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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

21 March 1420sr

As they strolled up the lane to Bag End, Lily told Rose of her request to go to the Battle Garden. Rose squeezed her arm and glanced in front of them, drawing her friend’s gaze as well.

Lily struggled not to break into a run when she saw Frodo walking toward them. Rose gave her a gentle push ahead. Lily glanced back at her friend, then turned to hurry a little faster to meet Frodo. She resisted her desire to throw herself into his arms. Instead, they grasped each others’ hands.

“I missed you...”

They spoke it at the same time, so softly it might have been mistaken for the whisper of the gentle breeze caressing their faces. The Sun had come up, and with her, the cool soft morning winds of late March in the Westfarthing. It lifted silken strands of Lily’s long auburn curls, floating like gossamer in the air between them, and Frodo captured each one lightly, tucking them gently behind her ears, lest they obscure the hazel eyes he knew -- and loved -- so well.

Lily closed her eyes, however, and Frodo knew why. She was reveling in his touch, this simple touch...

Frodo did not care if the whole Row, or indeed the whole Shire saw him with her, out here in the lane.

“Good morning, dearest Lily.” He kept his voice low. In the corner of his sight, standing patiently away from them, was Rose, smiling to herself. Frodo thanked her silently.

“Please open your beautiful eyes, Lily, so I may see what colour they are this morning... green, like the new grass in spring? Or blue, like the summer sky?”

He traced her left eyebrow with his thumb, his palm against her cheek, and slowly she opened her eyes.

“Oh, Frodo...” Lily sighed, and looked up into his sapphire blue eyes, happy the colour would never change at all -- but for the blue-green when filled with tears...

“I can--” she ventured, and needed to start again, so undone she was by his words and his touch. “I can say without doubt my eyes are green, for surely, I -- I know my emotions are at the surface,” she finished, faltering in her speech.

“Frodo, I think -- I think it best we get off the road. I want to give you a morning kiss... and I cannot, not in full view of the Row... Iris is there -- I think Rose mentioned Iris... has been known to gossip, and she’s watching from her window at this moment -- she means no harm by it...”

“It’s all right, dearest. You are being wise, and I agree with you. It’s best we get off the road.”

With horrible clarity, Frodo saw himself hiding under a giant tree root, a Wraith smelling the air for him, for the Ring. His friends were in danger, and the very insects were fleeing the Evil... and the memory of the desire to put on the Ring took hold of him, and shook him.

Frodo felt himself start to tremble; the memory rode down upon him too quickly, and he was helpless to stop it... He remembered he could pray, and he forced the memory back down into the deepest corners of his thought, concentrating on the sweetness and health and purity which were Lily, instead of the aching bitterness of the past. The Quest would have ended that day, in that moment, were it not for Sam’s swift thinking... and Lily would not be standing here before him with love in her eyes... none of them would be here. He heaved a ragged sigh.

He would not let the darkness take him again, today. The night’s battle with it had been enough. Lily was here now, before him, and he possessed the strength to withstand it, with her...

“Your eyes are green, dearest Lily, and lovely. And you are quite right, if Iris is on the lookout... shall we go inside?”

Frodo smiled for her, but Lily felt something amiss and was taken aback; the pain within him was so sudden and strong. She searched Frodo’s eyes, then glanced back at Rose.

Lily waited until her friend approached, then asked, “Rosie, do we have a little time to walk in the back garden before first breakfast?”

Rose looked at Lily, then Frodo. “Yes. I’ll call you when it’s ready.” She hurried ahead, glancing over her shoulder as she entered the smial.

Frodo and Lily walked hand in hand to the back garden and along one of the paths, finally stopping next to a rosebush, covered with scarlet blooms. Lily turned to face Frodo, and searched his eyes more carefully. She was well past the faintness which had stolen over her, and glad he had not seen it.

“What is it, dearest Frodo?”

He glanced past her, then at the roses.

Lily cocked her head to capture his gaze again.

Finally he whispered, “It’s not any better...”

She drew her brows together questioningly.

“The darkness -- it still only retreats when you’re near...” Frodo’s hushed voice dissolved into unshed tears.

Lily’s eyes widened. “It’s only been a single night, dear one!”

“I know. I -- know. It’s just so difficult -- I take so much from you...”

“And you give me so much...” Lily felt tempted to tell him of her gift; that Ilúvatar meant it for Frodo alone, but her heart whispered the darkness would twist the truth into a horrible lie. She took in a deep breath and released it.

“Remember?” she coaxed gently. “Gandalf says Ilúvatar only rarely answers prayer right away. Would you hurry an answer from Him?”

