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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

1 June 1420sr afternoon...

Frodo learned of many interesting wedding customs in Gondor during the days of Aragorn’s wedding -- nearly a year ago, he mused. It was hard to believe so much time had passed... more difficult by far to grasp was that his dear beautiful Lily had just married him.

At the entrance to the smial, he opened the door wide, picked Lily up in his arms -- she laughed in delighted surprise, and held his neck tightly -- and carried her inside. He gently set her on her feet again, but before he could shut the front door, she kissed him, still laughing. He forgot the door completely as they walked together into the greatroom.

“Frodo?”

“Yes, my love?” He was kissing her again, tenderly, as nervous as he’d ever been with her -- perhaps more so -- yet full of anticipation and joy. They were wed. They could be together; they were together. It was a dream, and no darkness -- none -- attempted even once to enter his thoughts, his heart... he felt a gentle breeze in the smial, all the windows open wide to the glorious day...

“Frodo?” Lily began to giggle, nervous as well, her heart racing already with desire, even with want. I must somehow quell it for a time, she decided. He might think me far too forward, even as his wife...

The reality of what lay ahead struck her again. Her excitement felt the slight edge of fear, and she calmed herself.

“Yes, love?” He finally pulled back from her, his eyes still closed for a moment in the dream. He opened them slowly, as one waking from a sweet sleep.

At this sight, Lily gasped a little. It took her a moment to remember what she wanted to say.

“Should we close the front door?” She tried to appear calm, and smiled up at him.

“Oh... the door... yes... of course...” He spoke as one in a trance, walking back to the door and quietly closing it.

He returned to her side and took her hand, and kissed it. He searched her eyes, and she gave him a slight nod. Then they walked together down the long hall, aware only of each other until they entered the master bedroom.

Light filled the room, spilling in from the west window, along with the candles lit around the room by Daisy and Bell, before the couple slipped away from the luncheon. An old tradition declared if at least one of the candles burned through the night the marriage would be blessed with children. The Shire lasses learned long ago how large a taper was needed to ensure it burned through the night, and such a one was given during the feasting week. It burned on a stool in the little corner created by the mantel, protected from the summer breeze wafting through the room.

The ceremony over, and the world shut outside, they were finally alone in their room.

Frodo caught his breath at the expectation -- and the adoration -- in her eyes. How shall I ever manage this? he wondered, in a brief moment of panic. I know what to do, but I don’t know what to do...

He watched Lily remove the flower garland and the tiny mithril clasps which held it in place. He could not seem to hear, or -- no -- he could hear only now and then... Sunlight shone all about her, but the radiance and love in her face was brighter yet.

Her eyes invited him to her.

Breathe, he reminded himself. Go to her.

Frodo gathered her into his arms and kissed her. Surely a kiss was a safe way to start?

Lily kissed him back, sweetly at first, then more deeply.

Gradually, consciously, Frodo allowed himself to relax. They were married now; they were free. Never again would they be forced to stop themselves in the middle of a tender shared kiss. Never. And yet he was glad for the wisdom that had generated the old customs of courtship, and glad for all those who had kept those customs whole and pure.

His senses were being awakened again by Lily’s kisses. Sooner than usual, he noticed the sweet familiar feeling that only she gave him, the feeling he was no longer a separate soul. He was no longer alone, no longer wandering... Frodo marveled at it, this loss of himself into her.

More than anything else, he felt free of the darkness. He was afraid to believe how it felt. It was simply too much to think about, no matter how important, with his beautiful Lily standing here, and yet... and yet...

He kissed her hair. The heady fragrance of the tiny flowers still woven throughout her braids was like a draught of something magical... jasmine, so new, and honeysuckle, which would forever bring her to mind... A hint of athelas still clung to her skin, as it did to his, from the baths each indulged in that morning in preparation for the ceremony. All this filled him, along with Lily herself, her own lovely fragrance...

He struggled with all his will to move slowly, even to think slowly, for in truth his thoughts were racing. His vision embraced her wholly, his senses replete... He reminded himself not to rush, but to savor each moment, for so many of them would be firsts, and to rush would be to lose them, never to be able to recapture them. No, he would not rush...

“Dearest,” he whispered into her ear, “I cannot feel the darkness. I -- are you truly safe and well? You seemed to faint today -- I wasn’t sure -- I feared for you. I asked Gandalf if we should wait... How do you feel now?”

He held her closer, waiting for her reply.

Lily sighed deeply, and he felt her smile against him. “I feel wonderful. Wonderful. I feel better than I have since--”

She could not tell him she felt better than before they met on that cold November night; the night when she first experienced the darkness. He would sorrow she had ailed for so long, and there was no reason to remind him.

