achieved, nor even set out on, had he met Lily that night, before the Ring... He could not have left her, ever...

Frodo reached for her right hand with his left. “It’s also where all the weddings hereabouts are held.” He winked at Rose, then turned to Lily again, his hand still outstretched.

Lily reached out for Frodo’s hand and stopped. “Rosie, is it all right?” she questioned, glancing at their hands.

Rosie laughed. “Yes, you’re almost home.” She walked on ahead.

“Home,” Lily whispered and intertwined her fingers with Frodo’s as he clasped her hand tightly.

As they approached Bag End, Lily slowed their pace. Her eyes roamed appreciatively over the hill. “The tree is looking better.”

“Sam’s gift from the Lady Galadriel is restoring it, as well.”

“It’s beautiful,” she breathed.

Frodo smiled warmly and opened the gate for her.

Rose clearly felt at home as she entered the smial and called back, “I’ll get elevensies started. I’ll wager the bench hasn’t been used in who knows how long. It’s a pleasant enough day, for March. I’ll let you know when the food is ready.”

Lily giggled. “Rose, let me give you a hand...”

Rose turned in the doorway and looked at her friend. “I’ll welcome your help at luncheon. Now, it’s time for other things. Sometimes, a change of view helps you see things differently.” Rose smiled at them both and entered the smial, closing the door behind her.

Frodo brushed a stray leaf off the bench and waited for Lily to sit, before seating himself on her left.

Lily clasped her hands in her lap and stared at them. “Rose doesn’t miss much, does she?”

“She’s like Sam that way.”

Lily raised her eyes to Frodo’s. “I’d like very much to continue to move forward, with you, if I may, taking each day in its turn.”

Frodo reached for her hands, and she grasped his tightly. “Forgive me, Lily, for allowing the darkness to prevail, from time to time... I --” he sighed in frustration.

“May I take that as a ‘yes’?” she smiled gently.

Frodo’s eyes welled with tears as he nodded. “We’ll take each day in its turn.” He slipped his right arm around her shoulders, and she held his left hand between both of hers in her lap. She hesitated only a moment, and then leaned her head against his shoulder.

Rosie glanced out of the greatroom window, and smiled to herself. Now there’s a good sign, if ever I’ve seen one, she decided happily. Can’t sit with your heads so close together they’re touching like that, if things aren’t right... She nodded to herself. I’ll give them a few more minutes and take my time checking that everything’s ready. She turned back to the kitchen.

Lily nestled her head more deeply against Frodo’s shoulder. He rubbed his cheek against her hair and breathed deeply of her.

“You always remind me of flowers... only better,” he murmured.

They sighed together, and Frodo felt her smile. The new leaves of the mallorn shimmered in the morning sun as they watched it in contented silence.

Rosie tapped on the door before opening it.

Lily sat up slowly, and Frodo raised his eyes to return Rosie’s tentative smile. “Rosie, most folk knock on the outside to come in, not on the inside to come out...”

Rose blushed, and Frodo quickly continued. “Thank you. It was very thoughtful. We truly appreciate all the time you’ve given us...”

Lily nodded and smiled.

“Well, I’m just tickled to see you’ve worked out whatever it was. Now, elevensies is ready and waiting. Come along.”

Frodo rose from the bench and offered Lily his hand. She smiled and grasped it deliberately, then allowed Frodo to lead her into the smial.

Entering the kitchen, Frodo seated first Lily and then Rosie. He then sat next to Lily, and he offered their prayer of thanks.

The three of them talked of Sam’s work all through the meal. Rose mentioned she was thinking of spending some time with the Gaffer soon, as he got lonely with his Sam gone, though he’d never admit it.

Rosie cleared the table and silently watched in approval as Frodo helped Lily with the dishes. When they were done, it was time to start luncheon, as a small pork roast with potatoes and carrots was planned. Rosie could not hide her surprise as Lily put Frodo to work cutting the vegetables. First helping with the washing up, and now this, in his own smial--!

Lily did not miss the question in Rosie’s eyes. “He’s quite good at it, really. He helped with dinner every evening in Deephallow.”

Rosie looked Frodo over. “Did he now? Who’d have thought it? The Master of Bag End! Why’ve you never told me you possess such talents, Mr. Frodo?”

Frodo blushed furiously. “You never asked... What she hasn’t told you is that I’m very good at cutting up vegetables, but it mightn’t be wise to ask me to actually cook anything. Surely Sam’s already told you that?” he teased.

Rosie raised her brows and thought a moment. “Hmmm, I do seem to remember something about him mentioning you having a habit of forgetting what you’re about, and burning meals, more often than not.”

Lily almost mentioned Frodo’s cooking lessons with his mother, but suddenly felt it shouldn’t be shared; it felt private, for the two of them, alone. She continued, “No matter; it’s not his cooking skills I need. I don’t care much for the cutting side of it myself; so it’s quite handy!” With this, Lily grinned at Frodo.

The look on Frodo’s face manifested his pleasure at Lily’s words.

