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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

24 March 1420sr

Frodo woke, just before dawn, feeling tired and worn. In earlier days, before the Quest, he would have smiled at the Sun’s greeting, but this was not before the Quest...

He had but one more day with her, with his beautiful beloved. He realized he called Lily his beloved always now, in his mind... She was his, the only love his heart had ever known; but as long as he did not say he loved her, she was not truly bound to him. The words meant more than any signatures in red ink on any contract. He yearned to tell her he loved her.

Curse It, his mind whispered. You should be allowed to live a normal life. It is horrible to love her so in your heart, and still not be able to simply marry her, like any other hobbit.

Ilúvatar!... No, no... I cannot be angry at the Creator, for He is the Author of the one I love most on earth. It would be the most despicable show of ingratitude. What shall I do?

Give up. You could give up. It would be easier, would it not?

“No!” he cried, and instantly regretted it. Speaking aloud to the voice only seemed to feed It.

Frodo closed his eyes against the Sun’s light filtering into the room. He covered his face with his hands, as he sat up in bed. Help me, please; I cannot do this thing alone. He remembered another time, so long ago, now, pleading he could not do it alone. Then, he was told he must; yet were it not for Sam... Surely, Ilúvatar was mindful even then... I need more faith...

Light entered him, despite his face being covered against it.

Trust to her. Trust in Me.

Frodo’s heart leapt at the message, there, then gone again. He had felt such deep despair in the night... he was tired. Tired of fighting.

He studied the rumpled state of his bed and knew he had tossed and turned even in the few meager hours of sleep granted him. His chest tightened as he remembered again... Today was their last day together... for how long? One day apart from her, without her, is too long, his heart whispered.

Frodo felt the darkness stir in excitement at his misery, and pushed It away by getting up and preparing for the day. He splashed cold water on his face, hoping the startling chill would distract him, and as he dried his face, he found his hand straying to the gem at his throat. Tears gathered in his eyes, and he pleaded for relief. “Please, Ilúvatar, why did you let...” He paused. “I am sorry. Since the darkness cannot be taken from me, help me to keep It at bay, please -- so Lily might be kept safe...”

As Frodo passed the study on his way to the kitchen, he found himself pausing at the door. He stepped into the room and stopped in front of the chair by the fire he banked the night before. In case Lily wanted to return to it today, he had left it thus, so the room would stay warm for her visit. He fed more wood to the dying flames, then slowly settled himself within the comfort of the cushions, gently running his hands along the arms of the chair.

“You’re right, Lily, it is soft,” he whispered. “Lily, my -- love...” Tears trickled down his cheeks. He closed his eyes. “My love...”

Dark memories flashed through his mind. Lily weeping... lying on his chest... reaching for him in the blackness... Other memories, longer past, caused him to tremble, and grasp tightly the arms of the chair... Sam, reassuring him... Sam... no... Sam’s voice...? and Gandalf... Lily...

Frodo’s eyes flew open wide. “Lily... my love... you must tell me of the illness... I need to know.” He released a shuddering breath.

His head snapped up. “They’re early... she’s here...”

Frodo found Lily and Rose in the kitchen, already preparing first breakfast.

Lily turned to him the moment she felt him enter the room. Each stood rooted to their spot.

Without looking up from the batter she was preparing, Rosie spoke matter-of-factly. “I suggest you go into the greatroom while I finish the scones. I’ll call you when firsties is ready.”

“Thank you, Rose,” Frodo replied softly. They exchanged good mornings, and he led the way into the greatroom.

Frodo stopped in front of the window, gazing out toward the new Party Tree, across winding roads, past the new Mill, over the Water, and down to the smials and little houses in Hobbiton. He barely noticed them, for he could not dismiss the fleeting memories still running through his mind.

Lily stepped up behind him. She laid her hand on his back, and felt him stiffen slightly. “Frodo, what is it?”

He sighed heavily and turned his head to speak over his shoulder. “I remember... images... from my illness... I need to know, Lily.”

“Yes.”

Frodo turned to her fully. “You’ll tell me? About my illness?” He endeavored not to hope for too much; he knew Lily, and the others, wanted only to protect him. Then again, he also dreaded knowing the truth. But Ilúvatar said to trust her...

Lily searched the infinite blue of his eyes. “Yes. I’ll tell you.”

“After you’re fed.” He breathed deeply, and slowly released it.

She nodded, and continued to study his eyes. Some disquiet disturbed what little peace was his.

“Lily...” Frodo whispered. He cupped her cheek with his right hand, and she turned her face toward his touch. She felt the slight pull of the darkness; it was not bad.

Frodo’s heart tightened as she steadily met his gaze without shying away. He hesitated at the thought of inflicting the darkness upon her yet again...

But Lily read his thoughts, and nodded her assent, welcoming him. He reached for her, and she stepped into his embrace.

Lily trembled, and wrapped one arm around Frodo’s waist and the other around his neck. As she accepted some of his darkness, and gave him some of her health, she felt him gradually relax in her arms.