Frodo smiled, and Lily could see he was somewhat comforted. “Lily dearest, how is it you always know what to say?”

She considered the question for a moment. “The same way you do. And at this moment, I want to say ‘Good morning,’ and Iris is not at the window any more...”

Frodo’s eyes widened, as he saw the request in Lily’s eyes, and then he drew her into his arms and held her tightly. She slipped her arms around his neck, and gazed up simply to enjoy his face. She saw and felt his breathing quicken; her own response was to stop breathing entirely. They met in a gentle kiss. Lily relaxed against the warmth of him, knowing he loved her. It would need to be enough for now, this knowledge. Someday, the words would come...

She welcomed his controlled passion, the slow deepening of their kiss. He was leading her to a place where only the two of them existed. Then there was no one else, nothing else, but him. He started to tremble slightly, and gradually he ended the kiss. They held each other close for several more minutes before Rose called them to first breakfast from the back door.

Lily withdrew her arms from around Frodo’s neck, but paused to lay her right hand on his cheek, as she gazed into his eyes. “Better?”

Frodo kept one arm wrapped around her waist and covered her hand, soft against his cheek, with his own. “Yes. With you, everything is better,” he murmured.

“And so it is with you,” she smiled.

Then she saw and felt the doubt leap within him. “No doubts today, dearest Frodo... There are plenty of days ahead for that. Today, I need you -- I need your happiness, as much as you are able to give...” she whispered. “Please...”

“Yes.”

“Firsties!” Pippin yelled from the back door, and the couple startled.

“It seems they are growing weary of waiting for us, dear,” Lily giggled.

“So it seems,” Frodo smiled, and eased her hand from his cheek, then intertwined their fingers. They walked back to the smial hand in hand.

---------

First breakfast was spent in practical discussion of the morning outing to the Battle Garden.

No one questioned why Lily was unusually quiet; they all knew. Nor did anyone question Frodo as he poured her tea and added sugar, then buttered her scones and ensured she was given whatever she desired. When she inquired about a bit more bacon, and learned there was no more, Frodo gave her his last slice. His gentle attentions were rewarded with soft smiles of gratitude, more often than not expressed with her eyes.

While Merry and Pippin made quick work of the breakfast dishes, they also made plans to stop in at the Green Dragon. At the same time, Rose prepared the food they would take with them, for herself, Lily, and Frodo.

The couple left Bag End together, getting a head start. Merry retrieved the basket of food, and Pippin carried a blanket. The young cousins escorted Rose between them, talking all the while, as they followed soon after Frodo and Lily.

---------

By the time they reached the Battle Garden, the Sun was high in the sky, and bright, and all the morning mists had receded, leaving behind a carpet of green. Winter rye grass had been planted by some of the families in Bywater, and their efforts were bearing fruit. No other place in the village could boast a green lawn yet.

Some saplings had been planted as well; elm, oak, maple -- Frodo saw a row of tiny poplars delineating the farthest border of the Gardens. The only mature tree within sight was the old sycamore, her branches announcing the early spring with tiny buds of green.

Merry and Pippin paused for several minutes as they examined the name-stone. Then without a word they turned away, and headed to visit friends in Bywater and Hobbiton. Rose and Frodo bid them goodbye, while Lily approached the name-stone.

Lily knelt before the large white stone, polished and smooth but for the names engraved there. She ran her fingers along her father’s name. Without looking up, she cleared her throat to speak.

“Tell me of what happened that day... I stayed away from the windows, as you asked, Frodo. Did you see -- did you see it -- happen?”

Frodo stood just behind her, his confused memory of the battle and its aftermath interfering with his concentration. He kept his voice measured, and calm, as he recalled the events of that day.

“No, I didn’t,” he replied softly. “It all happened so quickly, once it began... The first hobbit I reached was already gone; he was just out of his tweens... The next I saw was your da, though I did not know who he was until -- until the end.”

“Did he -- did he suffer?” Lily feared the answer, but needed to know. She remained resolute, still facing the stone, on her knees.

“I don’t know, Lily... I don’t think so. He had a little trouble breathing, but he didn’t seem in pain when I found him. His deepest wound seemed to be his worry for you, and Daisy and Will, but mostly for you. But even that eased quickly, once he was assured you’d be cared for.”

Lily bowed her head and covered her face with her hands as she began to weep.

Frodo glanced at Rose, who nodded her head. He placed his right hand on Lily’s shoulder.

For a moment she seemed to withdraw, hunching her shoulders and crying all the more. Then she stood and turned to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and burying her face his shoulder.

Frodo eased his arms around her. Her weeping turned to wracking sobs, tearing at his heart. He glanced at Rose, a question in his eyes.