“It’s been many, many months since I’ve felt so well... In truth, never have I felt better. I am with you, Frodo, and I feel no darkness... none at all.”

Lily pulled back then, and gazed up at him, the hazel in her eyes tinged with green.

She seems so calm, Frodo mused with an inward smile. If only I felt so calm!

“But, Lily -- where can it be? Our vows must have something to do with it, for it was then I felt the last trace... it was as a great weight being lifted from my soul... I felt I could breathe again, freely...”

Joy welled up within him, overwhelming him with its own peculiar beauty. He could not remember when last he felt unbridled joy.

Lily shared in his joy, smiling into his eyes and caressing his face with her fingertips. “This is Ilúvatar’s doing, dearest Frodo. He has answered all our prayers.”

They embraced again, and Frodo did not attempt to stem the tears that came to his eyes. A prayer rose from deep within him.

“Ilúvatar, thank You for Your love and mercy on us both.”

He tightened his arms around his wife, his voice softer yet. “Help me to trust You more. Help me believe in this miracle; help my poor faith; protect Lily--”

She felt his tears on her cheek.

“Frodo; dear--” Lily murmured. “No harm shall come to me. Believe it now. I see within you. The evil is gone. Believe... I gave thanks, when we shared our vows, for it happened then. I sensed it.”

“Oh, Lily!” He pulled back from her. Tears continued to pool in his eyes. “I must believe... dearest, I must. Otherwise I shall be quite unable today to -- to love you as I ought... If I speak of it again -- and I’m certain I shall -- you’ll remind me? This is so new, so new...” He shook his head slowly, in wonder.

“Yes, my love, whatever you ask, I shall give...” Lily’s fingertips lightly touched his mouth, asking of him a kiss.

Frodo granted her request, gathering her back into his arms and centering all his thoughts on her. She responded with ardor, reawakening his passion.

He took in a long, deep breath of all of her lovely fragrance, and held it as he kissed her.

Frodo remembered once again to breathe, and Lily’s smile calmed him. A few jitters lingered, in spite of all the joy he felt. He lifted a jasmine from one of her braids, then another, and another. He released the tiny blossoms to the gentle breeze, and they fluttered away, skimming across the floor.

She kissed him after he removed several more blossoms. He dropped them, then held her face gently, returning her caress, wanting only to kiss her, for as long as he wished... for as long as she wished...

Frodo removed four more of the tiny blossoms, and let them fall at their feet.

Breathing seemed to him a luxury, something to be postponed. He spoke through his kiss, against her mouth. “Would you like to sit?”

“No,” she murmured. “Not yet. I’m happy with just this, here...”

She stood on tiptoe, wrapping her arms around his neck, holding him tightly and kissing him with more abandon than ever before.

His breath was taken from him again, and again he welcomed the feeling of losing himself. He returned the kiss in full measure, then smiled, and then laughed softly, his voice unsteady.

“I think we’re faring well, for all our uncertainties, dearest Lily. Please, may we let down your lovely hair? I want -- I want to touch it... may I help?”

She allowed him to ease the tiny silver pins from her braids; they had belonged to her mother, worn on another wedding day long ago. Frodo removed them gently, one by one, taking care not to pull her hair, then he laid them in her open hand. The braids fell down her back as more and more pins were removed. Blossoms fluttered away, a few landing on her shoulders, until some of the pins lay in her hand and the rest were held in his.

He tucked the ones in his hand into his coat pocket and opened his left hand to receive hers as well. Gazing down at the shiny objects in his palm, a faint memory of the Ring stirred, but no darkness came with it--! Tears formed in his eyes at the wonder of it. He would ask her again later. She must know... her gift of sight...

“Frodo, dearest, whatever is wrong?” She fought to keep her voice calm and steady. Her knees were trembling, only a bit...

“Nothing at all is wrong, beloved. Everything is right. I love you so much.”

Answering tears shimmered in Lily’s eyes as she whispered, “I love you.”

Frodo carefully slipped the rest of the silver pins into his coat pocket.

Lily began to remove his coat.

“May I?” she asked, her voice shaking.

He answered gently, studying her face. “Yes, you may.”

She removed his coat, then turned and took only one step away. She considered placing it on the bed, and stopped. The white coverlet, her gift to him, was spread beautifully on the bed, their marriage bed... Suddenly, she felt weak. Not ill, not faint... it was a sweet weakness, a feeling of surrender, something new... she was not yet ready to pursue it. She draped his coat over the chair nearest the fireplace, then turned back to him.

Frodo’s voice caressed her. “Let me help you with these braids.”

