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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

19 March 1420sr

Frodo was kissing her, and the kiss was part of the ceremony; she remembered seeing Hal and Daisy wed, and others... Now she was in that place, and this was the kiss that sealed their vows. Their fingers were intertwined, palm against palm, and Frodo was there. She could see no one and nothing else. She could hear nothing but his voice inside her head, telling her he loved her...

She was going to faint, and at the moment she felt herself falling, she awoke with a start.

“Frodo!” she cried aloud, and sat up, opening her eyes to the near-painful brightness of the morning Sun, and to the sight of Rose moving quietly about the room, getting ready for the day.

Rose sat on the edge of the bed. “Lily, dear, what is it? You were dreaming -- or having a nightmare... I hope it was a dream. I didn’t wake you, did I, love?”

“No, Rose, you didn’t wake me.” Lily blinked hard and rubbed her eyes. “It was -- it was a dream... the loveliest dream I’ve ever had... I -- I woke because I was going to faint. Frodo -- Frodo and I were in the wedding ceremony... it was so beautiful...”

Rose saw the distress on Lily’s face, and put an arm around her.

“What’s wrong, love? Can you tell me?”

“Oh, Rose... I love him; I know he loves me -- but the darkness poisons his mind against our love. I fear It may win in the end.”

Rose shifted, withdrawing her arm from around Lily’s shoulders, then wringing her hands in her lap. “This is hard, and no mistake. I wonder what would Mr. Gandalf say, d’you think? He’s so wise... and he seems to understand more than anyone about this darkness...”

Lily struggled to concentrate on Rosie’s words, as she was still half within the beauty of the dream, and endeavoring to wake fully. She drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around them, then laid her cheek on her knees, facing her friend, but her eyes did not see Rose.

“Gandalf would advise me to have faith, and to pray, and not to worry,” Lily asserted quietly. “How could I have forgotten, even for a moment? He said -- he said I was made for Frodo... I must always remember this. I still can hardly believe it, and yet, Gandalf wouldn’t lie...”

“He wouldn’t, that’s sure and certain.” Rose eyed her friend critically, but not unkindly. “Did you sleep well? Exceptin’ for your dream, that is?”

“Yes...” Lifting her head from her knees, Lily stretched, and then yawned. “Oh, excuse me... thank you; I did sleep well. Very well... Despite my worries, I think it’s finally blossoming in my heart that Frodo shall truly recover.” Tears shone in Lily’s eyes.

Rose embraced her friend, who started to weep. “There, there, Lily. It’s all right. I suspect you’ve been needing a good cry for a while.”

Lily mumbled against her friend’s shoulder. “But he’s all right. I should be happy, and I am.”

“These sort of tears don’t seem to make much sense, but I’ve had them myself. You should’ve seen me after Sam came home, after him bein’ away more than a year! Fortunately, my mum understands, though my brothers and my da just looked at me... they shook their heads, and walked away -- but there you are. Go ahead and cry it all out.”

Rose rocked her friend for several minutes, until the tears finally subsided, and only an occasional sniffle could be heard.

“Better?”

Lily pulled away and smiled weakly. “Yes, thank you.”

“You do realize it’ll not be easy keeping this secret of yours, about your gift, and you marrying...”

“Have I asked too much?” Lily searched her friend’s eyes.

Rose sighed, then shook her head. “No. You’re right to ask. In truth, I don’t think we’d’ve told him anyway. But ‘twas good to be reminded. There’re certain things a lad needs to learn for himself, like if a lass is right for him or not. There’s more to marriage than your gift. It’s about fitting, so to speak, being willing to work together, no matter what, and willing to share, even the painful things. I’m thinking that’s what’ll be hardest for Frodo. He doesn’t want to be a burden.”

Lily gazed at her friend in wonder. “Yes... that’s exactly right... Thank you for putting it into words, Rose. You truly do understand -- I don’t know what I’d do without you. I’d certainly never have made it through that first day of his illness alone.”

Rose rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t want to hear another word about it, or Sam’ll be the least of your worries.” She grinned. “Oh! We need to get up to Bag End a little before firsties, so we can gather up the linens and things what need cleaning. I asked Iris Greenhill -- she lives in #1 and is the launder-maid for Bag End -- to pick up the laundry there this morning.”

Lily rose from the bed and began to dress in her cream chemise. She settled on wearing the light blue overskirt and vest from among her dresses, thinking about meeting Mrs. Greenhill. “Rose, if the Greenhills are at #1 on the Row, who lives at #2? Once it’s rebuilt, that is...”