He knew he would never be able to thank her enough. His voice emerged as only a whisper. “Lily... Thank you...”

Lily nodded again, then deliberately nestled her head against his scarred shoulder. “How it pains you, dearest,” she sighed softly.

She had not meant to utter the words aloud. They had not spoken of this pain in his shoulder before. On this last day with him, she was becoming careless; she would need to be more mindful... would he be upset with her for stirring his memories of the pain?

When Frodo pulled away a little, she gazed up into his eyes. Relief swept through her when she saw no anger or hurt, but a curious mix of pleasure and sadness. She wanted to reassure him, of so much... a smile crept across her lips. “I missed you.”

Tears sprang to Frodo’s eyes, and he held her tightly again, then whispered against her ear as he slid his right hand softly through her curls. “I missed you, dearest Lily. It still frightens me sometimes, how much...”

Lily pulled back a little once again. She hesitated, then stood on tip-toe, allowing her gaze to travel from his eyes to his lips, then back to his eyes. They were so resplendent--! Even his eyelashes, long and dark -- she needed to glance away, and gazed at his mouth once more. Tentatively, she touched her lips to his.

Frodo’s breath caught in his throat. Then Lily offered the merest suggestion of a kiss, barely grazing his lips with her own again, then lingering a moment. He was left speechless, still taking in her first caress, and not prepared for the second one.

When she kissed him the third time he returned it immediately, his left hand opened wide against her back, supporting her as he pulled her close, and his right hand pushed deeper into her silken tresses. She was warm. Warm enough to keep the cold away from his heart forever...

She doesn’t know what she’s done to me. I can’t... His thoughts were scattered, confused. I can’t...

Lily felt Frodo’s breathing quicken along with her own. She let go, and lost herself in the strength and warmth of his embrace, forgetting all else.

She reluctantly allowed him to end the kiss when she sensed he was pulling away -- a part of her whispering he needed to end it.

“Lily--” he began, “I--” His brow was furrowed, and he blinked, as if to try to focus on her. “I’m -- I think it’s wise indeed we have a chaperone. I cannot say more than that--”

“It’s getting cold,” Rosie called from the kitchen.

Lily could not ignore the niggling feeling she had not heard Rosie call them to breakfast initially. She trembled and held Frodo more tightly when he whispered in her ear.

Frodo forced himself back into some semblance of control, his voice even and calm. “Darling Lily, Rose says first breakfast is ready and waiting.”

Lily took a deep, steadying breath, then pulled away and smiled for him. Please, Ilúvatar, help me tell him, she prayed; and she walked with Frodo into the kitchen.

Once they were settled at the table, Rose talked of needing to prepare one of the guest rooms for Hal.

The couple struggled to concentrate on what Rose was saying. Then Lily glanced at Frodo, and cleared her throat. “Rosie, would you mind preparing Hal’s room alone this morning? I’ve -- I’ve promised to tell Frodo of his illness. We’ll be in the study, and I don’t wish to be interrupted.”

Rose and Lily shared a long look; then Rose nodded.

“I doubt anyone’ll come by, but just in case, I’ll take care of it.” Rose thought a moment. “I’ll arrange enough food on a tray for you to take secondies and elevensies in the study, then I’ll make sure luncheon is something simple and easy, for whenever you’re ready...”

“Thank you,” Lily murmured, with a catch in her voice.

When Frodo and Lily began to clear off the table, Rosie assured them she would take care of it. She smiled encouragingly. “It’s a bit of a tale, Frodo; best get an early start on it, or I’ll not see you the rest of the day.”

They smiled appreciatively. Frodo held out his left hand, and Lily took it.

---------

In the study, Frodo led Lily to the wing-backed chair, then lit several candles. He stopped to observe her graceful movements, this lass who held his heart, as she settled comfortably in the chair.

Lily caught his steady gaze, and smiled for him.

Frodo pulled up a chair, began to sit down, and stopped. He returned the chair to the desk, then sat on the rug at Lily’s feet with his legs crossed, looking up at her.

A warm smile spread across Lily’s face, and she leaned forward and caressed his face with the tips of her fingers. “So, you’re ready to hear the story?”

“Yes, please.” Frodo could not hide the worry in his eyes.

“At least you know it ends happily,” Lily assured him, then saw the question in his eyes. “You and I are all right, dear Frodo... both of us.”

Frodo smiled and nodded; he could not answer her at the moment, and forced back the stinging tears in his eyes by blinking. They were both very well, indeed. They were both alive, and as well as he could have hoped... Lily was better than he ever believed possible, and his illness was over. She was not worse, as he feared she might be. He must keep this in mind, somehow...

Rosie slipped in quietly and set a tray of food, with a carafe of cider and mugs, on a table to the left of the wing-backed chair, within easy reach of them. She disappeared into the hall.