Lily turned and noted the full-length looking glass in the corner. She could almost see the two of them in it. Taking Frodo’s hand, she led him to where she could see them both easily in the mirror. She began to loosen each braid, with his help, and more tiny flowers fell. She shook her curly locks, then let him run his fingers through them as he wished. He stood behind her and watched her in the mirror as he spoke.

“Lily. You are beautiful, my beloved. My wife...”

She smiled at him in their reflection, watching him stroke his fingers gently through the braids, until finally all that remained were waves of long auburn tresses. She closed her eyes for a moment, and leaned back against him slightly, trying to relax. It was working, a little... She opened her eyes again and saw in their reflection Frodo’s eyes, wet again with tears.

He turned her gently toward him, then he eased both hands into her hair, and kissed her mouth, with no thought for anything but the sweetness of her...

She responded willingly, wrapping her arms around his neck and slipping her fingers into his chestnut locks. She felt his heart pounding against her own, and trembled beneath his kiss, feeling the lovely weakness again...

Lily knew the darkness would never again seek entrance into her soul, and she relaxed into his kisses, breathing, still breathing... she allowed herself the luxury of sensation, to taste the sweetness of him. She could feel the eagerness there within him, all his ardent love for her, even his hunger for her. She began to feel something akin to this rising within herself; a hunger, for him. She had denied it so often before... She remembered to breathe.

With measured reverence, Frodo was kissing her hair; several honeysuckle remained there. The fragrance was affecting her now -- now that she began to allow it... she saw and felt the effect of the flowers’ perfume on Frodo. And they had only begun... she felt a tremor, again, a chill, but it was desire; desire, with only a little fear. He kissed the tip of her left ear, then whispered her name. She swallowed hard, as fear and joy mingled within her. He laid his forehead against her temple, struggling to breathe, fighting for control.

Lily began gently to pull back. Frodo slowly eased his hands from her hair, to lightly hold her shoulders. He met her eyes with his own, and she watched him sigh deeply, a ragged sigh. He blinked hard, then endeavored to speak. Finally, his voice returned.

“You see -- you see what your lovely hair has done to me, dearest Lily, your hair and that -- that perfume...” He paused and breathed deeply, then sighed again, smiling faintly.

“Lily, I can see in your eyes you wish to ask for something. Please tell me what it is, and I shall do it. I can deny you nothing.”

“I only need to catch my breath again, my love,” she explained, smiling to hide her returning nervousness. She wanted to slow down, somehow, some way, but was not sure how. She wanted all this to last; she knew this... could she ask him? He told me to tell him...

For a moment Lily recalled her prayer from the morning. While dressing for the wedding, she prayed not to faint, here with her husband, knowing her emotions would be at a peak. Frodo would worry so! Rose had offered a prayer for her as well, and Lily felt at peace, trusting to Ilúvatar; she would not faint.

But she was with him now, and it was difficult... Her breath was getting away from her, so intense was her joy and her excitement. There must be a way...

“I love you, Frodo dearest. I need -- to catch my breath... I love you so... I -- may we slow down? I -- I don’t know how else to say it.” She blushed.

“We shall; I shall. I was losing my own breath, as well,” he assured her, and vowed to himself to grant her request, for both of them. And as he looked into her eyes again, seeing some bit of fear there with all the love, he also promised himself not to think too far ahead; when he did, all rational thought seemed to flee. He could not allow this. It would not do. He remembered his dearest friend’s words: Don’t rush.

He wrapped his arms about her again and held her close for a time, enjoying the feel of her gradually breathing along with him.

It seemed to calm her a little, for she reached up to caress his lips with her own, once, and then again, their eyes meeting between each gentle kiss she offered. He accepted each one, smiling softly, allowing her to lead them, and lost himself in her warm embrace.

Lily reveled in the softness of his lips against hers and discovered she wanted to explore further this feeling, these caresses...

She no longer confined her kisses to his lips, and with that realization Frodo came back to his senses. For a few moments he closed his eyes and remained very still, paying full attention to each new caress she gave. She took each of his hands and slowly kissed his palms.

Oh! he breathed. I have kissed her in that manner and had no idea what it felt like for her...

Now she was tenderly kissing his neck -- she was kissing the scar. The scar from Cirith Ungol, he thought; I should not let her touch me there. Some other part of him whispered she would not be harmed -- she would help to heal his hurts, if only he would allow it. His concentration was slipping away.

“Oh...” His voice nearly failed him. This is too much to bear, he thought, and he shied away from the intensity of it. I must wake up and be with her. He dragged himself back up to the surface to breathe again.

When he opened his eyes to look down at Lily, he saw her touching the buttons of his new waistcoat, the one she had so lovingly created for him. She looked up, and their eyes met. He almost had to glance away; her eyes held so much love! He realized she wanted permission to remove the waistcoat.

