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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

23 March 1420sr

Rose woke to the dark of predawn, and worried about Sam, then worried about Merry and Pippin and the fact they were leaving today. She determined she’d talk to them while Lily and Frodo were saying good morning, and wondered if she should tell her friend, seeing how as Lily didn’t know about Frodo’s restless nights -- at least, not how bad they truly were. No, she decided; Merry and Pippin trusted her, and Frodo trusted them.

Ilúvatar, she prayed tentatively, I don’t know much about praying, though I know more now, after this past week. I hope I’m not asking wrongly, but could you somehow arrange for Lily to know about what’s happening with Frodo? We’d -- that is me, Merry and Pip -- would appreciate it if you could tell her, somehow... And please send my Sam home to me soon. I miss him so.

The merest hint of light crept into the smial windows. Lily stirred and stretched. “Looks grey out there; must still be cloudy.” She sighed. “I do hope Merry and Pip don’t end up wet.”

Rose found herself wishing she could tell Lily everything now, but resisted with a heavy sigh. “We best get a move on if we’re going to get a good meal into them first.”

---------

Frodo watched for Lily and Rose from the greatroom window. As soon as he saw them leave #3, he slipped out the front door. He struggled to concentrate on walking at a steady pace, which his mind dictated was best, rather than running, as his heart yearned to do...

This really is for the best, this putting my mind over my heart’s desire, he decided. At least, for now...

The darkness had pursued him during the night, as relentless as a Wraith, trying to undermine all positive thought... all hope. Frodo shuddered inwardly. With prayer he had been able to fight off much of it. But even in prayer, one is awake, he answered himself ruefully. His sleep had been broken at best, and he was tired. He would not allow Lily to see it, if he could help it.

Much of his night’s prayer had been for guidance, for something to light his path. He needed faith and courage to match Lily’s, and he did not yet possess them. What if she tired of waiting, tired of turning back to see him always several steps behind on the path they traveled?

He pushed the thought aside; he could not afford doubt, not now, not in her presence, and as he neared Lily, her health and her spirit were as fresh air to one trapped in a dark tunnel...

---------

From the kitchen, Pippin only just glimpsed his older cousin disappearing out the door. The young hobbit struggled to stay where he was, but then decided he was still, after all, only a tween, and made his way to the greatroom window to watch, unable to contain his curiosity.

Merry finished packing a seed cake in his satchel and glanced at his cousin standing alone in the greatroom. “Where’s Frodo?” He paused in his packing. “Pip?”

Pippin continued to stare out the greatroom window, and waved at Merry to come join him, then pointed.

Merry stepped close to his cousin and followed his gaze.

A light mist obscured the New Mill down the road. Then Merry caught sight of two shadows making their way up the lane to Bag End. Suddenly, he recognized his older cousin approaching the two cloaked figures.

“He’d be impossible to follow, if he wore his Elven-cloak,” Merry commented absently. “Pip, have you noticed, he doesn’t seem to feel the cold at all?”

“Aye, I’ve noticed. He’s changed, Merry. In ways one doesn’t see right off... Food and a bed are necessary things, but the quality doesn’t seem to make much difference to him...” Pippin glanced at his cousin.

“Pip, I’m thinking they don’t matter near so much to him as a bit of peace, which isn’t his, and can’t be found by him for any amount of money...” Merry met Pippin’s gaze, then they both stared out the window once more. “Except when he’s with Lily...”

They watched the three figures meet. While one continued on to Bag End, they could see Frodo’s outstretched hand accepted by the other figure still standing with him. The pair then followed the first figure, more slowly. The two cousins watched the couple until Rose stepped briskly into the smial, and joined them in gazing out the window at the approaching couple.

She sighed. “Come help me ready first breakfast.”

Merry and Pippin stared out the window a moment longer, then followed her into the kitchen, where she set them to cooking the eggs and bacon.

Rose cleared her throat. She could not hide the uncertainty in her voice. “How’s Frodo doing? At night, sleeping, I mean.”