“That’d be Mrs. Longburrow, the healer. She and Iris are sisters. Actually, Mrs. Longburrow is living with Iris and Halfred and their children -- well, the ones what aren’t married yet... That’d be Pansy and Hending, both in their tweens, and then Toby. He was a bit of a surprise; he’s eight.”

Lily smiled at the last statement. “What about Mrs. Longburrow?”

“Her children are married, and her husband passed a couple years ago; he was quite a bit older than she. I’ve also already talked to her about Frodo; I did that the first day, so she wouldn’t think we were slighting her. Truly, she’s very kind, and very good at what she does. You’ll like her. I’ve asked her to stop in, and she’s coming with Iris. She knows Frodo’s recovering nicely, but she wants to make sure, and she’s bringing some more lavender. We used quite a bit, and there wasn’t much, to begin... I don’t think there’s ever been enough for putting sprigs under the mattresses.” Rose glanced sideways at Lily as they finished dressing. “I expect you’ll be changing that.”

Lily glanced back at Rose, who grinned. “Rose Cotton, it’s hard enough to concentrate on today without you putting more dreams of tomorrow in my head.” She could not maintain her severe expression, and broke into a grin of her own. “Thank you, Rosie. If I couldn’t talk with you, I think I might burst.”

Rose giggled. “So the composed and ever-serene Miss Lily Burrows isn’t all she appears, but then Frodo isn’t either. I say you’re a very good match indeed.”

Lily blushed and giggled. “You are impossible.”

“Hmmm, impossibly lovable, impossibly clever, impossibly--”

“--persistent.”

“Sounds like a good thing to me,” Rose observed brightly.

Lily laughed out loud. “Let’s see to feeding the Gaffer and be on our way. I don’t want to wait a moment longer to see Frodo.”

“Indeed. Come along, now... Mistress Baggins.”

“ROSE!”

“What? Just testing how it sounds.” Rose grinned. “I like it.”

Lily sighed. “So do I. But please...”

“All right, enough teasing -- for today, anyway.” Rose giggled and grabbed Lily by the arm, propelling her out to the kitchen before she could utter another word.

---------

Lily and Rose arrived at Bag End after feeding the Gaffer an early firsties. Rose let herself in, as was her habit, and Lily followed her, but they stopped short in the entrance.

“Good morning, ladies,” chorused Merry and Pippin as they stood to greet them from the greatroom.

Lily’s eyes traveled swiftly to the settee, where Frodo rose more slowly; he turned gingerly to greet them, and his eyes sought hers.

He smiled. “Good morning, ladies. Merry and Pip thought it a good idea to get me dressed and out and about at the crack of dawn.”

“Don’t be laying this at our door, cousin Frodo. You’re the one who woke at dawn and wanted to get up,” chided Pippin.

Frodo rolled his eyes. “Must you badger me at every turn?”

Pippin and Merry glanced at each other, then back at Frodo.

Merry replied tartly, “Yes. If we don’t, who will? Sam’s not here, so we’re filling in. Don’t blame us if it’s not as good as what Sam gives, as we haven’t had nearly as much practice.”

Frodo gazed at Lily and Rose beseechingly. “Do you see what I must put up with when you’re not here?”

Pippin interrupted. “Frodo, you have to put up with it when these dear lasses are here... why do you think they’re struggling so hard not to laugh? They know it’s true.”

Lily and Rose finally burst into gales of laughter, and entered the greatroom.

Rose grasped an arm of each of the cousins and headed them toward the kitchen. “Come along, you rapscallions, give me a hand with breakfast.” She glanced back over her shoulder at Lily and winked.

Lily blushed lightly, and smiled in return. Suddenly, she felt shy and inexplicably awkward. What happened to the familiarity of the last week? she wondered. She noted Frodo was dressed in the same dark blue velvet waistcoat, breeches and coat he’d worn at the Before Yule tea. The gem glowed softly at his throat. His shirt was a stark white, a colour not seen in Shire-made fabrics. It must be Elvish material, Lily mused. It set off the blue of his eyes... she had not thought it possible for them ever to look more blue; but they were. More blue, and more beautiful...

Frodo held out his left hand to her, and she hesitated only a moment before grasping it, remembering again he always gave her his left hand. She stood before him and studied the gem at his throat. After taking a deep breath and slowly releasing it, she reached for his right hand. This time, it was he who hesitated, but he finally allowed it. Gradually, Lily raised her eyes and met Frodo’s steady gaze. Neither spoke, but stood for some time facing each other, holding hands and searching each others’ eyes.

A smile crept across Lily’s lips and up into her eyes. She could only just feel the edge of the darkness slinking toward her, and she pushed it away. Steadily holding Frodo’s gaze, she allowed herself to fall into his eyes, and felt the familiar faintness... She leaned closer to him.