Lily decided not to give him every detail, but wondered where and how to start. She found herself once again asking Ilúvatar to help her tell the story.

She sighed and began. “You remember I told you how Farmer Cotton found you, and then fetched Rose and me?”

“Yes.” Frodo searched her eyes for reassurance, then realized all he wanted was to hold her, for comfort, and to delay the telling of the story. But I need to know, he reminded himself. He lowered his eyes and turned round, leaning his back against the chair. Lily moved her legs slightly to give him more room, but still they touched. He glanced over his shoulder and smiled. “If I keep looking into your eyes, we’ll never get the story told.”

Lily smiled. “You’re right. Now, where was I?”

“You told me Farmer Cotton found me and fetched you. Do I remember you saying I wasn’t actually asleep?” Frodo pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around them, then stared, unseeing, out the window.

“Yes.” Lily took in a deep breath. “You recognized me when I first came into the room, but only for a moment; then you were gone again. You seemed lost in some waking nightmare of the Quest... It is how you were most of the time. We attempted to feed you, but you could not eat or drink... but for the merest sips of water, and then only occasionally that much...”

Frodo felt her shudder. He glanced over his shoulder again. “I’m sorry... I really do need to know...”

“I know...”

“I keep... there are images... and I can’t seem to place them...”

“It’s all right, Frodo. We’ll see if we can settle them. Do you want to tell me about the images?” Her fingers strayed to his curls and stopped just short of touching him; instead she folded her hands in her lap.

Frodo sighed. “They’re so disjointed... and really only snatches, here and there... difficult to see clearly... Do I remember rightly you said I didn’t sleep, but I did ramble...?”

“Yes. Some things made no sense, for you seemed to be in the moment, but other things... other things...”

“It’s all right, Lily. You may tell me.”

“Some of what you spoke of was clearly about the Ring...”

Frodo bent his head, resting his forehead on his knees.

“Dearest Frodo, we need not speak of the Ring now. We may leave It for... for some other day...” Part of her was relieved not to have to speak of It. She shivered.

Frodo brushed his sleeve across his eyes and sniffed. “You need to know, Lily... I’ve kept so much from you. But it’s too horrible to tell... And yet, you should know the truth... I don’t know how much you truly want to be told, or could endure being told, or need to know...”

Lily allowed her fingers to lightly touch Frodo’s chestnut curls. “Someday, but not today. Today, we’ll speak only of this past week. We’ve time enough, dear one. In the days to come...”

Unexpected comfort permeated Frodo’s soul, and he nodded. “Do I -- do I remember you weeping?”

A sigh escaped her. “Yes, but not often. I knew you needed my strength, and tears for what I could not control were too draining.” She watched Frodo’s fists clench about his knees. “But Gandalf told me not all tears are evil. Still, I wanted to be brave for you.”

She reached for the plates Rosie prepared; cheese and bread, and dried apples and pears, and handed one to Frodo.

He started, and shook his head.

“Please, Frodo, you need to eat... or Sam shall ask what I fed you...”

She felt his distress ease. He sighed and began nibbling a piece of the cheese.

He glanced over his shoulder. “You’re eating, as well?”

“Yes, dearest.” She smiled for him. “What else do you remember, Frodo?”

A heavy sigh escaped him. “You... and Sam... or, at least, Sam’s voice...”

“That was toward the end of your illness. We could not seem to reach you...”

“Lily -- I remember you reaching for me, and then you -- you would disappear...”

“I would give what I could, and then I’d need to rest... I knew I couldn’t help you if I became overwhelmed... and Rosie would remind me. She was such a help, Frodo... I learned a great deal about how much I could give, and when I needed to pull away...”

“You -- I remember you lying -- lying on -- on my chest...”

“I became overwhelmed...”

“What if it happens again, Lily?”

“Frodo, dear, don’t worry. I am safe...”

“How can you be sure?”

Lily considered his question. “Gandalf was there to pull me back...”

“What if he is not there, when - when it happens again?”

“Frodo, in truth, I’m not certain it would have happened if he hadn’t been there.”

Frodo turned partway toward her, and searched her eyes. “What do you mean?”

“I knew I needed to be careful if I was going to be able to help you. With Gandalf here, I let my guard down. Somehow, I knew he could save me. Mayhap it’s because he came without being sent for. My heart told me Ilúvatar sent him. If Ilúvatar sent him, then surely Gandalf could help.”

Lily sighed silently, and refilled Frodo’s plate, then handed him a mug of cider, which he set by his side on the floor. She refilled her own plate, as well, allowing Frodo time to mull over her words.

Finally, between absentminded bites, Frodo asked, “What about Sam? I remember his voice...”

“Now that was remarkable. I still scarce am able to believe or even begin to understand what happened, or how. It was the third day of your illness, and you were struggling terribly; I could feel it. Gandalf requested we pray together: him, Rosie, Merry, Pippin and me. But we could not seem to pull you back from wherever you were wandering...