Yes, he replied silently. Yes, you may.

And so Lily began to remove it, along with the braces, and he helped her. She asked him for more yet, touching the buttons of his silk shirt. Frodo nodded to her, dazed, and watched her movements, as if standing outside himself. They were deliberate, graceful and unhurried, like Lily herself. He was losing all sense of time and place. At the fourth button she stopped, laying her forehead on his bared chest. They were hardly breathing; some part of him was still able to observe this.

I had worried so much for today, he sighed. She was removing his cares, one by one. A fresh wave of gratitude and love for her welled up in his breast, and he took her hands into his own, forcing himself to breathe and to speak. He gazed into her eyes, wanting -- needing -- her to understand.

“I love you.” He whispered, and kissed the backs of her hands.

“And I you, my beloved.” Her eyes were shining.

He kissed her hands again, and without taking his eyes from hers he slipped her right hand inside his open shirt, laying it on his breast so she could feel his pounding heart. He kept his own left hand over her right, holding it in place there against him.

Lily’s breath caught in her throat as she felt the warmth of his fair skin, the rising and falling of his chest with each unsteady breath; and the racing of his heart...

Frodo swallowed hard. Each discovery made with her, like this one, was as completely new for him as it was for her. He had no way of knowing what strong feelings could be evoked by such simple acts.

Lily was trying to stay with him, fighting to stay aware. This feeling, brand new, of her palm laid full against his warm breast... her head began to swim. For a moment, she was back at Deephallow with him on that chilly, sunny morning in February, on Strider. She wondered if he were there too.

Frodo watched her eyes close, and so he kissed her eyelids, then the left side of her brow, then her left cheek -- so soft! -- and then he was on unfamiliar ground. He brushed the long auburn curls away from her neck with his right hand, and then gently took her shoulder. Lowering his head, he took a deep, unsteady breath, and placed one soft kiss on the left side of her neck.

Warm. Oh, she is warm...

He lingered there, his world centered now on this one place, so sweet to him, and so new. His breath caught at the mere thought of being this near her, and without warning tears started once again in his eyes. He had been so sure he would never experience any of this wonder; so sure... This had only been for others... not for him.

He felt Lily tilt her head away from him slightly, and knew she wanted another kiss in the same place. The realization that he could read her unspoken request was nearly as satisfying as kissing her; she enjoyed what he had done, and wanted more--! He gasped a little, fighting back the loss of control yet again.

So much was happening now, and so fast... He felt a slight sense of panic. What if he misunderstood a request, or if they arrived one after another?

She loves you, his heart whispered. Trust her. No matter what happens, she loves you.

Frodo clung desperately to that knowledge, and consciously relaxed his mind and body once again. He then began to grant Lily’s request, tenderly giving her several more kisses there, his tears wetting her shoulder.

He heard Lily’s voice then, and kissed her throat. The feeling of panic subsided, but the desire to please her was stronger now than ever. He heard her voice again. She was murmuring something, but he could not make out any words. Breathing was becoming more difficult as each moment passed. I must slow down, he realized.

Frodo raised his head slowly, but rested his hand on her shoulder, almost for his own support; or so it seemed to him. Still holding Lily’s right hand against his heart, he felt every strong beat from within and without, and he wondered how long a heart could go on this way. There were far worse ways to die. He pushed away all memories of the Quest. The beginnings of a smile came to his lips.

Lily stood on tiptoe and softly kissed the tears from his cheeks, stroking his face with her free hand.

Dear Lily! She understands me so well! he marveled. Peace, which had enveloped him during their wedding vows, was settling in on his awareness again. He had never felt so much joy, all at once, from everywhere. Not like this. Tears were still in his eyes, and he blinked hard again to clear his sight.

Frodo took her hand from his face and gently turned it over. Kissing her palm, he raised his eyes to hers.

“You never told me how this felt.”

“I could not!” she smiled. “It was impossible to describe, and it still is.”

Frodo laughed a little. “I am -- quite undone, my dear Lily.”

She smiled again. “As am I, my dearest husband.”

The word was so new Frodo actually had to remember the meaning of what had taken place today. He was now her husband. Lily was his wife. They would not be parted. They -- they would have a family, perhaps, if they were to be so blessed. Frodo waited for the familiar darkness to throw doubt on his hopes. It did not come. He waited again.

Nothing... only Lily, smiling up at him with a curious look, and possibly even knowing what he was thinking. Perhaps -- perhaps the vows really did have some healing power of their own? The vows were binding, and yet those same vows now offered release. It was a paradox, something he would normally have studied...

Frodo blinked, and for a moment did not see Lily.