Frodo noticed the look in her eyes. “Lily, are you all right?” Fear grew in his heart. “Is it the darkness?”

Lily struggled to regain her equilibrium. She looked away for a few moments and took several deep, steadying breaths. Though he endeavored to release her hands, she tightened her hold on his. “No, it is not the darkness, dearest.” She smiled. “Not at all. It is -- looking into your eyes.”

Frodo blushed, and Lily smiled all the more.

Before she could go on about his eyes, Frodo cast about quickly for some other topic of conversation. “I -- I hope you slept well.”

“Yes, thank you. And you?”

Frodo shrugged and smiled. “I missed you.”

Lily knew he was hiding something he did not wish to reveal to her at the moment. She searched his eyes, again. “I missed you.” She longed for him to take her into his arms.

“It smells like firsties is almost ready. Shall we join the others in the kitchen?”

She could feel his struggle to keep some distance between them. A moment passed as she searched his eyes, and saw the request there not to press further, not yet. A smile touched her lips to reassure him, and she nodded, slightly.

Frodo released a sigh, and drew her arm through his.

They entered the kitchen together and found only Merry and Pippin, setting the table.

“Where’s Rose?” Frodo asked.

“Oh!” Lily gasped. “She’s gathering the laundry together, and I’m supposed to be helping her...”

“Nonsense,” Rose replied, as she entered the kitchen. “It’s done and ready for Mrs. Greenhill. Merry and Pippin took care of most of it while I started firsties, and I just finished finding the last few things. It looks like everything’s ready, and I’m ready, sure and certain!”

Pippin seated Rose while Frodo seated Lily, and Merry finished preparing the tea.

The five friends enjoyed breakfast, chatting of the day’s plans.

---------

First breakfast was finished and cleared when the knock came at the smial door. Frodo rose to answer it, but stopped when Rosie touched a hand to his shoulder as she passed him.

“I’ll get it, since I asked them up.” She paused. “Lily, why don’t you come with me, and I can introduce you to Iris and Mrs. Longburrow. I don’t think you’ve met yet.”

Rose opened the door, and a robust ladyhobbit entered the smial, a younger version of herself close behind.

“Miss Lily Burrows, I’d like you to meet Iris Greenhill, the launder-maid for Bag End, and her daughter Pansy,” Rose announced. “Iris and Pansy, this is Miss Burrows.”

The pair bobbed curtseys and chimed, “Pleasure to meet you, Miss Burrows.”

Lily reminded herself of her station, and replied, “It’s nice to meet you, Iris and Pansy.”

Iris waved her daughter to gather up the laundry into the basket they’d brought. “We’ll have it back the day after tomorrow, if the weather holds.”

“Thank you for agreeing to pick up on an off day,” Lily smiled.

“It’s no trouble at all, Miss Burrows.”

“Iris, where’s your sister?” Rose asked.

“She’s just coming up the path there behind us, Rose.” Iris returned her attention to Lily. “Good day to you, Miss Burrows.”

Iris and Pansy bobbed quick curtseys once more and left, passing Mrs. Longburrow on the steps.

Rose once again made introductions.

“Mrs. Longburrow, may I present Miss Lily Burrows. Miss Lily, this is Mrs. Longburrow, the healer for Bag End, Hobbiton, and Bywater.”

Mrs. Longburrow extended her hand and Lily took it. The healer gave her a measured look. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Lily.”

“And you, Mrs. Longburrow.” Lily curtseyed.

“Rose tells me you’re short on lavender, so I’ve brought a bit of that with me, but I’d also like to take a look at what’s in the pantry, to see what else you might need. Bilbo was terrible about keeping it properly stocked, and as I recall Master Frodo hasn’t been much better, though Sam was very good about making sure all the necessaries were available.”

Lily hid a smile as the healer swept past her. She must be nearer eighty than seventy, Lily reasoned. But she looks nearer fifty than sixty...

“Good morning, Master Frodo, Master Meriadoc, and Master Peregrin. Now, there’s a familiar sight. The only one missing is Sam, but he’ll be returning soon enough.” She eyed Merry and Pippin. “You two be sure and keep him here. I want to have a look at him before I leave.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Merry and Pippin stood either side of Frodo in the middle of the greatroom.

“You want to see me?” Frodo asked. “But I’m -- I’m mostly well...”

Lily was a little surprised at the guarded look in Frodo’s eyes.