She gestured for him to hold Lily tighter, then nodded to him; he could comfort her in this public place.

Frodo gave his full attention to Lily, gathering her closer. Thoughts of that damp November morning flooded through him; the joyous memory of her being in his arms for the first time, asleep against his chest, easily crowded out the other recollections.

He allowed his right hand to stray into her curls, then began to stroke her hair. Suddenly, he ached to tell her how much he loved her.

“I miss them, so much,” Lily choked.

“I know, my dear one,” Frodo murmured. “It’s all right.” Who understood her loss, even now, as well as he did? The loss of both parents, so sudden, and unexpected, and too soon...

Understanding struck his heart. Lily would miss him, and weep like this when he was gone, no matter whether they continued the courtship and he died...

Frodo pushed the thought away. Even if they ended it here, and now, she would still weep for him. Already, their lives were so intertwined... only marriage would bring them lasting happiness; and yet just possibly marriage would also be the death of her. Ilúvatar! he prayed. Please give me guidance; I cannot decide such a weighty thing alone.

Light echoed quietly within him, awakening his memory. Trust to her, and to Me, it whispered. It was what Ilúvatar said to him in his moment of black despair, alone in Bag End, the day before he became so ill.

He yearned to tell her of his love for her, but not here, not now; not amidst so much sorrow. Mayhap he never would... for now, he would allow her to mourn the loss of her parents only, not the loss of himself as he deteriorated into some shade of his former self, neither living nor dead... He wondered again how ill he was in the five days he could not account for.

Some part of himself also admitted he wanted the moment he declared his love for her to be a joyous occasion, unshadowed by any sorrow, if ever such a moment could be. Frodo sighed, and the fragrance of her, so near, in his arms... she filled his heart to the point of exquisite pain. He remembered Faramir telling him that the pain caused by a surfeit of joy could be healed by giving thanks.

Frodo thanked his Creator, and in the same moment his heart was made lighter, and the darkness which assailed him at night, without Lily, seemed very far away indeed. The relief he felt made him aware of Lily again, still weeping softly against him. Another prayer rose in his heart. Please, give her comfort...

Would he ever tell her of his love for her? If he could not overcome the darkness, did it matter? he wondered. Until that moment came -- if ever it came -- he would give whatever she asked... if indeed it were enough for her... Frodo’s prayer continued. Please, Ilúvatar, let what little I may give -- in light of what I take -- be enough for her...

Tears sprang to his eyes, and he swallowed them. She told me she needed me today. Today, I am hers...

He tightened his embrace and kissed the softness of her hair several times. “I am here, Lily,” he whispered, his voice still rough with emotion.

Lily nodded against him, and her weeping began to subside. Finally, her voice tinged with tears, she replied, “Thank you.” She pulled a little away and lifted shimmering eyes to his. “You held me that day... I remember... I remember...” Again she choked. “Oh, Frodo... the blood... I remember the blood... there was so much...” She furrowed her brow. “Your coat... where was your coat?” Her eyes widened. “It was your coat... you didn’t know who it was... you used your coat to help Da... your lovely Elven coat...”

“I’m sorry... it didn’t help... it wasn’t enough...”

“Oh, dearest,” Lily sniffed. “It was enough. You were enough. Da was not alone, and you calmed his fears for -- for Daisy, Will, and -- and me... you helped him go in peace... it was more than enough... if not for you, there would have been no one... he would have been all alone...” Fresh tears poured down Lily’s cheeks. “Thank you,” she whispered, forcing back the tears in her throat so she could speak.

Frodo slid his hand from her hair to caress her face, gently wiping away some of the tears, then gathered her close again.

Lily continued to cry, softly, the storm subsiding, until finally only her shuddered breaths revealed the passing torrent of tears.

“Would you like to sit, dearest?” Frodo entreated.

Lily suddenly realized how worn she felt, and nodded her head, yet she did not release her hold on him.

Frodo retained his hold on her as well, moving apart from her just enough to walk to the bench under the old sycamore tree, where they settled side by side. He tightened his arms around her, and she nestled close. They sat quietly in the cool morning air, not speaking, and listening to the creaking of the sycamore, stirring in a gentle breeze.

Lily’s breathing returned to normal, only occasionally punctuated by sniffles. Frodo withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her. She wiped her face and settled more comfortably within his embrace, nestling her head against his shoulder once more, then sighing.

Frodo kissed Lily’s hair again, and held her tighter, then felt her take a shuddering breath.

“Frodo?” Her voice quavered.

“Yes?” He kissed her forehead.

She took another unsteady breath. “I don’t remember the rest of the day...”

“You slept, dearest, with Rose watching over you and making sure you ate when you woke, which was never for very long...”