“Then Rosie bravely admitted she wished Sam were here, and how he seemed to have a way with reaching you, when others could not... Gandalf thanked her for giving him a good idea. He entreated us to continue our prayers. Then we heard him speak, as though he were Sam. For a moment, we all thought Sam returned unexpectedly; then we realized it was Gandalf. From what I understand, he spoke as though you were once again in Ithilien, when the Quest was fulfilled.” Lily paused, hoping the word Merry and Pippin used to describe the end of the Quest might reach into Frodo’s heart.

Several moments passed as Frodo stared out the window again. “So I did hear Sam’s voice...”

“Yes, Frodo... and you were so comforted. You came back to us, finally...”

Lily stopped, but composed herself quickly. “Then you recognized Gandalf. He assured you all was well... including me...”

Frodo glanced back at her. “I asked after you?”

The flicker of hope in his eyes caused Lily’s heart to swell with love. “Yes, dearest. Right off... despite all you suffered, your first concern was for me...”

Hope flared in Frodo’s eyes. “I was not so lost I forgot what mattered...”

He spoke so softly that Lily was uncertain if he meant for her to hear.

They ate the food Rosie left for them in companionable silence, until Frodo set his plate on the floor next to him. She followed his eyes, and wondered what was suddenly so interesting about her clothes.

“What a beautiful dress. Have I ever seen it before, Lily?”

Lily giggled softly, and looked down at her dress. The woolen skirts were dark purple beneath, with lavender above; her chemise was a light yellow cotton, and the vest was of lavender wool, matching the overskirt. Embroidered pansies of dark purple, white, and deep yellow covered the vest, along with leaves of green.

“I’ve worn it before, when you were visiting in Deephallow. But that does not mean you saw it.” She smiled down at him with a knowing look, and took a sip of her cider.

A moment passed before he understood; then he laughed, and blushed.

“It’s beautiful... you made it?”

“Yes. I adore pansies.”

“They’re lovely.” He reached forward, then stopped, realizing he could not touch her vest, even in innocent admiration of her handwork. He blushed again. “But you are far lovelier, just as I told you in February... it’s why I don’t notice what you wear, or only rarely. I’m sorry.”

“Merry said you mean what you say, quite literally. So how can I possibly mind if you would rather look at me than at my dresses?”

They shared their private smile, and Frodo turned thoughtful once again.

He placed his empty mug and plate on the tray. “What happened after -- after you prayed for me, and after Gandalf spoke as Sam?”

Lily sensed a deeper confidence within him. “That was the 15th, and then you slept, dearest; and all the 16th. We were able to spoon a little broth into you, but you weren’t actually awake. Not until the 17th.” A smile spread across Lily’s face.

Almost as though he could feel the change in her, Frodo glanced back over his shoulder again. “What?” He found himself enchanted by the sparkle in her eyes.

“You woke the morning of the 17th, while Rose and I were giving you more broth.” A soft blush crept into her cheeks. “The first thing you did was ask after me and apologize for being any trouble. I was so happy I could have danced and sung right then and there.” Tears shimmered in her eyes.

A gentle blush tinged Frodo’s cheeks. “I was worried for you.”

“Yes, you were. It was wonderful to be able to tell you I was more well than ever before.”

Confusion clouded Frodo’s eyes. “How?”

Lily realized she needed to tread lightly or she would give it all away. “Gandalf was able to help me somewhat...”

“But not completely?”

Lily heard the disappointment in his voice. “No, not completely. Gandalf said it was not in Ilúvatar’s plan for us then. But I am hopeful... someday...” She could feel the hope within Frodo stir and burn a little brighter as well.

He sat back against the chair again and closed his eyes, trying to absorb everything Lily had told him.

Lily felt his fingers idly comb through the hair on her right foot. She realized he was unaware of his action, and lightly slipped her fingers into his curls to hide her trembling.

“Our feet, Lily, toward the end... so much... there was so much pain...”

“...they were severely cut,” Lily finished.

“Yes,” Frodo paused. “How did you know?”

“I saw the scars... when I rubbed them.” Lily’s voice was hushed.

His voice filled with wonder. “You rubbed my feet?”

“Yes, dearest. There was so much I could not do, but that much I could. And my mother always liked it, especially toward the end. I think mayhap it was the only time she didn’t hurt.”

“You did it for your mother, before she died?”

“Yes.”

“Did you think I might die?”

Lily sighed. “A part of me feared you might, but I prayed you would not...”

Frodo met her eyes and held them. It was true, then; he had been that ill. He sensed her wish that he not ask any further about it. It could wait. He smiled for her as a happier memory returned.

“I remember... I remember you rubbing my feet, Lily! I thought I imagined it. Such a comforting feeling it was... thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Lily smiled, pleased he had not seemed to dwell on her fear of him dying. Then she felt a deep gratitude for having been allowed to bring him some comfort during that wretched time.

“It’s well before luncheon,” she continued.