Rosie chuckled. “Indeed... By the by, I’ve been meaning to ask you the whole morning... What all did you do in Deephallow?”

Frodo talked of the riding lessons, and meals at the Bird and Babe, while Lily told stories of cloud watching, and of Frodo casting his spell on Pearl. She also spoke of how her niece dearly missed Frodo, and still looked for him in the afternoons, and pouted and sulked for a half hour or more before she would finally decide he wasn’t coming.

---------

Luncheon was taken at a leisurely pace, and yet, for Lily, the time flew far too quickly. She sensed the same was true for Frodo. His mood was ever easy to discern, and his spirit seemed so open today. She smiled to herself; he was happy simply having her near.

How I want to tell him I love him! she realized, but quickly pushed her longing aside. It was enough to be with him; more than enough. Just over four months earlier, she had only been able to dream of him, with no hope at all, none, of ever knowing him, much less having his love... Yet here she was, with him.

She still basked in his earlier hushed words to her on the front porch... you always remind me of flowers... Someday, she would be able to say such things to him, after they were married; if they married... But she could not say them now -- it would be too forward; although somehow she sensed Frodo would not think ill of her for saying out loud what she felt in her heart. Still, she would wait.

Frodo was smiling at her as she came out of her daydream, still holding a dripping wet teacup in her hands. It was almost too much to bear, this dream become reality. The love in Frodo’s blue eyes was so clear, so strong, here, in his home... Lily felt slightly faint, overcome suddenly by her emotions.

He took the teacup from her and set it aside, taking her in his arms, her hands wetting his shirt. “I see what’s happening, Lily. Take some deep breaths for me, and let them out slowly. Good. Very good. All will be well. Good. You do feel well, dearest?”

Lily nodded, still somewhat weak. She was tiring, but she was not ready to tell him, not yet... she would tell him when she must... I am better, she told herself. She squeezed his forearms in silent thanks.

They turned, expecting to see Rose near them, but she was staring out the greatroom window, swiftly brushing away a few tears. Frodo hung back, while Lily stepped up beside her and slipped and arm around her shoulders.

“It’s all right to miss him, Rose. I know how much I missed Frodo...” She smiled for her friend.

Rose continued to stare at nothing. “I know it must sound strange, but somehow I miss him even more when I’m here at Bag End, yet I feel closer to him, at the same time...”

Lily nodded. “Last week, in Deephallow, I visited all the places Frodo and I had been together. I’d close my eyes tightly, and wish very hard, and it felt as if he was there, beside me. I would have to keep my eyes closed, though, for as soon as I opened them, he disappeared.” From the corner of her eye, Lily saw Frodo’s face; the half-smile she expected was there, but tears had pooled in his eyes, as well.

Rosie shut her eyes for a moment, as her friend suggested, and smiled. “I can almost hear his voice...” She laughed, and opened her eyes. “Thank you, Lily...” She embraced Lily tightly, and was more successful at hiding her own tears than was Frodo. Rose glanced at him, then at Lily once more.

“We ought to be headed back to Bywater; your brother told me yesternight he and Bell’d be there for tea.”

---------

Within moments, the kitchen was in order again, and they were ready to go; Frodo escorted Lily and Rosie out the door, offering an arm to each. “Rosie, did Sam ever tell you about how he acquired Bill?”

Rosie thought back, and then shook her head. “No, he says nary a word about anything what happened... then.”

“Then let me tell you a few stories...”

Lily noticed Frodo’s stories from the Quest were all pleasant ones... tales of Pippin trying to tell Strider -- Aragorn -- about elevensies; lessons in swordplay from the Lord Boromir; Samwise’s care and feeding -- and his love -- for Bill the pony; but none of the stories involved Frodo directly. She wondered at this, since she knew he and Sam had rarely been separated. The conversation drifted, Frodo leading it, until they talked only of Sam, almost all the way back to Bywater. Rose was glowing with happiness by the time they arrived back at Will’s.

---------

Bell and Will arrived as Rose was pouring tea.

Frodo and Lily sat together on the settee, as they had on her birthday, and for a moment he was lost in thought. I felt certain she loved me, even then, he mused. I wanted to kiss her, and each time, was interrupted; never could I have imagined her true sweetness...

Yes, you want her... almost as much as you want It...

Frodo almost choked, but managed to hide his distress behind a weak smile at something Bell said, though he had not heard the words. Please, he prayed, go away. He glanced around the room to see if anyone noticed his lapse, but the others seemed enthralled with Bell’s latest tales of the local doings. Being from a prominent family, she was invited to most gatherings in the Westfarthing, and reveled in the telling of small talk. Frodo struggled to pay attention, still reeling a little from the suddenness of the attack. Bell was not dwelling on the negative... he endeavored to hold to this thought.

Then he felt a gentle hand rest lightly on his arm, and the darkness ebbed away. He raised his eyes and met Lily’s steady, reassuring gaze. She smiled for him, and turned her attention back to Bell. He watched Lily for a moment, and sighed silently, in relief.