“Yes, Master Frodo. And don’t be getting all prickly on me.” The stout Mrs. Longburrow placed her hands on her hips. “I gave you one -- one -- draught for a bellyache from eating too much cake when you were -- how old were you? -- fifteen? And still you gaze at me with suspicion. You shouldn’t have eaten so much of that cake. I know Bilbo had it made for you, but that didn’t mean you had to eat it all in one sitting.”

“It was awful stuff, Mrs. Longburrow,” Frodo replied meekly. “I’m still not sure which was worse, the bellyache from the cake, or the bellyache from that draught.”

The healer sighed. “Well, I am sorry about that.” She turned to Lily. “I’d just finished my apprenticeship as a healer and still had plenty to learn about the art of it...”

She turned back to Frodo. “Just so you know: it’s because of you I learned about making draughts easier to swallow. They really do work better if they stay down, for the most part. I promise no draughts today, but no other promises than that.”

Mrs. Longburrow grasped Lily’s arm in one hand and Rosie’s in the other and headed toward the pantry, talking of the various herbs needed in any proper pantry. She walked directly to the shelf and clicked her tongue as she inspected the mostly empty jars, then began filling them with herbs from her satchel.

“I’ve brought much of what you’ll need. I’d a feeling Frodo didn’t think to restock when he moved back in, but then it would have been difficult anyway, since most of the herbs won’t be in bloom until late summer -- though he could’ve gotten whatever he needed from me, if he’d but asked.”

Lily hesitated, but couldn’t resist. “He doesn’t truly dislike you, does he?”

The healer threw back her head and laughed. “No, Miss Lily. He’s the kindest soul I know, and always respectful, except when he thinks I might be giving him some concoction, and I don’t blame him. It really was a nasty brew. I’d learned it from a healer in Oatbarton, but never used it before...

“I learned a lot from that incident. Frodo could have requested another healer for Bag End, but he’s kept me.” The older hobbit’s eyes softened. “I’ve been very fortunate indeed.”

She gave Lily an appraising look. “Sometimes you have to stand up to him. He’s used to getting his own way, but that’s not always what’s best. Remember, he’s required to answer to no one...”

Lily turned the healer’s words over in her mind, and smiled, then caught Mrs. Longburrow smiling back and nodding. She needed to ask.

“Mrs. Longburrow, have you the gift of sight?”

“No, child,” the healer laughed, her eyes twinkling. “It’s only I’ve been watching folk for more years than you’ve been alive. There’s lots to keeping a body healthy, and most often it’s the not-so-obvious what makes the difference in folk. Now I need to check Master Frodo, just to be sure I earn my keep.” She winked at Lily and Rose and headed back to the greatroom.

Frodo, Merry and Pippin all stood when Mrs. Longburrow entered the room, followed by Lily and Rose.

“Let me look at you,” Mrs. Longburrow commanded.

Frodo glanced around the room at the others.

“Don’t worry about them, Master Frodo. I’m just checking your eyes, is all. Now, I know you can open them wider than that, I’ve seen it... Better...”

The healer peered into Frodo’s eyes. Her brows drew together. She lifted her right hand and reached for Frodo’s shoulder.

He flinched away.

She searched his face. “How long ago?”

“A year and a half.”

“That long?”

Frodo nodded once.

“Does it still pain you?”

“From time to time.”

“But not all the time.”

“No.”

She nodded, and peered into his eyes once more. Before he could withdraw it, she reached for his right hand with her left, and pulled it close for inspection.

“How long ago?”

“Almost a year.”

“It’s healed nicely. Someone did fine work.”

“King Elessar is a healer.”

“Oh, wouldn’t I like to meet him...” Her eyes momentarily drifted far away. “No matter.” She released his hand and searched his eyes once more.

She stepped back and sighed. “You’ve had a rough time of it, Master Frodo, but you seem to be on the mend. Miss Lily and Rose have done a fine job of caring for you. I imagine Masters Merry and Pippin have lent a hand as well. I’m grateful, truly, as I’d been treating the Proudfoots in Hobbiton. Several came down with a fever of some sort. We almost lost the youngest.”

The healer turned to Lily. “It’s not Bell’s family, but her cousins once removed on her father’s side. They live a few doors down. Bell’s off visiting family with Will, isn’t she?”

“Yes. She and Will are helping her cousin in Willowbottom... then they’ll be going on to Deephallow for the remembrance of our parents’ anniversary. I’ll be joining them in a few days.” Her heart tightened at the words; she did not want to leave Frodo, not ever again.

“I was sorry to hear about your mum and your da,” Mrs. Longburrow replied. She shook herself. “I need to go check on the Proudfoots. If you need anything, you know where to find me. Miss Lily, Rose, please see me out.”

The two friends followed the healer to the door. Mrs. Longburrow stepped out the door and drew the two lasses with her. She spoke in a hushed tone.