I have lived the whole of my life within my mind! he realized. I have paid so little heed to my body! What was the body, after all, except a place to hold the mind... or so I thought--!

He closed his eyes, endeavoring to think more clearly; to reason. These past few precious months spent in her presence -- I was asleep, before this! Asleep, to nearly everything--!

Memories of terrible pain rushed forward: searing pain, in body and mind and soul. The Quest... I was not asleep to that misery. But... she has awakened me to so much more!

“What have I done?” he murmured softly, unaware of Lily’s curious gaze.

No, that sorrow no longer matters any more, he decided. She matters. She is important. Lily, and us...

He looked down at her face, seeing her enigmatic smile; but he could see only, and not hear, overcome as he was with emotion.

“Dearest Lily... you’ve given me back my life! I was only half alive before, if that...”

She was smiling at him, with tears shimmering in her eyes, as if she could read his thoughts, even as each of his senses clamored for his attention. Lily was murmuring endearments to him, the sound of her voice reaching through the fog into his heart; her hand was still there, touching him. She was all fragrance, all taste, all sight...

Her voice seemed to be calling him.

“Frodo?” Lily was breathless. “Frodo?”

He came back through the fog to be with her again in the everyday world of speech and hearing. There she was; there were her lovely hazel eyes, looking into him. He let her see inside, more deeply than he had ever done before. He felt less and less fear as each moment passed. He was still here, still standing; she was still here, still beautiful; the Sun was still shining; she had not vanished into thin air.

Lily’s breath caught at the depth of the love in his eyes. She struggled to remember what she wished to say. “Frodo, my love?”

“Yes, Lily, I am here.” He thought he was, for he was studying her face intently. He tried to speak coherently, but he was still completely distracted, unaware of anything but her nearness.

“Actually,” he sighed, “No, I’m sorry, I -- I was -- I don’t know where I was.”

“Frodo? I need some help -- with this dress...”

“Help? Oh, yes, help. What may I help you with?” A gentle voice inside tugged at the edges of his thought. Ask her what she needs or wants.

“Is there anything you need, or want?” He was still studying her face. It was a luxury to stand here and do so for as long as he wished.

I have need of my hands, Lily thought, with a smile for her new husband. Her right hand was still clasped against his heart, and he had not released her left. What could she do to break the spell?

The center of his breast filled her vision, laid bare now above the opening of his shirt -- where the Ring used to lay, she knew. Remembering their new freedom, she kissed him there.

“Wake up, my love!” she breathed softly.

But instead of waking him, her kiss had the opposite effect. She looked up at Frodo’s face and watched him close his eyes. He seemed to go inside himself. She felt his breathing and heartbeat quicken under her hand.

His eyes remained closed. For a moment she simply looked at him, drinking in the beauty of his face. Then gently she endeavored to extricate her right hand from his left, held there against his heart.

Frodo sighed a little and opened his eyes very slowly as he became aware of what Lily wanted. He lifted her hand and kissed it, then let it go. Immediately he felt the tiny loss, an empty place where Lily had once been.

But the sense of loss was only momentary, and Frodo was amazed. Before their wedding today, any loss he felt would have been magnified and drawn out for as long as possible by the darkness. Instead, he felt a calm and peace which seemed to him to have come from Lily herself. He could not explain this in any rational way; it was only a feeling. How was Lily able to do this? Was his acceptance in some way a necessary part of it?

It was too hard a puzzle to solve, and Lily was here with him. He had a sense of wasting time that was far too dear to be wasted.

Only seconds had passed; Frodo still felt the kiss she had placed on his breast. He was trying in some way to capture the feeling of it, for he did not wish to lose it.

An alarm was raised within him. Don’t try to capture anything at all, he recalled; Gandalf had said it on the way home from the Quest, when Merry and Pippin teased Sam about capturing Rosie when he got home. Love does not possess, the wizard had continued. It nurtures and assists. Even the thought of possession is too much like the Ring, Frodo realized with a start. Let it go.

He released her left hand, and now his hands were empty. He ached to hold her again, and wondered if that were a form of possession as well. But it felt different somehow, and safe.

Frodo noticed for the first time that Lily’s dress was fitted closely to her, outlining her figure. How had he not noticed it until now? At the wedding I was only aware of her face, and of the flowers in her hair...

His hands found her waist, and memories of their February morning at Deephallow came to mind, clear and vibrant.

“I remember lifting you up into the saddle for our trip to the Shirebourn, on Strider,” he murmured softly. “I remember you forgave me for stealing that kiss.”

“I remember that kiss as if it were yesterday,” she sighed. “I remember our very first kiss, the day you arrived. I remember the date -- it was February 22nd. These are things I shall hold in my heart forever.”