“Did you -- did you come to visit me?”

Frodo hesitated. “No...”

“Oh...” Lily could not hide the catch in her voice.

“I went to Bag End that day, after the battle...”

“I remember, now... You told me about it on our first walk... but what about when you returned?” Lily struggled not to sound plaintive, but still her voice felt small.

Frodo knew he should explain no further. Perhaps she would be more inclined to pull away from him if she believed him to be more callous...? He closed his eyes and swallowed the lump in his throat. He could not ever let her believe Bag End meant more to him than she did.

“I thought you might fare better if you were spared my darkness...”

Lily pulled a little away from him, just enough to gaze up into his eyes. “I appreciate you trying to protect me...” She glanced away, and ventured quietly, “But I would have found comfort in your company.”

“But--” Frodo stopped himself. He took a deep breath, then swallowed hard, before murmuring, “No; not today. No doubts today. I may doubt tomorrow, but not today.”

Lily turned from staring at the name-stone, and captured Frodo’s eyes with her own, wide with surprise and wonder.

Frodo offered a tentative smile for her, and worried for a moment he might have spoken amiss when her eyes filled with tears.

“Thank you,” Lily replied softly. She searched his eyes a moment longer, then reached up and caressed his lips with her own. “I--” Her eyes widened as she realized what she almost said.

She kissed him again, watching his eyes close in bliss. Lily smiled, happy she could give this to him.

Gradually, Frodo opened his eyes again, and Lily saw beauty there which took her breath away. He would look like this each morning... she needed to turn away from these thoughts. They were not married, not even betrothed...

His right arm around her shoulders tightened, and his left hand caressed her cheek. He lowered his head and touched her lips with his own, hesitantly. Lily leaned into him, tasting his kiss several more times, each one a little longer than the last. She lingered for several moments as Frodo returned her kisses with a reverent deliberation.

Dazed, Frodo sat back, but did not stop touching her face.

Lily kept her eyes closed, blissfully lost in the moment. His voice pulled her back.

“We’re -- outside...”

She opened her eyes, lazily. He smiled at her, their private smile. His smile broadened as he continued. “I think... it might be for the best, somehow, since anyone could see us, here in the open, in plain view... But may I have another kiss? Before we stop?”

Lily’s response was a quiet smile which gave way to another eager kiss.

Rose sat on a tree stump a short distance from the couple, her head bent to the stitching she brought with her. A few moments longer, she decided. Dear Sam, she sighed, how I wish you were here to see them. It would do your heart good. What’ll we do when Lily returns to Deephallow? I need you, Samwise. I won’t know what to do. Hurry home...

She watched the couple end their kiss, and called, “Lily, Frodo, I’ve plated a spot of secondies for us, whenever you’re ready, but don’t be dawdling too long about it. You both need to keep up your strength.”

Frodo glanced at Rose, then back at Lily. He could not hide the sudden apprehension he felt. “Dearest, does Rose know? About us? About...”

Lily reached up and brushed his cheek with her lips, once, then met his eyes. “I needed to tell her, dearest. She promised to tell no one, not even Sam. It was the only way I knew to help us both. Are you terribly angry with me?”

Frodo’s eyes widened. “No! No, Lily, my lo -- my dear... How could I be angry?” He lowered his eyes and whispered, “What must she think of me, knowing I use you so? Knowing you take on this darkness for me...” His voice caught.

“Frodo Baggins,” Lily gently scolded. “She accepts what is, as we do. If she thought badly of you, would she continue to be our chaperone? Not to mention how carefully she continues to arrange so much time for us to be alone... Surely, you know she approves of our courtship. Though she may quickly change her mind, if we don’t join her soon.” She smiled.

An answering smile spread across Frodo’s face. He kissed her cheek once. “We’d best not keep her waiting. Don’t want to be upsetting the one who makes this Baggins proper.” He stood and offered his right hand to help her stand.

Lily laughed out loud, and accepted his help up. They strolled over to Rose, who smiled, and handed them each a plate.

“Why don’t you two take your plates back to your bench?” Rose encouraged.

“Wouldn’t you like company?” Lily wondered.

“Elevensies is soon enough for company, thank you.” Rose grinned. “I suggest the two of you enjoy the quiet while it lasts.”

Rose did not miss the grateful smiles of her charges as they slipped away hand in hand, and settled on the bench to eat, enjoying the early spring music around them, the songs of yellow finches and larks louder as the day grew warmer.

Frodo laid their plates aside, and slipped his right arm around Lily’s shoulders. She nestled closer and held his left hand in her own.