“Frodo’s recovering nicely, but has a ways to go yet. Don’t worry. I’ll be sure all Hobbiton knows today of his condition, so the news dies down before Sam returns.” She smiled, warmly. “I want you to feed him some dandelion greens and watercress. I’ll send some up with Toby. Serve it to him fresh for the next few meals.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Longburrow,” Lily nodded.

The healer appraised Lily once more, sensing the young lady’s great relief at the news of Frodo’s physical health. Mrs. Longburrow admitted she was not as sure of his heart and mind, but she was not that sort of healer. She could not deny the feeling this bright lass before her knew much more of such things than she let on.

Lily smiled for her, and the older ladyhobbit returned the smile. “You’re most welcome, Miss Lily. He’s a bit set in his ways, but not hopeless.” She winked broadly and bustled down the lane.

“You’re right, Rose; I do like her.” Lily smiled as she watched Mrs. Longburrow turn to wave.

Rose nodded and sighed. “Knew you would. Now, secondies needs to be started. I’ll take Merry and Pip with me. Spend time with Frodo. I forgot you were going home soon.”

Lily whispered through unexpected tears. “I don’t want to leave him, Rose.”

“I know, love. It’ll be all right. Sam’ll be home to keep an eye on him, and then you’ll be returning again soon, am I right?”

“Yes. With Will and Bell.”

The friends shared an embrace and entered the smial together as Lily brushed tears away. She had managed to avoid all thoughts of returning to Deephallow until now.

Frodo was still standing where the healer had left him, as if rooted to the spot. He noted Lily’s muted tears, and worried. He captured her eyes and held them as she approached, everyone else forgotten. Lily stopped in front of him and gazed up into his eyes.

“Are you all right?” he asked, gently.

Tears shimmered in Lily’s eyes, despite her efforts to hide them. “I don’t want to leave you,” she whispered.

Frodo’s breath caught. He reached for her, then dropped his hands.

Lily searched Frodo’s eyes again, suddenly afraid. “Frodo, what is it? Why’ve you been distant this morning?”

Frodo turned away, and walked to the fireplace. He stared into the bright yellow and orange flames dancing there. It occurred to him he would never again be able to see a hearth fire as something simple, something beautiful and comforting.

Lily stepped close beside him. “Please... tell me.”

“I -- I’m sorry. My behavior was inexcusable,” he replied.

Lily heard bitter self-disgust in his voice, and was confused. “Frodo, what is this about?”

Frodo glanced at her only briefly, then turned back to the fire. “I -- I kissed you, in my bed, in front of everyone. There was no excuse. Merry and Pippin say it doesn’t matter, but they’re not the best judges of appropriate behavior. I woke this morning thinking about it, realizing how unspeakably bold it was, and I truly am sorry.” He turned back to her, finally meeting her eyes.

Lily heaved a sigh of relief. “You are forgiven, dearest. I should have been more aware. I knew you were feeling better, and yet not quite yourself yet.”

“Shhh, dearest...” Frodo laid a finger against her lips. “This is not your fault--”

Suddenly, he could not breathe. Lily had kissed his finger.

She removed his hand from her mouth, intertwining her fingers with his. “Frodo, I’m not sorry you kissed me then. All I could think was how well you looked. I could feel how much better you were. I could not have borne waiting and waiting to see you here in the greatroom, for propriety’s sake.”

“You’re not angry, at all?”

“No, darling. Have I given you cause to believe I was?”

Frodo thought for several moments, then shook his head. “No.”

His eyes searched hers, and Lily saw the request there.

“I’ve missed being held by you,” she whispered in reply.

“Dearest Lily,” Frodo murmured, and drew her into his arms. Her warmth offered the comfort the hearth fire failed to give.

Lily slipped her arms around his neck, and sighed in contentment. “I welcomed that kiss, Frodo. Even in front of all of them. I was far too bold, as well. But I am not sorry, for I felt so much joy then, being held in your arms. There is no place I’d rather be, now, and always.”

Frodo held Lily closer, with her cheek resting on his left shoulder. It pained him so, particularly these past few days... now, as if in a dream, he felt the ache subside almost to nothing. It seemed impossible; but he chose to believe it, and he felt her sigh. “Oh, Lily... if I could only hold you here, like this, always...”

Lily whispered against his ear, “You may.”

Frodo trembled, then pulled a little away to search her eyes again. “What if--”

“Not in this moment. In this moment, there is no yesterday and no tomorrow. I want to enjoy being held by you. We may speak of what-ifs later...” She smiled, more with her eyes than her lips.