“Oh!” Pippin shook himself out of his reverie. “Actually, he’s been sleeping through the night, or seems to be -- for the last two or three.” His voice reflected the surprise he felt at the realization.

“We still check on him,” Merry added. “And he’s restless, from time to time, but nothing like a few nights back.”

“Aye,” Pippin continued, “we’d not be leaving for Crickhollow if he were still sleeping like he was, but he’s so much better, we felt it safe to leave him alone a night or two, until Sam gets home. He’ll be home soon, won’t he?”

“Oh! Yes, he’ll be home any day now,” Rose assured them. “I wonder what’s changed?” she murmured.

The cousins shook their heads.

“Wish we knew,” Merry admitted. “We’d have done it sooner.”

“Rosie?” Pippin shifted uncomfortably. “It’s not my place to ask, and it’s really none of my affair, I know -- but I’ve been wondering, and more so after watching them today -- if Frodo won’t let them say ‘I love you,’ -- like Lily told us a few days ago -- what do they say? How do they express... I mean, it’s as easy to see as the Tower in the White City. They love each other...”

Rosie’s eyes softened. “I miss you.”

“What?” Merry could not hide his confusion.

Rose smiled warmly at the two surprised cousins. “They say, ‘I miss you.’”

“But they say that whenever they’ve been apart...” Merry drew his brows together. “D’you think they mean it every time?”

Rosie raised her brows. “D’you?”

Pippin began nodding his head, while Merry considered the idea. He glanced at his cousin’s reaction and smiled. “Yes, I think they do.”

“I guess it is sort of the same thing,” Pippin added.

Rose began bustling around the kitchen, finishing the meal preparations. “Let’s get you two fed, if you’re still planning on leaving today -- though it’s a miserable day to be traveling,” she declared.

Merry glanced at his cousin. “It’ll be more miserable yet, if we’re here when Sam gets home. We’re planning to have supper in the Golden Perch at Stock. We may even stay the night there... then we’ll be home tomorrow morning.”

---------

Frodo and Lily spoke not at all after their initial ‘I missed you.’ They listened to the blanketed hush of the mist and the near silence of their breathing. They felt veiled to the outer world, shielded, and deeply aware of each other, down to the warmth of their intertwined fingers.

It was difficult to continue the walk toward Bag End.

When they reached the gate, Frodo opened it and let Lily in first. They paused on the doorstep, and Lily shivered. Frodo reached for the doorknob, but Lily stayed his hand.

She searched his eyes, then whispered, “Not yet.”

Frodo’s heart tightened. He hesitated a moment, then opened his coat and helped Lily slip her arms inside, drawing the coat around her.

Lily trembled down to her toes, then melted into his warmth, tightening her arms about him. She rubbed her cheek against the softness of the velvet waistcoat, then nestled her head against his shoulder.

Frodo trembled as well, as she sighed contentedly. Gradually, they were breathing together, and he laid his cheek against her hair. They held each other closer, lost to all else, and stood silent, grateful for the gentle grey curtain of mist surrounding them. They were alone together, and content.

“Warmer?” Frodo murmured against her hair.

“Mmmmm,” Lily sighed.

Frodo smiled, as he could not be sure if she was nodding her head, or nestling it against his shoulder once more. His breathing quickened and then settled with hers. He laid his lips against her forehead and softly kissed her there several times, each kiss more deliberate than the last, as he realized he could feel her sudden slight intakes of breath. His arms tightened about her. He no longer wanted only to warm her, but to feel her every breath. Moments passed, lost in the feel of her, and yet the time was not lost at all, he decided. It was indeed time won. Then he remembered telling her he wanted to know her every breath... but he never imagined it quite like this. Now, her every breath, the slightest shift she made, echoed within him. He felt her lift her head.

She gazed up into his eyes. Gradually, she raised her lips to meet his morning caress.

Lily felt him tremble as she returned his kiss and as she opened to him, allowing him to deepen it. Frodo’s heart raced. Lily felt it; she could feel him endeavoring to give back all the gentleness -- all the love -- she offered. And with it she felt an intensity within him she never sensed before, a sort of controlled desperation.