“Shall we take it early?” Frodo glanced over his shoulder again. “Mayhap it best we take our afternoon rest a little early. I’m certain we’re both a little worn from the telling...”

Lily smiled and nodded.

---------

They slept well past tea, waking only a short time before Hal arrived for dinner. Lily was happy to see him, but forced herself not to weep as they embraced. Her brother-in-law would be taking her away from Frodo in the morning.

Frodo was as first surprised at the depth of his own feelings at seeing Hal again. He gave Hal a tour of Bag End as Lily and Rose prepared supper, and Frodo plied him with questions about Daisy and Pearl. Mother and daughter were doing well. Did Pearl still sleep face down on his lap, her head at his knees...? Yes, Hal laughed, but Pearl was growing like a weed and it wouldn’t be long before that trick would be a thing of the past.

He thought Frodo looked thinner, but the master of Bag End seemed energetic enough. Hal wondered about Frodo’s illness, the one Lily spoke of now and then; but he kept his thoughts to himself.

Hal determined to retire early in order to feel rested for the long trip back the next day. He wondered if Rosie would be willing to serve as chaperone one more night, so Lily and Frodo might spend a little more time together?

Rosie readily agreed, and after supper suggested the couple spend one last evening in the back garden. She would wait up for them in the greatroom.

The couple put on their coats before going out, for there was a slight chill, but the night air was still enjoyable. They slipped into the back garden after the nine o’clock hour, and settled on a bench near a sapling birch at the far corner of the garden. It was one of many Sam planted, aided by a grain of dirt from the Lady’s gift.

Frodo was silent as he grasped Lily’s hands in his own.

“What are you thinking of, dear Frodo?” Lily asked softly. “You are so very far away... can you tell me?”

After a long pause, he seemed to hear her question.

“I’m -- sorry. Yes, I’ll tell you. It’s only something I just now realized. I can’t believe I -- I can’t understand why I’ve not seen it before.”

Frodo turned to face her, and then looked down. He stared at their hands as he spoke, rather than meeting her eyes.

“I’ve been in control of myself... in control of my heart -- forever, it seems. My mind -- took over from my heart, when my parents died. I’ve never realized it until now. Why has it taken so long for me to see this?”

Still he did not look up. He seemed to be speaking half to himself. Lily laced her fingers into his, as he watched their hands. She knew he did not expect an answer; at least, not yet.

“It was easier for me to let my mind take charge, then. Before they died, I lived for what my heart wanted. I was a child, and lived for the moment, as children do. I was quite happy, following my heart...

“But I knew no difference between heart and mind... I only knew I was happy. The past did not interest me that much... why should it, with the riches I found in each new day? And I certainly never worried for the future. I possessed no concept of the future. Now it’s clear to me... I was happy then because I followed my heart.”

Lily listened quietly, watching the play of emotions on Frodo’s face as he continued to study their hands. A pleasant and unexpected warmth spread through her as he stroked her hand absently with his thumb.

“After they died, I adjusted. It took a few months -- no, it was only a few weeks. I remember not wanting Saradoc and Esme to be too sad for me; not wanting to be a bother to them. Now, as an adult, I know they’d not have begrudged me the time to grieve... they loved me... but at that time, I only knew I wanted to be in control of my life -- or for someone to be in control of my life, since seemingly no one was in control of anything. Not if my parents could vanish overnight. No one was in charge...

“I did not see it then for what it was... I simply went on. I did whatever was necessary to make my life bearable again, and as soon as possible... somehow -- in any way it could be done. I did not care how. I only knew I could not be happy again unless I could control some part of my life -- or most of it -- perhaps all of it...”

He paused suddenly and gazed into her eyes.

“Lily, can you understand me? Am I making any sense at all? I don’t know--”

She met his eyes calmly and held them. Hers were no doubt blue now, she mused, but never as blue as his own... She smiled inwardly. “You’re making a great deal of sense, dear Frodo. Please do go on.”

Frodo saw she told the truth, and he blinked several times. He needed to think, and to think clearly he could not look into her eyes. No, not at all...

He studied their hands once more; hers seemed so small and delicate within his. Then he seemed to notice his own hands, and a laugh nearly escaped him.

“You’re curing me of this incurable habit, dear Lily. Don’t laugh... will you promise not to laugh?”

His eyes were mischievous and sad at the same time as he met hers again.

Lily could not begin to guess what he was going to say, but felt an unexpected lightness about his mood. “I promise not to laugh.”

“Good, for it’s quite silly. I just looked at my hands. I’ve not been biting my fingernails. Look... not since I was young have I let these be...” He began to smile as he studied his fingers. “Of course, I’ve had one less to work on since -- since the Quest... now that there are only nine...”

He laughed out loud, then suddenly fell silent, staring at his right hand in wonder, the fingers outstretched.

“I’ve never been able to make fun of my hand before.” He looked up at Lily. “Never. This hand is my daily -- nay -- my hourly reminder... I could not give up the Ring. They tell me I did not fail. I try hard to believe that. It brings me some comfort...”