Frodo read the request in her eyes. His arms tightened about her, and her arms about his neck drew him closer. He lowered his head to hers, and she met him part way in a lingering shared kiss.

At the outermost edges of thought, they heard Rose calling; Frodo wondered if mayhap he only imagined it. No; she was calling... but he did not wish to hear it. Lily’s kiss, loving and warm as it was, told him she felt the same way. For the space of several heartbeats they pretended not to hear the summons; for another brief moment they held each other more tightly and deepened their kiss, and then broke apart. Lily brushed his lips with her own once more; just as softly, Frodo returned it, the merest touch of his lips on hers. He felt her tremble, and suddenly realized he was trembling himself. They took deep breaths to steady themselves, and smiled, finally stepping apart.

Frodo kissed Lily’s forehead, then drew her arm through his own, and they strolled into the kitchen, still gazing into each other’s eyes.

Rose hid her sigh of relief; whatever it was, they’ve worked it out. She smiled to herself. He better marry her soon, she mused. I’m not sure how many more times I can endure such pins and needles.

---------

After second breakfast, Lily asked Frodo where he wanted to walk.

“Not too far, mind.” Lily smiled.

“The front garden should suit.” Frodo grinned. “Anywhere, as long as you are with me...”

They made themselves comfortable on the bench outside the front door.

Lily was aware that Frodo deliberately placed her on his right; then he slipped his arm around her shoulders, holding her hands with his left. Someday, I must help him understand he need not hide the marred hand from me, she determined. But not today; Mrs. Longburrow pushed quite enough for one day.

She settled more comfortably against him, with her head resting on his shoulder, and felt him kiss her hair; she indulged in a heartfelt sigh. “This is lovely,” she murmured.

“Indeed, lovely... and you are the loveliest thing in my life.” He kissed her hair again, and sighed contentedly.

Lily heard the smile in his voice and nestled closer. The air felt crisp but pleasant, especially sitting here together, enjoying the Sun’s light.

“Frodo?”

“Yes?” He breathed deeply of her and relaxed a little more.

“What is your first memory of Bag End?”

Frodo laughed, and Lily glanced up at him, her curiosity evident in her eyes.

“We came to celebrate my Auntie Dora’s seventy-fifth birthday. I was nine. Uncle Bilbo asked us to stay with him. I knew Uncle Bilbo from his visits to Brandy Hall, but this was the first time our family’d been invited to Bag End. I don’t know as he was particularly delighted by the prospect of having family to visit, but he and I’d struck up a friendship of sorts. He loved telling stories, and I loved listening to them, though it drove my mum to distraction, for I would have dreams of dragon-guarded treasures for days after...”

Frodo paused, realizing the story was flowing in a torrent; it was not unlike a sudden summer storm, and he would tell her everything from that moment in his childhood until now, if he were not reined in like a runaway pony. He smiled to himself; Lily would not be the one to hold him back. She would have allowed him to go on for days, if he wished it. But they could not stay together for days... He maintained his smile, for her.

“Did it frighten you so much?” She settled deeper within the circle of Frodo’s right arm, and held his left hand in her lap, lacing and unlacing their fingers.

“In truth, I found it all terribly exciting. I didn’t awake with nightmares so much, as getting too involved in the dream, and falling out of bed!” Frodo chuckled to himself. It was good to be able to tell her these things.

Lily joined in his laughter. There were so many questions she wanted to ask, but she feared they might lead to unpleasant memories. She decided to let the tale unfold as it may.

“We were here but a few days.” Frodo continued. “Long enough for me to fall in love with the place. I’d a room of my own and my parents’ undivided attention as well as Uncle Bilbo’s -- at least until the other relatives showed up the next day. Then it was not unlike Brandy Hall... knowing Bilbo as I do now, I’m surprised he didn’t go adventuring there and then.”

“He dislikes company so much?”

“It’s not the company he minds so much as the kind of company. He delighted in visits from Dwarves, and Elves, and of course, Gandalf, but he’s never held much interest in family and history. He hadn’t children of his own to pass on the legacy, so what was the point?... He was far more interested in making history. The names folk called him, more as insults than compliments, he wore as a badge of honour and pride... I think Bilbo enjoyed the notoriety. It appealed to his sense of adventure.” Frodo shook off memories which were closer to the present; he did not want to think about them.

The smile on Lily’s face faded as she felt his inner struggle. Was there nothing they could talk about that did not bring him pain? she lamented. A soft smile returned to her lips as Frodo lifted her hand and kissed it, then held her more tightly. She could feel him turn away from the dark memories.