As the give and take heightened their awareness of each other, the passage of time was forgotten by them both. Time did not matter now... nothing mattered but this.

Frodo pulled back just enough to kiss her left cheek, slowly, then the center of her brow, then her right cheek. He gazed into her eyes in such a way her breath stopped, before he completed the sweet circle by kissing her lips, slightly parted in pleasant surprise. Lily knew he felt the ardor in her response.

They broke the kiss together, breathing unevenly, and supporting one another. Lily’s head nestled firmly into the warmth of Frodo’s shoulder, and he rubbed his cheek against her hair once more. He felt her sigh.

“Lily...” Frodo whispered hoarsely.

“Yes, Frodo...” Lily swallowed hard.

They were still struggling to catch their breath.

“I -- I wish -- I want...” He could not find the words.

“I want... so much more...” she murmured.

“Yes.”

With his left hand spread against her back, holding her close, he reached up with his right and stroked her long tresses, keenly aware of her open hands pressed against his own back, her arms still wrapped around him inside his coat. He pulled away slightly when he felt her giggle softly.

She gazed up into his eyes, a smile dancing about her lips. “Methinks Rose forgot her duty.”

“Indeed. One could but hope she would forget more often...” He kissed her again. “And yet...”

“And yet, ‘twould probably be unwise...” She returned the caress.

“Yes.” He did not attempt to hide the regret in his voice.

They were breathing more normally now, and smiling into their short kisses.

Frodo chuckled softly. “Do you think we should sack her?”

Lily giggled again, then became serious. “Hmmm..., whom else do we know who’d be willing to chaperone us day after day, from morn to night...?”

A smile tugging at the corner of Lily’s mouth helped Frodo realize she was only pretending. He decided to play along. “Now, there’s a difficult question. Is there an answer?”

They gazed into each others’ eyes, only able to remain serious for a few moments. Then they both began to laugh.

“Dearest,” Lily sighed, endeavoring to be serious again. “Mayhap it best we keep her...”

“Shall we forego any reprimand?” He could not hide his smile.

Lily returned the smile. “We’ll accept today as a gift... a gift from Ilúvatar; for Rose takes her duty far too seriously to forget we’re here for any other reason...”

“A gift from Ilúvatar--” Frodo murmured absently. He became serious, his voice suddenly earnest, as if a discovery had been made. “You, dear Lily, are a gift from Ilúvatar...”

“Your gift, Frodo dearest...”

“My gift...” He searched her eyes.

She nodded her head. “Yes, dear one...”

“My gift,” he whispered, “from Ilúvatar.”

They met once more in a lingering kiss, and drew apart when Rosie knocked on the door, opening it only enough to summon them to first breakfast.

By the time they found their way to the kitchen table, Merry, Pippin and Rose were finishing up.

Frodo seated Lily, then whispered in her ear, “Wait a moment.” He disappeared into the hall.

Moments later he returned with a jar Lily recognized. She laughed.

“What’ve you got there?” Merry queried.

Frodo grinned. “When I left Deephallow, Lily gave me some of her blackberry preserves...”

“Frodo! You’ve been holding out on us!” Pippin wailed.

“Harsh words, dear cousin. In truth, this is the first time I’ve remembered it since your visit here. It’s been far too long since I’ve enjoyed its sweetness. And Lily did give it to me, after all,” he continued, as he spread the delicacy over slices of bread for himself and Lily.

Lily had never seen this side of Frodo. It made her smile.

“Hrmph! Conveniently forgot, by my way of thinking!” Merry grumbled.

Frodo eyed both his cousins, then turned to Rosie. “Do we have a few scones left, dear Rose?”

“A few,” she smiled.

“Three?”

Rosie’s smile broadened, and she brought a plate of scones to the table. Merry and Pippin eagerly reached for one as Frodo pushed the jar of preserves toward them. The two young cousins then dived for the jar at the same time. Pippin triumphantly brandished his acquisition, then glanced at Frodo’s indulgent smile.

“Thank you, Frodo.” Pippin eyed the jar. “Are you sure you want to share it? There’s not much left...”

Frodo sighed in resignation. “I know.”