Frodo briefly kissed her in reply. What more could I ask for? he wondered. I can stand here and kiss her as much as I like; for as long as she shall have me.

He saw then that Lily was looking at the scar on the left side of his chest. His shirt had been pushed aside there slightly when he laid her hand on his heart. He realized she had never seen this mark on him.

At her questioning look, he answered her.

“Yes, it’s the mark left by the --”

It was difficult to speak of this. Now those memories were creeping in again, memories of terror and pain. He forced himself to speak.

“-- by the Morgul blade. At Weathertop.”

She saw the pain in his eyes, and touched the scar with her right hand.

He flinched slightly, then held still. This was Lily, after all. No harm could come to him from her.

“I saw this during your March illness -- and wondered --”

So she had seen it before. He kept his voice as neutral as he could. He did not want to sadden her.

“Yes; it’s from that time.” It was impossible to tell her more about it at the moment; he wanted to think of happier things.

Lily was gazing at him again with that questioning look, and touching the scar once more with her right hand.

There?

He struggled with the notion, and when he spoke it was only a whisper.

“Lily, no... Evil was there.” Each word was an effort. “Please...”

So much evil had entered his body there. For her to bless it with a kiss..! What if it were to sully her purity somehow?

But the yearning to be healed -- all her love felt like healing -- was also very strong. Is it wrong? he wondered. Am I thinking only of myself? I must trust to her, and to the Creator, in all things... Still, it is so difficult. Ilúvatar, please protect her. Please don’t let any harm come to her.

Lily was at first taken aback by Frodo’s plea, wishing she had not made the request. Then she noticed the familiar debate playing across his face, his struggle to decide what would be best for her. She prayed he would choose to trust her.

Frodo met Lily’s open gaze, still waiting for his response. Slowly, he nodded his assent. He continued to pray, but there were no longer any words in his silent plea, only the desire for help...

He watched in awe and fear as she placed a slow and loving kiss on the wound that grieved him most.

Lily glanced up for a moment. She needed assurance he was all right. Frodo’s eyes opened wide and just as quickly he shut them more tightly than before, and lifted his chin. He seemed to be struggling, and his breathing was uneven. But when she heard him speak her name, she knew she had brought him only comfort. Her heart was set at rest by the sound of it.

“Oh, Lily,” he whispered. This was the opposite of pain. He felt all the love in her kiss radiate from that spot outward, covering his entire body. He felt faint, and steadied himself against her.

Then he was overcome. The tears broke free, and he wept.

Lily touched his shoulder again with her fingertips, then slid her arms around his neck and pulled him close. He leaned into her, his head against her shoulder. Dearest Frodo, she realized anew, you feel everything so much more intensely than others. The warmth of his body against hers was almost more than she could bear. But then again she wanted to be held close to him forever.

“My dearest love,” she soothed, stroking his dark curls.

He raised his head and searched her eyes. For a moment he opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Finally he forced down his emotions, calming himself as best he could.

“Are you -- are you all right? Lily, please tell me you’re all right.”

“Yes, yes, of course, Frodo, darling, I am fine!”

“Thanks be to Ilúvatar,” he whispered, and held her tightly again, his fears set to rest. His tears stopped completely. He felt he could breathe again.

“I am so glad. I --” he stopped. Where was the darkness in all this? He could not even feel its presence nearby, waiting to strike, as it had so often in the past. Lily said it was gone...

Frodo vaguely recalled her asking for help...

“You needed help with something, but I cannot remember what it was,” he smiled.

She indicated her wedding dress with her hands and tried to speak evenly and calmly, but her nervousness was making her more talkative.

“I cannot manage this dress by myself. It has covered buttons on the back; can you see? You haven’t seen the back of it yet, have you?” She smiled up at him, knowing full well he had not.

“No, I -- I don’t think I ever have!” He struggled to regain his composure and give the dress his full attention. Give her what she wants first, he reminded himself. He took several deep breaths before speaking again.

“Let me look, now; I’m sure you have created a work of art.”

Lily turned so he could see the back of the dress.

It was a work of art, more so because she was wearing it, he decided. A long curving row of closely-spaced, small covered buttons, all the same shade of peach as her dress, reached from just below her neck to just below the line of her hips. The admiration in his voice was genuine.

“Lily, this is lovely; how did you do it all? How long did it take? How many buttons--?”

“Twenty-nine.”

“Twenty-nine!”

“Yes, the design was so beautiful! But recently it occurred to me that -- that it might pose a -- problem, but -- I didn’t want to change the dress. I loved it too much -- you’re not upset, I hope?” Her voice held a small worried edge.