He paused in thought. “Comfort... But you bring me healing. I never believed I could make light of this hand. You are healing me...” He closed his hand and laid the back of it against her left cheek, stroking it gently, once.

Her eyes closed for a moment, and he leaned forward to speak low in her ear. “You’ve made me laugh, dearest. Will you give me a kiss, per our agreement? But only on the cheek; I’m not sure what may happen now if you give me a real kiss...”

Frodo leaned back, and Lily saw the tired wonder of his countenance change to confusion. She saw love and desire mixed there, and sorrow, almost. The strength of it was as a storm within him. Once more she saw desire, love, confusion; sorrow: all these appeared in his eyes.

Finally, he seemed to compose himself, and she leaned forward slightly and kissed his cheek. A sweet-smelling breeze picked up then, carrying with it the fragrance of the roses blooming around them. The night was fading to deeper black; moonlight and starlight fell on them.

“Thank you,” he smiled, with only the barest hint of any sorrow still evident. “That is quite calming. I needed to be calmed... I’ve been so occupied with thoughts and dreams of you, at every waking moment--” at this, he met her gaze fully. His look took her breath away.

“Every waking moment, I’ve thought of you, Lily...” he repeated. What he said seemed suddenly bold; he might say more.

He knew she would easily see through his change of subject, but there was nothing for it. “So, thanks to you, I’ve had no thought for these hands at all. I’d forgotten them. Mayhap I shall always have fingernails, now?” His smile was wistful.

Lily returned his smile. “It seems to me you’ve done quite well without them, dear Frodo. Quite well. Especially when you touch me...”

Her eyes turned serious. She wanted to kiss him, and Frodo saw it. Lily tore her gaze away from the open wonder and pleasure in his eyes. She lifted his right hand to her lips, kissing the back of it softly. Frodo shuddered, and Lily swallowed hard, laying his hand back down into his lap, and covering it with her own.

Frodo was gazing at their hands once more. For the moment it was much safer than acknowledging the look in her eyes.

“Dearest Frodo, everything you’ve told me has made sense. You needn’t worry about that.”

“I--” Frodo stopped. “Yes, well... I spent the rest of my life letting my mind take over from my heart. And I was, indeed, very much in control of myself. My thoughts, my emotions, everything I did, in fact... And then I was given the Ring to watch over, to guard, and finally to carry. This was indeed something I could do well. I could carry it, and I was in control... for seventeen years, after Bilbo left for Rivendell, I owned the Ring, and I did as Gandalf bade me: I never put it on. Then I carried it to Bree... and Rivendell... I took it on the Quest. I knew I might die... nay, I expected to die. But I would carry it as far as I could...

“Only three times did I put it on my finger, on purpose. At -- at Weathertop...”

Lily watched his eyes close against some remembered misery. She felt him drag himself away from wherever he had been. Even saying the name of the place was painful for him...

“And again, when Boromir tried to attack me, I put it on; that was in self-defense. Poor Boromir...” He sighed, then cleared his throat. “But it cost me dearly, as well, for the Eye saw me...”

Frodo stopped short, as if something had struck him. “I cannot speak of the Eye...”

“The Eye of flame...” Lily whispered.

Frodo started. “How do you...”

“It was a dream, dearest Frodo... nothing more... go on, please.”

Frodo admitted he wanted to pursue what Lily knew, and yet he could not bear to think of the Eye, not even in order to ask her... He stared out across the garden, composing himself.

“With Sam’s help, and now, I know, with the Creator’s help, I controlled myself and did not put the Ring on again. Then we were there. Sam and I, and Gollum, there at the Sammath Naur... I was to throw the Ring into the fire, and then... then I lost control. I lost control... the thing I did best, I could do no longer. I could no longer control myself, nor my mind, nor my will... I was in control of nothing. I was no longer myself. I did not know who I was. I was -- Sauron’s.” He shuddered. “And had not Gollum been there, at that moment--”

At this Frodo looked up from their clasped hands and met Lily’s eyes again. Her heart tightened at the devastation she saw there.

“--the world would be under Sauron’s dominion -- but Ilúvatar would not allow that, would He? Gollum needed to be there... Ilúvatar must have known I would lose every bit of control I ever possessed...”

Frodo stopped, and Lily saw his eyes mist. He was done talking for the time being.

“Ilúvatar knows all,” she assured him, tenderly, as if words now might break him. “Gandalf told us, while you were ill, that the Creator can see the past, present, and future, all at once. He even knows when we’re going to pray, and what we’ll pray for.”

She smiled softly at the wonder and hope shining more brightly in Frodo’s blue eyes. “The Creator must have known you would lose control over the Ring, Frodo. Surely He foresaw it...”

Lily searched Frodo’s eyes, though he did not seem to see her at all, and she felt him drift a little in his thoughts. His words told her he heard her.