“It’s all right,” Lily smiled. “I’ll be making more, come the end of August, or beginning of September, when the berries ripen.”

She suddenly wondered if they would be married then, and struggled to control the thrill that coursed through her.

Frodo endeavored to breathe normally; he only hoped for her company from day to day, and the thought of still being with her at the end of summer made his senses reel. For only a moment, he envisioned being with her in the garden picking blackberries, together...

“There aren’t any blackberries in the Bag End gardens, are there?” Merry wondered aloud.

The vision in Frodo’s mind vanished. “No. No, there aren’t.”

Rosie decided she would talk to Sam about it as soon as he returned home. Surely, it would be easy enough to arrange for blackberry bushes to be added to the gardens...

Pippin carefully doled out the last of the preserves between Rose and Merry.

“What about you, Pip?” Rosie asked.

Pippin grinned. “Don’t be thinking too highly of me, Rosie dear. I’m truly being quite greedy. You forget how much jam ends up left behind in the jar.” He proceeded to methodically wipe the jar clean with pieces of his scone, making contented sounds after each bite.

Merry glanced at the jam on his scone, then at Pippin in stupefied irritation, and then laughed. The others were unable to resist joining in.

“Mmmmm, Lily!” Merry cleared his throat, after devouring the jam-smeared scone. “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything so wonderful! Not even in King Elessar’s court. If ever you decide you’re interested in someone younger than old Frodo there...” He winked broadly.

“Meriadoc Brandybuck!” Rose feigned offense. “So, you’re throwing me over as easy as all that, then?!”

Merry’s eyes widened as he realized his error, and blushed to his toes.

Before he could utter a word, Lily leaned toward Rose. “So the truth rolls out. Merry’s only interested in finding a good cook...”

“Indeed,” Rosie scowled. “So, tired of burnt toast, are you? Well, why didn’t you say so? If that’s all you’re looking for, then why don’t you try someone closer to home? Hire them in.”

Merry opened his mouth, then closed it again.

“Hmmm,” Lily considered thoughtfully, “Buckland... someone thereabouts must befit the need...”

“What about Estella Bolger?” Rosie asked.

“She’s not yet reached her coming of age!” Merry protested.

“Merry!” Rosie stared at him. “Are you daft? She reached her coming of age right after you left.” Rosie caught Lily’s questioning glance. “Estella is Fatty’s little sister.”

“Didn’t Fatty take care of the house at Crickhollow --” She worried about stirring unpleasant memories, and glanced at Frodo.

He smiled and nodded. “Yes, he did. I imagine Estella lent a hand as well.”

“Actually,” Pippin glanced at Merry, who was now beginning to blush, “she’s cooked a few meals for us from time to time, since we’ve returned home. Hasn’t she, Merry? And she’s definitely got the knack for it.”

Lily, Rosie, and Frodo all raised their brows as Merry turned a deep shade of red. They glanced at each other, but said nothing.

“If we’re going to reach Stock by supper, we best be on our way,” Pippin declared.

Merry rose swiftly from the table to finish gathering their things. Knowing looks passed between the others, still seated at the table.

“How long?” Lily whispered.

Pippin shrugged and whispered back, “I’m starting to think mayhap from the day she was born; just neither one of them knew it.”

“You ready, Pip?” Merry strolled back into the kitchen with both their satchels.

“Indeed. Thanks for the bed, Frodo... Rose and Lily, thank you for the delicious food, and the lovely company.” Pippin smiled and bowed with all the charm he could muster.

“Yes, thank you,” Merry added, still a little uncomfortable. He herded Pippin out.

“You’re most welcome,” Rose and Lily called after them.

“Always glad to have you both,” Frodo acknowledged, “but then, you know that.” He smiled and followed them to the front door with Lily and Rose close behind him.

The two young cousins stopped on the doorstep and turned back.

Frodo embraced each of his cousins. He was loath to let them go; but it was time.

Merry met Frodo’s steady gaze. “We’re glad to see you looking so well, Frodo.” He recovered his humour. “See you don’t let the cat out of the bag and mention our visit to Sam.”