Frodo continued without any outward hint of his momentary turmoil. “He loves a good listener, and I was one of the best. My cousins had brothers and sisters to feed their imaginings, the way children do, whether they want it or no. I could always pick and choose, and I found Bilbo’s far more interesting, particularly since his stories were real...” His voice trailed off, and he sighed.

“I spent the whole of my visit close to Bilbo, drinking in every word, so much so that I was able to recite some of his stories back to him, before we returned to Brandy Hall.”

Frodo paused and gazed down on Lily’s auburn hair, noticing the more pronounced red hues shining in the Sun’s light.

“Lily, what are you thinking? May I ask?”

She sighed. “You may. I was thinking how beautiful the day is and -- and how much I enjoy listening to you and hearing your voice...”

Lily stopped to gather her thoughts, which had scattered in all directions like so much dandelion silk in a breeze. She could not think for too very long about how much she loved everything about him. She almost told him this, but remembered her promise, and though she would not have actually uttered the words, he might feel she overstepped their agreement. Her heart whispered he needed more time.

“Are you still able to recite his stories?”

“Yes,” Frodo smiled, then his brows drew together. “Lily--”

“Elevensies!” Pippin yelled from the greatroom window, startling the couple apart. “Sorry, but it’s the third time I’ve said it. Hurry, or we’ll eat your portion. It’s some of Rosie’s wonderful mince pie.”

Frodo pushed his own questions aside and rose from the bench, offering his hand to Lily.

She took it, carefully folding her fingers over his and maintaining her hold on his hand once she was standing.

Pippin watched them from the window. “Hurry up! Or it’ll get cold!”

Frodo gave his cousin a resigned smile and opened the door for Lily, letting her enter before him.

---------

Merry sat back and sighed in satisfaction. “Rose, should you ever decide to throw Sam over, be sure to look me up. That was delicious.”

Rose eyed Merry dubiously. “D’you want me to pass that along to Sam?”

Merry considered it a moment. “No, best not be telling him or he may chase me off with a shovel the next time I come to visit Frodo. Can’t be having that.” He grinned.

“Where’re you walking to now, Frodo?” Rose deliberately changed the subject.

Frodo smiled in appreciation. “I’d like to see the back gardens.” He did not mention it would also give Lily and him more privacy.

But Rose seemed to realize, for she raised her brows. “I’ve been meaning to check it for Sam. Now is as good a time as any.” She noted the disappointment in Frodo’s eyes and continued, “There’s a bit of work needs doing in the kitchen’s herb garden.”

“She’s a clever one, that Rose is,” Merry sighed, and shook his head. He pursed his lips. A warning glance from Pippin stayed any further teasing.

Frodo did not seem to hear Merry at all. His eyes openly reflected the gratitude he felt toward Rose, as the herb garden was close to the smial. “We’ll be walking the garden paths, if Lily is up to it.”

Lily smiled. “I’m not the one who’s been ill.”

“Why don’t the two of you go ahead? I’ll be out in a moment,” Rose offered.

Frodo reached out his left hand for her, and Lily intertwined their fingers. They padded down the long hall to the back door.

Rose commented aloud, “They fit.”

Merry and Pippin nodded and spoke together. “That they do.”

---------

Lily glanced around curiously. Was this her first glimpse of the back hall? she wondered. She could not remember.

As they stepped through the door into the garden proper, Lily exclaimed in delight. There were several rose beds interspersed with beds in which crocuses were blooming and shoots from other bulbs were peeking through the rich brown earth. Each bed was carefully bordered with rocks and cleared paths winding in and around them.

“Oh, Frodo,” Lily breathed. “It’s beautiful.”

Frodo smiled, reveling in her enjoyment of the garden. It was not fully in bloom -- it was nowhere near it... and yet, this did not dampen Lily’s pleasure. I’ll speak to her tomorrow, he decided; and then he abandoned himself to Lily’s wonder and joy. It was healing.

They strolled the garden hand in hand until luncheon, when Rose called them in.

Throughout luncheon Merry and Pippin regaled Lily with stories of their adventures in the Bag End gardens when they were children, playing hide and seek with Frodo. With much merriment they divulged where the best hiding places were. Pippin ruefully explained that in a rose bed was not one of them.

Lily hid her surprise at feeling Frodo’s weariness, stronger than her own. She laid her hand atop his on the table, and admitted to feeling a part of her own strength diminish; yet not uncomfortably so. Not like before...

She leaned close to Frodo and whispered, “Would you like to rest, dearest?”

Frodo searched her eyes for a moment before replying. “I am the one who asks that question.”

Lily noted the smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “I am not the one who has been ill.” In her heart she added, ‘beloved.’

Frodo let the smile spread across his lips, and sighed. “I am a little weary, but you should rest as well.”