“Yes.” It was only a whisper. “Yes. He knew. He knew it all...”

Frodo held her hands lovingly, like fragile blossoms, then kissed them softly. He felt her shudder, and decided it might be best to stand for a time.

He placed her hands on her lap again, as if they were something rare, or treasured, and stood slowly. He began to pace in front of the bench, five paces, turning, and pacing again. He held his hands behind his back.

“On the way Home from the Quest, Gandalf told Sam and me that true happiness comes to us only when we follow our hearts. I told him I was afraid to do such a thing. Dear Gandalf; he laughed at me. He thought it interesting that I could get all the way to Mt. Doom, but feared to do something as simple -- so he thought -- as following my heart. Actually, he was not being cruel. It is his way. He is deadly honest, the old wizard... I told him that following my heart would be to lose control of myself yet again. The idea was too painful for me. To give up what little control I had left of my own mind--”

Frodo stopped, and stared at the ground at his feet. “In truth, I did not trust my heart, for I no longer heard its voice; I’d forgotten even what it sounded like...”

He looked to Lily briefly, but could not sustain it, and slowly began to pace again.

Lily dropped her gaze as well; her coat was unbuttoned, and she studied the pansies embroidered on her vest years before, years in which she could only dream of this hobbit. Dream only, and not even pray...

She lifted her eyes to him. “Yet Gandalf is wiser than all of us, Frodo... surely you believe he knows best? Better than we do? Mayhap -- mayhap you should follow your heart...”

This was a dangerous discussion, she suddenly realized. She swallowed hard, as Frodo’s pacing slowed; he seemed to be pondering her words. What if he chose not to follow his heart?

To her great relief, she could feel his thoughts were not straying toward what she feared.

When Frodo spoke, his words were deliberate. “Gandalf also said when we follow our heart’s voice, we are led finally to Ilúvatar, and to the knowledge of His love, even if we do not know His name... And he said to me -- I recall it as if it were yesterday -- ‘Frodo, look at Samwise. He was named well. Sam is very wise, for indeed he always follows his heart, and not his head...’”

Frodo’s pacing returned to its original cadence. “But Sam would have killed Gollum, if he’d had his way... if I’d let him. Sam was listening to his heart then, as well, and he wanted to protect me, for Gollum was dangerous... but without Gollum, where would we be?”

“Frodo, Ilúvatar knew you would need Sam along to complete the Quest. He also knew Sam would obey you when you told him to let Gollum be. Sam loves you, Frodo, but you were also his master. He was ever at your wish, and your call. He was not leading the Quest. You were. And so he obeyed you. It is a blessing indeed Ilúvatar sent Samwise with you, and not dear Merry, nor sweet Pippin... they love you as well, but they would not have taken orders from you... not as Sam would.”

Lily paused to allow Frodo a moment to think. He stopped his pacing, suddenly, and met her eyes. “They’d have killed Gollum...”

Frodo stared blankly at his right hand. “He had all this planned. He knew what would happen...”

His face changed, and he lowered his hand, and gazed out into the deepening night. The moon was waning but still shone remarkably bright. “I hope Sam doesn’t feel as much my servant any more... I love him dearly, as a brother. The only brother I’ve had, in a way, was Merry, growing up, but I love Sam even more...”

Lily sighed with relief. Here was something she felt sure of. “Sam still calls you Master, but Rose says it’s only an endearment now, left over from the Quest, and before it...” Lily smiled at his raised eyebrows. “Yes, Rose and I spoke of this.”

Frodo sat down next to her and turned toward her, his right hand grasping the bench back, near her shoulder. He reached out with his left hand to touch her cheek, but pulled it back, as if thinking better of it. He noticed her hands folded neatly in her lap and placed his hand over hers.

The blue in his eyes was darker now, with only the moon and starlight to illuminate their faces. “Lily? Do you follow your heart, or your mind?”

Lily blinked at the earnestness in his eyes.

“Dearest Frodo... you know the answer to that. What do you think?” She smiled, happy to remind him of her love, even in this indirect way.

Then, before he could reply, she leaned toward him, stopping when her lips were almost on his. That look again... confusion, love, wonder, fear... he was afraid, as ever, for her... it hurt, terribly, not to tell him of the healing they would both receive at their vows. But Gandalf said there was the slightest risk, as nothing like it had ever been attempted, the lifting of all that darkness--

Her lips were still nearly touching his. His breathing was uneven, drawing her in, closer. She reveled in the sudden touch of his hand on her face, and smiled softly to keep herself from trembling. “You know the answer, dear heart, but I shall show you anyway,” she whispered, and she saw his eyes close in ecstasy as she kissed him.

For a long moment, she sensed Frodo resting within the sanctuary of her kiss. Then he seemed to wake, and he responded to her with an urgency unlike any she had known before. She could no longer lead, for he was now leading her; to where, she did not know and did not care. She only knew she was content, and prayed, even now, for him to be granted some of the quiet peace he brought her.