Frodo returned the smile. “Not a word.”

“Can we trust the two of you?” Merry asked, looking beyond Frodo’s shoulder to where the two lasses stood.

Lily stepped close to Frodo’s side, with Rose close behind. “You know better than to ask, Master Brandybuck. Can’t have anything untoward happening to the two of you.” She smiled warmly for him, then blinked as she felt Frodo’s fingers lace with hers, and she tightened her hold on his hand. He returned the gentle squeeze.

“Your visit is as good as forgotten,” Rose teased, then she grew serious. “Thank you, both, for all your help.”

Lily nodded and leaned her head briefly on Frodo’s shoulder.

Merry and Pippin smiled and waved, promising to return once things settled a bit more.

Frodo, Lily and Rose watched the pair disappear into the mist, partway down the Lane. Lily shivered.

“We’d best get you inside.” Frodo spoke against Lily’s ear.

She sighed. “I’m a little cold.”

“Think I’ll start some soup, then get secondies ready,” Rose announced.

“What would you like us to do?” Lily asked.

Rose glanced at the couple. “Enjoy a bit of quiet by the greatroom fire. I’ll bring you both a cup of tea to hold you over till secondies.” Before Lily or Frodo could say anything, Rose continued. “Not another word! It’s a good day for curling up, quiet-like... I wonder if Sam’s staying warm...?” She disappeared into the kitchen.

Frodo and Lily had no more made themselves comfortable on the settee close to the fire than Rose returned with a cup of tea for each of them.

She paused after handing them the tea. “Is it just me, or is Master Merry looking to be sweet on Estella Bolger?”

“I’m thinking he’s positively smitten,” Lily agreed.

Despite their plans to curl up before the fire, Frodo and Lily got up and followed Rose into the kitchen, so Frodo and Rose could tell Lily all about Estella, while Rose started work on the next meal. She refused to give the couple anything to do but chat and hold hands, insisting on doing the cooking preparations herself. She admitted it helped her keep her mind off Sam, a little.

They talked through secondies, and were about to start elevensies when a knock was heard at the door.

“I’ll get it.” Rose left the table, and smiled at Frodo’s startled expression.

With a bemused smile, Frodo wondered, “Shall I ever be allowed to answer my own door again?”

“When we’re not here,” Rosie laughed over her shoulder, and opened the door.

A young hobbit stood on the doorstep, stamping his feet in the cold.

“Robin! Come in!” Rose pulled him indoors. “Warm yourself by the fire. It’s a late cold snap we’re having, t’be sure.”

Frodo and Lily stood together in the entry between the kitchen and the greatroom.

“Hullo, Robin,” Frodo called in greeting.

“My favourite carrier,” Lily smiled.

Robin returned the greetings with a grin. “Mister Baggins -- Miss Burrows! ...now I know why my load’s been so light!”

Frodo and Lily blushed lightly, and smiled.

Frodo moved the conversation along. “What brings you our way?”

“I’ve a letter for Miss Burrows, here. I’d’ve had it here last night, but for this weather. The mist was thick as pea soup other side of Pincup, with a nasty, cold drizzle, and the kind of wind what niggles its way inside your coat no matter how tight you button it. Oh! Standing about jabbering, like...” Robin blushed. “Sorry, I do tend to go on and on about everything... and I’m doin’ it again. Better give Miss Burrows her letter and be on my way before I talk your ears off. Me mum’s always warning me to not... doing it again...” He closed his mouth firmly, and handed Lily the letter.

She stepped close to the fire. “It’s from Hal,” she murmured, then opened and read the letter through quickly. Her eyes, moist with tears, sought Frodo’s.

“Robin, why don’t we get some warm soup into you?” Rose guided him into the kitchen.

“What is it?” Frodo held her eyes with his own.

“He’s coming tomorrow... to take me home to Deephallow the following day...” Her voice caught.

Frodo swallowed the lump in his throat. “...for the remembrance of your parents’ anniversary...”

Lily searched Frodo’s eyes. Her throat tight, she whispered, “I don’t wish to leave...”