Frodo laughed, fully awake and with her again. “Lily, no! You can’t possibly believe I could be upset with you over such a thing. If anything I love you the more because you’ve made me laugh again!” He smiled down at her. “I shall reserve my thank-you kiss -- we can still keep our agreement, I hope? -- until after I help you with this dress. This could take some time! Come and sit. You’re home now.”

She struggled not to tremble at the meaning in his declaration: she was home. She took a steadying breath and smiled, and he led her over to the bed, where she settled herself.

He sat behind her, refusing to think about anything other than the task at hand, and ignoring everything his senses were shouting out to him. He could see now why Sam had reminded him not to rush, because he wavered between the feeling of wanting to do just that, and the other dream-like feeling of lightheadedness and loss of control. He needed to strike a balance between them somehow, for Lily’s sake if for no other reason.

“Thank you,” she murmured, as he began the arduous, slow process of unfastening each button.

“Are you sure this was not planned, Lily? I need to hold you more as each moment passes, not less!”

Although she could not see him, she could hear the smile in his voice, and she relaxed a little. Of course he would not have been upset with me about this! Where do I get such notions?

She felt him stop.

“Where are you now?”

“I’m halfway down the middle of your -- back. It’s beautiful, Lily.”

“Thank you, I am so very pleased with how it turned out.”

“No... not the dress, dearest!” Frodo laughed, then became serious.

“Your back. It’s -- beautiful.”

He nearly kissed her there, stopping himself only by sheer force of will. The sight of her beautiful skin, so much all at once, was like an elixir to him. If he kissed her there, he was sure he would not be able to stop himself again. Frodo was taken aback by the sudden intensity of what he felt. Could he control this? I must, he thought. But...

“Lily?” his voice was hushed.

“Yes..?”

“Please... may I touch your back? I -- I don’t wish to startle you.”

There was so much tenderness in his voice. It was like music to her. She had loved him for so long.

“Of course, dearest. Yes.”

Frodo traced a fine light line with his index finger down the center of her back to the top of her chemise; he was barely touching her.

Lily closed her eyes and endeavored not to weep as her heart flooded with gratitude.

Frodo felt the tension there under his finger, but more than anything else he was amazed at the softness of her skin.

“You are so soft...” he whispered. I can stop myself, he thought. I know I can.

Closing his eyes, he leaned forward and placed a kiss in the center of so much beauty. He felt rather than heard Lily’s small intake of air; but then her tension vanished.

Lily turned fully on the bed to face him, and tears began to stream down her cheeks. She took his hands in hers and to his surprise she began to kiss each of his fingers, starting with his left hand. When she reached the third finger of his right hand she stopped, and kissed the place where his finger had once been, then held his hand to her cheek.

Frodo resisted the strong impulse to pull his hand away; she loved him, he knew. It would hurt her if he did such a thing.

“Oh, Frodo! I have longed for your touch, longed for this day, for so many years! I love you more than I can say.” She was choking on her words, the tears turning into sobs. “You have been so -- tender with me. It means so much to me. Your touch has been so gentle, from the start.”

Her tears were falling on his hand, still held there against her face. Now she started to kiss it again, and Frodo marveled at her. He could not think of a single word to say. He loved her; he wanted to say more than that.

“How can I be ashamed of this hand ever again, Lily? I was before, but no longer. Your love deserves at least that much thanks.”

He kissed her, and she cried all the more. He knew she was happy, and enfolded her in his embrace. “Here, Lily.”

She leaned into him and buried her face in his shoulder, sobbing. He held her close, laying his cheek against her hair. He stroked her curls and gave her words of comfort. As she wept, it occurred to Frodo once more that the darkness had not once come to mar their happiness. He was waiting for it, but it did not come. Was it truly gone? He would think about it later. Lily was here with him now.

She began to settle. Her sobs diminished and her breathing returned to almost normal. Frodo lifted his head and pulled back slightly to look at her.

“Oh, Frodo, I must look a sight!” she sniffed.

He retrieved the new handkerchief from the pocket of his waistcoat, offering to take care of her himself. She laughed a little.

“On the contrary,” he said, laughing with her as he gently wiped the tears from her face, “you have never been more lovely, and I’ll prove it.”

He put down the handkerchief and kissed her deeply, spending much more time on the caress than he had imagined he would. Lily responded in kind. Then he pulled free of the kiss, feeling again the slight dizziness, and disorientation.

“Would you still like help with these buttons?” He swallowed hard and endeavored to catch his breath.

“Oh, yes! Yes!” she laughed out loud, kissed him quickly once on the mouth, and turned away from him so he could resume his work.

As he started again on the buttons, his heart was glad to overflowing. Her laughter always had a healing effect on him. He wondered once more at how they had found one another. It was a miracle; a gift from Ilúvatar. He noticed his fingers were shaking slightly.