Frodo sensed the danger they were in, and broke the kiss suddenly.

Lily met his eyes as he searched hers, with his familiar look of intense wonder and gratitude, so beautiful--

He threw his arms around her tightly in a fierce and desperate embrace. She felt warm tears against her ear as he held her more tightly yet.

“Oh, Lily, dearest Lily...” Frodo stopped to breathe, his voice no longer fully in his control, nor his emotions. “You follow your heart. Mayhap I knew it before I asked...”

He pulled back, facing her, holding her shoulders, gently. “I knew, dearest Lily...” he smiled. “I did not expect you to show me, and yet... and yet, I’m grateful for your kiss.”

Frodo’s tears ceased, but the paths of the tears remained.

Lily wanted to kiss him again, but resisted. Kissing him now, with their deepening emotions, so precarious, was not wise, not at this time... Instead, she feigned calm as best she could.

“You know what I would say to you now, Frodo. You know what is in my heart, and has been since the day I saw you at the Bywater Fair. I would say it if you would give me your leave -- but I can wait. You are worth waiting for. The twelve years I waited and hoped and dreamed were not in vain. I would wait twelve more... but I hope it shan’t be much longer...”

She smiled knowingly and touched his mouth with her right hand. His eyes closed again, and he kissed her fingers, then eased them away, slowly. This is dangerous, he warned himself. I cannot be with her much longer tonight, not here in the moonlight, thus...

“What does your heart tell you, dear Frodo?” Her tone was kind, and patient.

He still held her right hand in his left. He gathered it in to the center of his chest. With his right hand he stroked her cheek, barely, only his fingertips caressing her. He was afraid to touch her any more than this.

As it was, he watched her eyes close, and she sighed. He could barely find his voice.

“My heart tells me I cannot live without you.”

He paused for such a long time that Lily opened her eyes, half in a dream.

“It also tells me you may die if we marry. In the very next heartbeat, it tells me Ilúvatar could never be so cruel. If he planned the Quest, and foresaw it, He planned this, as well...”

His eyes misted again, and Lily saw the blue-green colour she loved, but darker than usual, in the faint light.

“Please, dearest Lily, I need more time. I know you wish us to -- to marry, and never have I wanted anything more in my life. You must believe me. Forgive me for not saying the words yet. Words we both long to say, and hear. But I must find the courage to risk your life, Lily. You seem not to fear, but surely you know this is something I cannot risk easily -- your life?”

She nodded once, the merest smile forming on her lips.

He forced himself to avoid gazing on those lips, and met her eyes again. “You have waited so long; you have been so patient... I shall never be able to thank you properly... I hope -- yes, hope -- to spend the rest of my life trying... My happiness lies with you. I know this. I -- please wait for me, Lily. I need more faith. Trusting to happiness is so difficult for me. My thoughts have been poisoned for so long I don’t know which thoughts are true and which are lies. I think you are well... you certainly look well... in truth, you’ve looked more rested and more fair since my illness, which I cannot fathom. Then another voice comes into my head and tells me it’s a trick; that you’re not well at all... that it’s all an illusion. On the Quest, toward the end... I never knew when Sam was trying to help me, or take the Ring from me, Lily...” His voice caught.

She gathered him close in her arms. “Hush, dearest, hush, and rest. Your mind is speaking, the part of you which does not want to give up control, ever again. But your heart tells you the opposite -- it tells you to love, and to trust to love, to have faith, to accept happiness as a gift from the One who spared your life on the Quest. The Creator could just as easily have let you die there. You could have been the one to fall into the fires. The world would still have been saved, but at the expense of your life.”

She could tell he was listening. He was trembling as well, and taking very uneven breaths. But he was listening.

“Why then was your life spared?” she reflected. “So that you could be lonely for the rest of your days? I think not, dearest Frodo... We shall both continue to pray. I do feel it working. It is gradual. But it is working.” She felt him nod against her shoulder, like a small child.

“And I do still want to be with you, even after the illness you suffered. You told me by the Shirebourn we should postpone any decision until after your illness in March. It has come and gone... and I still want to be with you. I pray I may be allowed to say much more to you, soon. For it is what my heart tells me, and I do listen to my heart...”

She continued to hold him close until his breathing became even again, and he released a deep, shuddering breath.

“Lily, Frodo,” Rosie called softly, “it’s well past midnight...” She lowered her voice further. “I’ve no objection to the two of you talking the night away, but you both still need your rest.”

“We’re coming,” Lily answered. Though she, too, spoke the words softly, they felt loud, here in their quiet moment.

Gradually, Frodo eased back, and gazed into her eyes.

Without another word, they rose together. Lily bowed her head, and Frodo did likewise. They offered a prayer together.

Frodo still felt shaken by all they had shared; never dared he dream a blessing such as Lily would be his. He thanked Ilúvatar in his heart. Lily felt a great calm come over her, stronger even than her weariness. She thanked Ilúvatar for it.