He smiled for her. “Dearest, it’s all right. It’s important you be there...”

From the kitchen they heard Robin say, “I really should be on my way.”

Rose replied, “Lily needs time to answer. She must let Hal know he’s invited to stay here at Bag End when he comes up. You’ll be able to take it back by tonight, won’t you?”

“Sure! It’s just misty now, nothing like yesterday.”

“Mister Baggins?” Rose called from the kitchen.

Frodo lifted Lily’s hand to his lips, kissed it, then released it before turning to the kitchen.

Rose passed him in the entryway and paused a moment. “I’ll take Lily back to the study; if you’ll stay here with Robin and see to it he eats--?” She gave him a reassuring smile.

Frodo nodded and entered the kitchen; he began chatting with Robin about the postal routes.

Rosie’s heart wrung at the sight of the desolation written across Lily’s face when she found her in the greatroom. “Come along to the study; you need to send a reply.” She slipped a comforting arm around her friend and ushered her down the hall to the study.

When they stepped into the room, Lily paused. “All the books, Rosie,” she spoke in awe. “I’d forgotten how many there were...”

She stepped lightly to the desk and ran her hand along it, then ran her hand along the back of the chair for a moment before pulling it out from the desk. Again she paused, then settled herself in the chair. She gathered parchment, ink, and a quill, and realized this was where Frodo composed his letters to her. She trembled, then made herself remember why she was in the study.

Rosie stood beside her and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Be sure to tell Hal he’s invited to Bag End -- then the two of you can spend the night here.”

Lily glanced up at her friend in wonder.

Rose smiled. “Frodo won’t mind. He’d expect it, and I know he overheard me talking to Robin in the kitchen about it... Also, be sure to ask him to bring up a few blackberry bushes for planting into the Bag End gardens.”

Lily’s eyes widened. She whispered, “What if Frodo doesn’t want them here? What if he thinks I’m being too forward?”

Rosie stared at her friend and blinked. “Lily Burrows, whatever makes you ask such questions? O’course he wants them here; he wants you here.” Rose sighed. “You’re asking him to trust that the both of you’re meant to be together. You need to trust as well. Start with the blackberry bushes. Besides, Frodo doesn’t need to know they’re here right away. Tell Hal we want it to be a surprise, so if he’d bring ‘em up quiet-like... Sam’ll be home any day now, and the bushes should fare well enough for a few days. Go on...” she encouraged.

“Thank you, Rose.” A peaceful smile spread across Lily’s face, and she dipped quill into ink and began to write.

After a few minutes, she finished the letter, lightly blew on it to help it dry, then carefully folded it and slid it into an envelope.

Rose smiled at her friend. “Why don’t you stay here a moment to collect yourself; I’ll take this to Robin.”

Lily carefully replaced the quill on the desk where she found it, wondering when Frodo used it last, then put the stopper in the inkwell. She ran her hands lovingly over the ink stains on the desktop. How many were Frodo’s? Then she let her fingers caress the books stacked close by, marveling at those with Elvish lettering on the spines. Gradually, she rose from the chair, letting her eyes roam over the whole room, finally resting on a strawberry-coloured, over-stuffed chair in the corner by the fire.

“What is that?” she wondered aloud, and walked toward it.

“Uncle Bilbo’s favourite chair,” Frodo replied, smiling from the doorway.

Lily’s eyes were bright with curiosity. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“He had it shipped from Lake Town -- Men live there -- long before I came to stay here. They call it a ‘wingback’ chair. It’s very comfortable. You may try it, if you like...”

Lily glanced at Frodo hopefully. “Oh, it does appear terribly inviting... would Uncle Bilbo mind?”

Frodo enjoyed the way Lily said ‘Uncle Bilbo.’ She was completely unaware she had used the informal name, and it gave Frodo a singular sort of joy, one that only she could bring him. “Please, make yourself comfortable,” he offered, after collecting his thoughts again.

Lily carefully sat on the edge of the seat and ran her hands along the arms of the chair. “It’s so soft...” She eased back, then let herself sink into the chair.