Lily sighed contentedly. “Sometimes, I wonder if Da is sad he’s not buried near Mum... but because of what you taught me about the Second Gift, I know it doesn’t matter. They’re not here; they’re together, with Ilúvatar... Thank you for giving me that.”

Frodo tightened his hold on her, and as he did they heard a new sound, that of children’s voices, coming from the direction of the lane. After a few moments they saw a lad, about five years of age, leading another of about two or three. They stopped at the sight of the couple, who smiled in welcome.

The older child tugged his sandy-brown forelock in deference to the two adults of higher station before him. Frodo nodded once to the lad, who pulled on the younger one’s hand, and they scurried up to the name-stone.

“Wher-s Ga’?” the towheaded younger lad asked, gazing up at the stone.

The older one pointed farther up the stone than either could reach.

Frodo got up from the bench and invited Lily to come along, offering her his right hand. She took it, and they approached the children slowly.

Lily remained standing, but Frodo went down on one knee to speak to the lads face to face. “Hullo. My name is Frodo. What are your names -- may I ask?” He knew they had no real choice but to answer, but he made the query as gently as he could.

The older of the lads tried without success to hide his shyness. “Hob, sir, and this here’s Andy, sir,” he added, taking his brother’s hand once again.

“It’s good to make your acquaintance, Hob; Andy...” Frodo shook their hands. Andy’s small hand made Frodo think of little Pearl, whom he suddenly realized he missed, terribly.

“And now allow me to introduce this lovely lass...” Frodo stood as Hob nodded. Andy’s response was a smile, but he had already been studying Lily since the couple approached, and had exchanged several grins with her as Frodo spoke to his older brother.

“Miss Lily, this is Hob, and Andy -- Hob and Andy, may I present to you Miss Lily.”

The lads knew their manners, even Andy. First they bowed, then accepted her proffered hand. As she returned their easy handshakes, not like the firm ones given to Frodo, she bobbed a curtsey, and smiled.

“It’s a pleasure to meet two lads with such fine manners,” she stated, and both lads beamed at her, looking up high to see her smile.

“Thank you, Miss Lily. We’re pleased to meet you. You’re awfully pretty,” Hob declared with utter sincerity.

“Pretty,” repeated Andy, another smile breaking out on his chubby face.

A smile tugged at the corner of Frodo’s mouth. “My dear Miss Lily, I do believe you’ve quite won over these two...”

He got down on one knee again and whispered into Hob’s ear. Even Lily could not hear what he said, but Hob turned around to see Rose doing her stitching. He turned back to Frodo.

“Yes, sir, we’ll intro- intro-duce us to Miss Rose on the way home. But I’m pretty sure she already knows us, beggin’ your pardon, sir.”

Hob sounded so much like Sam...

Frodo knew why the lads had come to the name-stone. He spoke quickly to keep tears from forming. It would set the lads off, and Hob might not want to cry today.

“I know you’re too old now to be picked up, but how about a lift up on my back, so you can see the name better?” he offered.

Hob smiled briefly. “Yes, sir. If’n it’s no trouble... What about Andy, sir?”

“If I may,” Lily smiled, “I’ll give Andy some help.” She met the steady gaze of the younger brother. “May I pick you up, Andy?”

Andy immediately raised both his arms to be picked up, and Lily giggled. She picked Andy up at the same time Hob was clambering onto Frodo, piggyback.

It was easy for Hob to reach the name now, and he touched it, then put his hand full on it, palm flat. Lily drew closer in, with Andy on her right hip. He could just reach the name, and Hob withdrew his hand so his brother could touch it. Andy imitated Hob, placing his hand flat on the name.

“I miss my gaffer,” Hob declared simply. “Mum said we ought t’come here once ‘n a while to say hullo to him. But I don’t rightly know what she means. I don’t see my gaffer here.”

Frodo and Lily exchanged a look.

“He’s not really here, not like that; not like being able to go on walks with him, and sit and talk,” Frodo offered. “His name is here, though, and I think your mum wants you never to forget his name, or him, but I doubt you’ll forget him.”

“I won’t. Mum says she’s happy we come here. If she’s happy, why’d she always cry when I tell her we were here?”

Frodo carefully did not smile. “Let’s get down again while we talk. Are you ready?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Hob.

“Yessir,” echoed Andy, his voice piping high above Hob’s.

The couple put down their new friends, and Hob looked up at Frodo with solemn brown eyes, waiting for an answer.

“That’s a difficult question, Master Hob. Hard even for grownups. But just remember your mum shall often cry when she’s happy, just as she does when she’s sad. Mums are like that. A good thing to do is to hold her tight and give her a kiss, and tell her you love her very much--”

At this, Frodo realized he had gone too far into his own memories, and he hastened to finish his reply. He could not meet Lily’s eyes, or he would surely have tears of his own. He stood up very straight and looked down at Hob.