He noticed Lily quieted further as tea progressed, but wasn’t certain if Bell’s constant chatter was the reason, or if she was growing weary. With sudden insight he realized there was no Pearl to keep him busy while she napped after tea, as in Deephallow. Lily would not rest as long as he was near. Even if she was willing to part for a brief nap, he couldn’t wait about without giving some explanation. His heart plummeted; he would need to leave soon.

Frodo felt grateful the others wanted to linger over tea; it gave him a little more time with Lily. Her hand still lay on his arm.

His thoughts wandered again, and he wondered for the thousandth time if she truly knew what comfort she brought. He prayed for the day he could show her his thanks with more than words. Then he smiled inside, remembering her gift of sight; she knew.

His reverie was interrupted by Bell.

“Will and I are invited to dinner at my folks’; I think we’d best be on our way soon.”

Rosie looked to Lily and Frodo, questioning.

“I should probably return to Hobbiton, myself,” Frodo admitted. He did not need Lily to tell him she was weary; it was easy to see now, in her eyes. “I imagine Rosie would like a little time to herself today. I can chaperone in her stead.” He glanced at Will and Bell. “I promise to remain a fair distance behind.” Then he smiled at Lily, trying to ease their impending separation, and knowing it was a vain hope.

Rosie turned to Lily, who nodded reluctantly and struggled to hide the tears springing to her eyes. Rosie did not miss Lily’s hand on Frodo’s arm. It surely makes no sense to me, she puzzled -- these separations of theirs, and their mixed-up emotions -- but Sam told me it was a bit ticklish between them, through no fault of their own...

Rose laid the mystery aside, and stood up.

“In which case,” she declared, grinning, “since we prepared tea, Will and Bell may clean up!” She smiled at the startled couple. “Off with ya’! Surely you didn’t think you could drop in for tea and be off again, leaving all the work to us?” Will had been her next-door neighbor for years, and Rose knew she could get away with such talk.

The two blushed, and Rosie laughed. “Goodness, if I’d remembered Will turns the same colour as his hair, I’d have found some way to tease him earlier.”

Will groaned. “I’ll never hear the end of it now, shall I, Miss Rose?”

“No indeed,” she smiled, and then stared him down. Will met her challenge, smiling, but he broke first, and laughed out loud, and Bell and Lily giggled at her brother’s predicament. Frodo smiled and studied Lily quietly, happy she was able to laugh through her weariness.

Rose gave in last, and had to cover her mouth to keep from going into her higher-pitched gales of laughter.

Frodo thought of Sam, and grinned at Rose, his eyebrows raised high, knowing full well that once Rose began that particular laugh of hers, she would be unable to stop. Sam enjoyed getting Rosie into those laughing fits rather easily, but then, she was weak for Sam... He turned back to study Lily again, and her eyes met his in their private smile. She was indeed tired.

Bell bobbed a curtsy, breathless from giggling, and then put on a mock-serious face. “You’re quite right, Rosie. Come on, Will, carry the tray into the kitchen. It shan’t take us long.”

Rosie’s smile softened for Lily and Frodo. “There. Now you two have a little more time together. I’ll go check on them, and make sure there’s not more going on than should be.” She winked at the couple on the settee, and slipped into the kitchen.

Lily slid her hand down Frodo’s arm and grasped his hand in hers. She raised her eyes and searched his. “Such sadness I see, dearest.” With her other hand she reached up and caressed his cheek.

Frodo covered her hand with his own. “And such weariness I see, dear Lily.” His voice broke.

“I’ll be quite all right after a rest, just as I always am,” she reassured him.

He nodded and brought her hands to his lips, kissing first one and then the other, then searching her eyes.

Lily opened herself to him, returning his gaze and tightening her hold on his hands. They were quiet for a time.

Will and Bell called out their goodbyes, and left arm in arm. Rosie remained in the kitchen, preparing for the next day, and finding anything she could to do there, in the hope of giving Lily and Frodo as much time as she possibly could.

Finally Frodo whispered, “It’s only going to grow more difficult...”

“It all is; fighting the darkness and -- and being separated from you,” Lily continued. “I miss you every moment we are apart.” A tear escaped down her cheek.

Rather than release her hands, Frodo leaned forward and kissed the tear away. “I miss you, as well... I must go, dearest, so you may rest...”

Now Lily’s voice broke, and she mouthed, “I know...” She swallowed, and went on. “I shall see you on the morrow. May Ilúvatar bless you, and keep the darkness at bay, I pray...”

“And I pray He blesses you and keeps you safe...” A tear trickled down Frodo’s cheek, and Lily leaned close and kissed it away for him, as he had done for her.

Frodo stood and helped Lily up, then gathered her into his arms. He realized he was trembling, with need. He must let her go. She was beginning to tremble a little as well; possibly with need, possibly from weakness... perhaps both. He must let her go...

They pulled apart, and sniffed, and then Frodo laughed softly.

“We are a pair, Lily. You are quite right.”

Lily smiled up at him, and they shared a tender kiss goodbye.