A long sigh escaped her, and she closed her eyes. “Oh, Frodo, this is... it begs one to curl up lazily next to the fire under a quilt, with a book and a cup of tea and biscuits...” She sighed again.

Rose stopped short at the doorway of the study, and quietly took several steps back. She did not want the couple to notice her; she needed time to recover from her own surprise. A swift search of her memory told her no one had sat in that chair since its return from Crickhollow, not even Frodo, as far as she knew. She took a deep breath and released it, then entered the room, stopping close behind Frodo’s right shoulder.

“Are you two ready for elevensies?” she asked cheerfully.

Frodo searched Lily’s eyes.

Lily smiled ruefully. “I suppose this means I must leave this little bit of overindulgence...”

Frodo glanced at Rosie. “We could take our meal in here...”

Rosie nodded. “I’ll bring it. I’ll not be gone but a moment...” She headed out the door and glanced back with a quick smile. “Don’t be getting into any mischief...” She chortled all the way down the hall.

Frodo cleared off a small table of books, placed the table close to Lily, and added two more chairs, forming a circle. Then he sat in the chair nearest Lily. He laid his hand atop hers, resting on the arm of the chair. She turned her hand to hold his, her smile radiant.

Rosie returned with a tray full of food, enough for both meals, if they decided to stay in the study.

Lily noticed Rosie’s surreptitious glances and wondered about them. She hesitated for a moment. “Frodo, thank you for letting me sit in Uncle Bilbo’s chair.” She felt a quiet melancholy -- not unhappiness -- in Frodo’s thoughts.

He smiled warmly, his tone wistful. “That was Uncle Bilbo’s storytelling chair. If there was a group of children, they’d gather about on the floor. I remember Sam being in the group from time to time. I also remember more than one occasion when Sam snuck up to Bag End on his own.”

Rosie’s eyes widened. “Did he? I’ve not heard about that.”

Frodo chuckled. “He had a little help.”

“You?”

Frodo nodded. “He listened to stories more attentively than I did. If he came up to Bag End alone, he was assured he could crawl on Uncle Bilbo’s lap in that very chair. Uncle Bilbo would then tell a story just for Sam, one he’d not heard before, and sometimes it was one I hadn’t heard before. It was in this room Sam learned his letters, while I studied my Elvish.”

For the rest of the morning, Frodo told them of Sam’s expeditions to Bag End to learn his letters.

After luncheon, Rose shooed them off to settle in for their respective afternoon naps.

She returned to the study and sat on the floor at the foot of the old chair, tentatively reaching out her hand to touch it, then sat for a moment longer before reminding herself there was work to be done.

---------

Lily slept a little longer than usual this day, and Rose let her sleep, but made sure there was bread and cheese ready and waiting when she woke.

“Rosie?” Lily became thoughtful. “Do you think Merry and Pippin have bad memories, or dreams?”

“They do.” Rosie sighed.

Lily glanced at her friend, wide eyed.

“I overheard them talking that first night they were here, though I’ve not heard them speak of it again. I think they both prefer to let it lie, if you take my meaning. It only came up in their conversation because of Frodo’s nightmares.” Rose paused. “They don’t know I heard. They were talking in hushed voices in the kitchen, only for a moment. They’d come into the kitchen to get some fresh tea, and didn’t know I was sitting in the greatroom. I didn’t want to startle them... I didn’t mean to overhear...”

Lily eyed her friend carefully. “What are you thinking, Rose?”

Rosie stared into her teacup for a moment, then searched Lily’s eyes, her brows drawn together in worry. “Do you think -- do you think my Sam has nightmares?” Tears glistened in her eyes.

“No--” Lily sighed. “I don’t know. Though, knowing what I do now about Merry and Pippin, then Sam probably does too, come to think of it... I’m sorry, Rosie.” She slipped an arm around her friend.

“What’ll I do, Lily? I’ve not the gift you do, to see the torment inside a body’s heart... How’ll I help my Samwise?” She wept softly.

“Oh, Rosie.” Lily took her friend in her arms and let her cry. “You’ll find a way...”