“--and after she’s cried a bit more, she’ll be fine. I’m sure you lads are taking good care of her?”

“Oh, yes sir,” Hob declared proudly.

“Oh, yessir!” Andy echoed, right down to the last inflection.

Frodo smiled. Lily giggled through unshed tears, one hand covering her mouth.

Hob hesitated, then asked, “Does your hand hurt? It looks like it hurts.”

Frodo at first did not know what the lad meant. Finally Hob pointed at Frodo’s right hand.

“Oh, this...” Frodo gazed at Lily, who waited, unsure of how her beloved would reply. Memories of the first night they met in November rushed back to her, of their conversation on the front steps of Will’s house, in the cold; of her shock and sadness that his hand was maimed.

Frodo seemed to read her thoughts, and he gave her a knowing smile. “That was a happy night, Lily. A night full of joy.” He waited to see her smile before answering Hob, who waited patiently, although Andy was fidgeting.

“I lost my finger in a battle I fought. When you are older, much older, I’ll tell you the story.”

Lily’s eyes grew wide. Frodo read this thought as well, and gazed at her while he spoke to Hob. “I’m not very good at telling the story yet, but Miss Lily here thinks it’s worth telling, and she knows quite a lot.”

“A battle like our gaffer was in?” Hob asked, hopefully.

“A bit like it. Battles aren’t something you wish for, but sometimes they must be fought. Your gaffer and lots of others were very, very brave, because they wanted to protect the ones they loved.” At this, Frodo took a step toward Lily and gathered both her hands into his. He turned to the brothers once more.

“It was good to meet you. We’re going to enjoy the Garden from over there on the bench now. You lads don’t forget to greet Miss Rose.”

Hob nodded, then Andy nodded. “It was -- good t’meet you too, sir,” Hob stated, “and Miss Lily too.”

Andy only beamed at them, and with that Frodo led Lily back to the bench, where they sat close together. Frodo held her hands in his once more.

The brothers turned back to face the name-stone. “Andy, put your feather here,” Hob directed. The younger one nodded somberly, and took the feather which his brother had just dug out of his breeches-pocket. Andy laid the feather at the base of the stone, where his older brother pointed. Then Hob gazed longingly at a pebble in his hand, and laid it next to the feather.

Hob sighed and turned to his younger brother. “Come on, Andy. Mum’ll be waitin’ elevensies for us.”

Hob grasped Andy’s hand as they turned from the name-stone and marched purposefully toward Rose. Andy turned back to wave at Frodo and Lily. They returned his wave.

“They’re so young, Frodo...” Lily wept softly.

Frodo slipped his right arm around her shoulders and drew her close to him again. His heart felt lighter because of how natural it felt to have her there. He kissed her forehead.

Watching the children disappear from sight, Lily’s mind turned to Frodo as she nestled into his shoulder again. Her thoughts were tangled, like a skein of yarn come undone.

There are so many things I want to tell you, Frodo, and ask you, and talk about with you... And yet I can say nothing, for they all revolve around my love for you. When will you allow us to speak our hearts openly? For I know you love me, even without my gift of sight. Shall we ever have such little ones? She sighed heavily, and nestled into him again, letting her thoughts wander where they may for a while, enjoying the feel of his right hand occasionally stroking her hair.

In the peace of the Garden, Frodo enjoyed the feel of Lily, so close, so warm. The darkness felt far away. He knew it would return come night and their separation, as always, yet its strength was severely impaired. How long would this reprieve, of sorts, last? he wondered. He brought his musings back to the present. I promised her today; even in my thoughts she shall have this day, he decided.

Rosie laid out the blanket next to her tree stump, and the food for elevensies, before finally calling Lily and Frodo.

As the couple settled on the blanket with her, Rosie reminisced aloud. “Seeing Hob and Andy reminds me -- the other night, the Gaffer was telling me about the first time Frodo and Sam met...”

Frodo smiled, and Lily’s eyes widened with excitement. “Please, tell me.”

Rosie gave Frodo an appraising look. “Would you like to tell it?”

“I think I’d like to hear the Gaffer’s version first,” Frodo grinned.

“Oh, Frodo, you don’t need to hear it to know it. The Gaffer was embarrassed by Sam, and pleased by you,” Rosie asserted.

Lily rolled her eyes impatiently. “Please...

“All right, all right,” Frodo laughed. “Auntie Esme and Uncle Saradoc brought me up to Bag End for Yule, after my twelfth birthday.” He paused a moment at the recollection, though not sadly. “I think -- yes -- it was the first one without my parents.”