“Yes...” Lily watched Frodo’s eyes wander over her face, his gaze resting on her lips. Her hand tightened over his, and he raised his eyes to hers again, holding them.

Merry, Pippin, and Rose continued to talk together, though more quietly, trying not to notice Frodo and Lily’s exchange.

The couple rose together and left the kitchen, only to pause in the hall. They gazed into each others’ eyes for a few moments, then parted, glancing back at each other as they retreated to their separate bedrooms for an afternoon rest.

---------

Frodo slept on till dinner, though Lily woke for tea. Afterwards, she and Rose took the opportunity to become familiar with the herbs Mrs. Longburrow had left.

When Frodo found her, Lily was in the kitchen, cooking dinner with Rose. The two were happily discussing Lily’s muffin recipe, the one Frodo could even now smell baking. He smiled at the obvious friendship shared between the two most important lasses in his life.

He had stood in the doorway only a moment when Lily glanced up to see him there. He marveled at how her happy face lit up even more. How is that possible? he wondered.

Lily drew him into the kitchen and sat him at the table with a cup of tea, then helped Rose finish preparing dinner.

While Rose went to call Merry and Pippin in from outside, Lily and Frodo enjoyed their few moments of solitude.

“Thank you for the lovely walk in the back garden, dearest,” Lily gazed up into Frodo’s eyes and struggled to breathe evenly. Those eyes. They seemed clearer than ever today. He was indeed on the mend, as Mrs. Longburrow assured; not healed, not fully. But so much better.

Frodo reminded himself he must talk to Lily; so many questions needed answering; but not today.

“Never has my garden appeared so beautiful,” he murmured. “But then, never before have you graced it, Lily...”

Lily blushed crimson and needed to look away from all she saw in Frodo’s eyes as Merry, Pippin and Rose entered the room.

---------

Dinner slipped into supper as Merry and Pippin shared their plans for the house at Crickhollow. To Frodo’s surprise, they even entertained notions of returning one day to Gondor and Rohan.

After supper, they gathered in the greatroom with mugs of hot mulled cider, and Merry told tales of the Rohirrim, of Eomer and of Theoden, and of the Lady Eowyn. At Frodo’s request, Pippin spoke of Faramir and of Gondor, hesitant at first; the Travelers had not spoken of Boromir for months, and they could not think of Faramir without also thinking of his older brother. The two young cousins tried to maintain a brave face when they told of their own fencing lessons from Boromir, but their laughter was shadowed by sorrow. Lily remembered Frodo’s recounting of the fencing lessons on a day when he had escorted herself and Rose from Bag End to Will’s for tea, less than a fortnight back...

Lily felt Frodo’s own sorrow at the mention of Boromir, but it was not the darkness; it was grief for the lord’s death, and something more--?... Yet despite his grief, Frodo wanted to hear more of these Men of Gondor, as if the grief were somehow cleansing. He urged Pippin to continue the tales when he hesitated. She then felt her beloved holding back a torrent of tears; he gripped her hand tightly, for strength. Yes, that was it, Lily realized: Frodo needed to hear these tales told, but he did not want the evening to become dreary...

Then Frodo asked Pippin and Merry to sing the drinking song they’d learned at the wedding celebrations for Elessar and Arwen, of a poor witless groom destined to be henpecked for the rest of his life. Rose and Lily laughed along with the Master of Bag End. Merry laughed so hard Pippin finished the song alone.

Although Frodo enjoyed hearing the song, he could not remember any of it, and Lily wondered why, since he had been at the wedding along with the others. Now she held his hand tightly, hoping someday she would know so much more about her beloved -- anything he wanted to tell her... all he wished to share... the bad, along with the good.

Frodo glanced often at Lily, and noted when she began to grow weary; he then suggested it was time he retired for the night. Lily smiled, for she could see through his protestations of weariness. Frodo was not really tired, but he knew she was. He knew she needed her rest.

Rose gathered her cloak and headed down the steps from Bag End. She called back, “Don’t take too long to catch up, Lily.”

Lily and Frodo stood at the open door of Bag End. Merry and Pippin could still be heard, singing and laughing by the fire.

“The day was wonderful, dearest,” Lily sighed. “I shall miss you...”

“And I you, dear one,” Frodo murmured.

He gave in to his desire, reflected in Lily’s eyes, drawing her into his arms and lowering his head to hers, tasting the sweetness of her lips. He trembled at the feel of her fingers in his curls at the back of his neck, and with his left arm still wrapped around her, holding her close, he reached his right hand up and slid it into the softness of her tresses; she trembled along with him, and for a time they were carried away, and all worries of the morrow vanished in their shared caresses.