Rose sniffled. “You -- you take Frodo’s darkness onto yourself. I can’t do that. And I was so terrified watching you sometimes and -- and thinking I wanted to run away... and I did, to the kitchen.”

Lily smiled. “You didn’t run very far or for very long. I was terribly afraid then, too, and I still am. Sam’s memories may bother him from time to time, but remember that’s all you’ll need to worry about, from all Sam’s told us... I know you can help him with those, Rosie...”

Lily paused for a moment and sighed, then looked to Rose once more. “With Frodo, it’s different. He’s dealing not only with his memories, but that darkness left behind by the knife and -- and the Ring. And he’s not letting Sam help him anymore... I keep needing to remind myself of what Gandalf said: Ilúvatar created me for Frodo, so I must’ve been given all I need to help him. I’ll not let Frodo fight alone, and you’re the same with Sam.”

Lily squared her shoulders, looking her friend in the eye. “We’ll be all right, you and me. We can talk together and pray and encourage our sweethearts to share with us, and with each other. You’ve got a special gift of your own, Rose Cotton...”

Rosie searched her friend’s eyes. “What gift’ve I got?”

Lily’s face softened. “You love Sam, wholeheartedly. Even though folk were telling you he was dead, you never lost hope.”

A grateful smile spread across Rosie’s tearstained face. She embraced her friend tightly. “And I’ve got a friend I can talk to when I need someone what understands.”

Lily returned the embrace. “As do I.”

---------

Frodo awoke shortly after Lily. This time the two worked together, helping Rose, to prepare dinner.

The evening spent in the greatroom was much quieter than it had been for quite some time, with the absence of Merry and Pippin.

With encouragement from Frodo and Lily, Rose spoke of her early memories of Sam. They had met when they were both quite young, at a Hobbiton festival. Rosie’s older brother Tom was born the same year Sam was, so they grew up together. In fact, she told them, she could not remember not knowing Sam.

Lily and Frodo were again comfortably ensconced on the settee next to the fire, enjoying Rosie’s stories. They did not notice the afternoon pass into evening. Supper was taken in the greatroom.

Rose and Lily stayed with Frodo well into the evening. Lily was growing a little weary, but worried at what might happen when Frodo was left alone. She smiled to herself as she realized she was wishing, right along with Rose, that Sam were already home.

Frodo walked them home after Lily insisted he wear his Elven cloak to help keep him warm and protected. Rosie left them to say goodbye on the Gaffer’s front doorstep. They clasped hands and bent their heads together.

“Ilúvatar, thank you for the gift of Lily, and for what we share. Please, help...” Frodo stopped as he felt one of Lily’s tears splash onto their hands.

Lily continued brokenly, “O, Creator... thank you... for prayer... and for Frodo. Watch over him... Help him against the darkness...” Another of her tears fell.

Frodo lifted her hands to his lips and kissed each one gently, then released them to wipe away her tears.

Lily laid her hands atop his and held them against her face. She raised her eyes to gaze into Frodo’s. Her lower lip trembled.

Frodo smiled encouragingly, then caressed her lips with his own. She swayed toward him, and he wrapped his arms around her. She allowed her hands to find their way to his shoulders, then ease around his neck, and finally one slipped into his curls. Their kiss was full of the strength of their love and their desire, edged with desperation.

Gradually, they ended it, holding each other for a time.

“I’ll miss you, Lily,” Frodo whispered. His breaths came quickly; unevenly.

She gazed into his eyes. Frodo was not hiding his feelings, and neither was she. Lily endeavored to regain her equilibrium. “I miss you already,” she murmured.

Frodo offered Lily another gentle kiss before finally releasing her.

Lily returned the kiss briefly. She forced herself to turn away and enter the Gaffer’s smial.

Their words and caresses stayed with her, all the way through her nighttime ablutions, through her telling Rose goodnight, and into her sleep, and her dreams.

---------

All the way back to Bag End, through readying for bed, and as he began his old nightly ritual of counting the tips of the leaves painted over his head, Frodo held close the memory of their prayer and her kiss, letting them sustain him as he began the vigil against the darkness.