“That’s right,” Rosie remembered. “I’d forgotten Sam was born the same year as the accident... I’m sorry.”

“You needn’t tell me the story, if you prefer,” Lily offered.

“No matter,” Frodo assured them. “It’s fortunate really, for now I’ll remember it is the year Sam was born, before thinking of the other. Really, it’s fine.”

Rose and Lily seemed to accept Frodo’s word.

“Sam was born April 6th, so he was -- nine, almost ten months old?” Lily figured aloud.

“Yes, and just beginning to walk. We were just past the old mill when Auntie Esme and Uncle Saradoc stopped to chat with someone -- I don’t remember who -- and let me... no, in truth, I jumped from the cart without so much as a by-your-leave from either of them -- and ran up the lane. I couldn’t wait to get to Bag End.

“I stopped when I saw a wee bairn crawling on all fours up Bagshot Row almost to #2. He stopped and sat in the middle of the road, pounding the dirt, then stuffed his fist into his mouth. I didn’t know if I should be horrified or laugh.

“Bag End was momentarily forgotten. He was covered in dirt, head to toe, and grinning from ear to ear. I couldn’t resist introducing myself to such an amicable fellow. I asked him what he was doing out and about alone, and he replied, ‘Da.’ I asked him if he were looking for his da, and then he continued, ‘Da, da, da, da, da, da, da,’ and I realized it meant nothing, and everything. He struggled to stand and took two steps toward me, then abruptly sat down again. The surprise on his face clearly indicated the action had not been intended.

“Then I heard the Gaffer behind #3, calling for Samwise and ‘wondering where the ninnyhammer had got to.’ I figured the little urchin before me must be the mischievous Samwise, so I offered to help him be found. Getting him to ride piggyback was easy enough, but I didn’t account for where those grimy hands might wander.

“The Gaffer almost bumped into us, coming round from the back of the smial. He recognized me and gave me a proper greeting, but when I opened my mouth to return it, one of Sam’s little hands made it quite impossible, not to mention the distraction of a mouth full of dirt.

“It was also my first experience with the Gaffer reminding Samwise of his place. I didn’t understand it then,” Frodo smiled fondly. “And Sam never really did learn the lesson...”

“And a good thing too, Frodo Baggins, or you’d’ve gone off on that -- that Quest all on your own,” Rose declared.

Frodo became pensive, and he dropped his gaze; he paused before speaking again. “It might have been better for him. He went through some difficult times, Rosie. More than difficult...” Frodo could not hide the concern he felt for his friend.

“And so did you...” Rosie affirmed softly.

They were interrupted by familiar laughter. Merry called out, “Good morning!” before they saw him, and they turned to the sound. Pippin was there as well. Frodo was still surprised by their height.

“It’s hard to believe,” Frodo murmured to himself. Only Lily heard him, and she smiled, reading his thoughts.

“Ready to head back to Bag End?” asked Pippin jovially. “We’ve had a grand time in town, Frodo. But then again, you’re sitting with two of the loveliest lasses in the Shire, so you haven’t exactly been suffering...”

Frodo only smiled up at his cousin, letting his expression speak for him.

“Have the two of you had elevensies?” Rosie asked, already knowing the answer.

Merry smiled, “Yes, dear Rose. We enjoyed secondies at the Ivy Bush, and elevensies at the Green Dragon. Of course, we caught everyone up on the current gossip.”

“Indeed,” Pippin added, seriously, “I think it was the first time not a soul noticed our uniforms.” He turned to Merry. “Remind me next time not to bring up our dear cousin, here. Put a bit of a crimp in my storytelling, you know.”

Merry laughed, and then Pippin, whose laughter was infectious; the other three joined in, until Rose begged for a reprieve, hoping to avoid getting a stitch in her side.

“Sorry to be so much trouble, Pip,” Frodo soothed; but his tone was teasing, not repentant.

Lily watched Frodo attempt to feign an expression of innocence in order to continue the teasing. But his face was already innocent, and his emotions transparent, to all those around him; yet not to himself. He was not aware of himself in the least, she mused, not as others were... she loved him the more for it, when she thought she could not love him more.

“Don’t worry, Frodo,” Merry chipped in, and it occurred to Lily the cousins were so accustomed to Frodo’s ways that they purposely played along when he attempted to feign anything. Merry went on as Lily suppressed a giggle.

“Pip, don’t be blaming Frodo for your woes. It’s your storytelling what’s the difficulty!”

“I suggest we start back for Bag End,” Rose interrupted. “Frodo and Lily, why don’t you two take a little more time here. Catch up before too long though, all right?”

Lily smiled at her gratefully.

Frodo helped her up, and they walked again to the name-stone, hand in hand. They were only vaguely aware of the departure of their friends.

They stood together in silence for several moments.

Lily sighed, and her voice caught when she spoke. “Thank you, again...”

“Whenever you like, we may visit...” Frodo offered.

She nodded. “We’d best be on our way.” A smile touched her lips. “Don’t need to be feeding the gossips any extra.”

Frodo returned the warmth of her smile, then kissed her gently, endeavoring with all his might not to notice the sweet softness of her mouth. He was beginning to care less and less what anyone else thought...

Not wishing to stop at all, he struggled to end the kiss gently and not too abruptly.

“Thank goodness for Rose...” he decided aloud.

Lily nodded; she understood.

Frodo was slightly breathless, and Lily smiled inwardly; he was devastating like this... no, that was not strictly true. He was beautiful all the time. She could not think on that now, not with his eyes on hers...

They stepped apart, reluctantly, and turned away, then quickly caught up to their friends. Lily felt only slightly faint.

---------

After luncheon, Lily and Frodo fell into their new routine, taking naps and letting the young cousins clean up. Rose was given a rest as well.

Lily woke before tea, and Frodo slept through until just before dinner. She missed his presence at tea and wondered if they would be able to share it before she returned home, then smiled and reminded herself to be thankful they were sharing all their other meals.

Dinner and supper were spent in a leisurely fashion, with Merry and Pippin filling them in on the morning’s gossip out of Bywater and Hobbiton. No one pressed for the gossip about Lily and Frodo, despite the sure existence of rumors; they had been seen together in public several times since Lily’s visit began.

Frodo knew his cousins were avoiding the telling of it, and he was glad. He was not up to hearing what anyone was saying about him, and was certainly not able to bear what they might be saying about his Lily. Before the Quest, he smiled at the talk. But Lily would be suffering along with him this time. He loved the hobbits, more than Bilbo had when he was the Master of Bag End; but Frodo forced himself to love them when they were cruel. In his heart, he thanked Merry and Pippin for keeping silent, then realized they would never be so careless as to let Lily be hurt.

As the evening wore on, Rosie was pleased by how well Lily was holding up; but she noticed not long after supper her friend’s growing weariness.

“Time for us to head back to the Gaffer’s,” Rosie announced. “Mayhap I can unearth a few more stories from him.”

Lily smiled at the wordplay, and Rose saw her smile. The cousins were oblivious.

Frodo groaned. “And I’ll not be there to defend myself.”

Lily giggled. “Somehow I think the last thing you need is defense from the Gaffer. More likely the one who needs defending is Sam.”

“All right, you two,” Rosie laughed. “I’ll start out, now. Do catch up quick-like, Lily.” Rose headed for #3, donning her cloak against the night’s chill.

Inside, at the front door, Frodo drew Lily gently into his arms, and she slipped her arms about his waist.

She gazed into his eyes and whispered, “Dearest, thank you so much for this day.”

She touched his cheek, and he smiled for her. No voice insinuated itself into his thoughts, not since waking from the illness, but he felt the darkness nonetheless, as it grew stronger each day, in tiny increments. How much longer could he push it away? What would happen when Lily returned to Deephallow?

He shuddered as he felt the darkness stir eagerly within him, then realized it sensed his fears at Lily’s impending absence. For a moment he fought down the sick despair at the thought of beginning this fight all over again. He struggled to keep his face impassive; but Lily knew... She could feel it. He sighed and forced the dark despair back. He did not want their day to end thus.

Lily felt it as well, and tightened their embrace. She took as much of his darkness onto herself as she could, leaning against him, more weary than before.

Frodo gazed down at her in silence, love and open wonder on his face. He had felt her take some of his pain away.

At last he spoke. “Thank you... but these words are not good enough, Lily; they shall never be enough. No words shall ever be enough...”

“You have a good start... to be thankful is to know.” She smiled. “You are wise, dear Frodo. Your wisdom comes from experience, and from pain. I am happy to help you, in any way I may, now and ever after.”

He kissed her once more; it needed to be brief, for the tears were coming, and he was helpless to stop them.

Lily offered the evening prayer for both of them, and left him with an encouraging smile.

He leaned heavily against the door after closing it, trying to control his emotions, but most of his tears were those of gratitude and love for Lily, and her selflessness -- and these feelings of joy were more difficult to rein in, even than those of sorrow.

And it was pointless to alarm his cousins, or to sadden them. He readied himself for the long night ahead, keeping the memory of her parting smile in his mind’s eye, and her prayer in his heart, as shields against the darkness.