“How many are left, then?” she asked.

“Oh! How many are left... eight!” Frodo struggled to keep his voice from betraying the state of his nerves. He had hit a problem of some sort on the twenty-first button.

“I cannot get this one.”

Lily stood up without thinking. “Oh, that’s the one with a buttonloop too small. I think I can reach...” She stopped. In standing, her dress had started to slip, and she caught it against herself in both her hands. There was only her simple silk chemise left after this. She dropped her head a little, and remained still.

Frodo stood slowly and moved to face her. Her eyes were nearly closed, and he saw that she was trembling. Was she afraid? The thought of frightening her caused his heart to ache.

“Oh, Lily! My dearest love!” He held her close, and she melted into him, her head against his shoulder. The perfume of the flower garland still surrounded her; and mixed with her own sweetness, it assailed him. He was losing concentration again, faster this time, and fought to retain it.

Put her wants first... Keeping his voice as low and calm as he could manage, he spoke against her ear.

“I’m nervous as well, Lily. We’re both ...learning. Please believe me; I would rather die than hurt you.” He stroked her hair and then kissed her cheek with all the gentleness he could muster.

Lily slowly pulled back from his embrace, and when she looked up, he saw the hope in her eyes. She was in need of more words. He longed to kiss her again, but waited.

Frodo tipped her chin up just a bit with his right hand, and Lily saw and felt his hand trembling. We are both doing our best, she reminded herself. I so want to please him. I hope I do not disappoint him.

“Your eyes have changed colour, Lily,” he murmured. “They have taken on some green! I know you well enough to read that sign! Your emotions are very close to the surface.” A smile broke out on his face, broad enough even to light up the blue in his own eyes.

Lily nodded and instantly relaxed.

He felt it. A smile could accomplish this? It was wonderful, he marveled, that such a simple thing could serve to ease her so. His expression changed to one of wonder, and seeing it, Lily returned his smile, faintly, still expectant, still somewhat fearful, but putting on a brave face.

Frodo thought about what they were facing, and was almost frightened himself. His heart was pounding once again, the blood rushing in his ears. How could he calm her fears when he seemed to be drowning in his own? Then he remembered what to say.

“Will you help me, Lily? Now we’re wed, tell me, as we go along, what it is that pleases you, and what does not, and I’ll do everything in my power to please you. I need all of your help; any help you can give me. Everything else shall take care of itself. I have no doubts. None at all...”

His heart was in his throat as he held his breath, waiting for her reply.

Lily’s voice was nearly a whisper. “I love you, Frodo. I would do anything -- anything, to help you. Yes, I shall tell you.”

She hesitantly released her hold on the wedding dress, letting it pool in a circle at her feet. At the same time, Frodo dropped his hand from her chin. She glanced down at her simple cream silk chemise, hoping he thought it pretty as well, for she had spent hours embroidering the wildflowers interwoven around the collar, sleeves, and the hem just below her knees. Shyly, she raised her eyes to Frodo’s.

His gaze encompassed her.

Lily was surprised by the look of wonder she saw on Frodo’s face. He seemed stunned, and unable to move. She thought at first he was amazed by her skill with a needle, but no one admired needlework that much...

She realized it was her own self he was admiring. And it was far more than admiration. He was in awe -- of her. She noticed he had stopped breathing altogether.

After a short time it seemed as though he had to tear himself away from looking at her. He lowered his head and closed his eyes, taking several deep breaths. When he raised his head again he looked directly into her eyes, purposely avoiding the chemise, stemming his desire. He offered his hand to her, and she took it and stepped out of the circle of the dress.

Lily saw the gratitude in his face, and the deepening wonder as well; his expression was a mixture of so many emotions it was difficult to sort them all out. She did not have time for that anyway, for he put his arms around her and held her tightly, his cheek against her own. Lily gladly returned his embrace.

How long they stood there together, neither cared; they had each other now. Nothing else mattered.

Basking in his embrace, Lily reveled in the nearness of him. Standing as before on tiptoe in order to hold her face to his, she was aware of the wonderful feeling of being held so closely to him, his arms wrapped around her and his gentle hands caressing her back, and his heart beating strongly against her own. The faint scent of athelas from his morning wedding preparations, still on his skin and in his hair, mingled with the jasmine and honeysuckle... Lily noticed her own tremulous breathing. She could not control it. She felt Frodo’s unsteady breaths, warm against her ear.

Gradually, Frodo pulled away from her, then allowed himself to slip down, caressing her arms along the way, and her hands, until finally he was on his knees, his arms around her waist and his cheek pressed against her; she was warm, and her silk chemise so soft.

Lily felt him shudder. She laid one hand on his dark curls, the other on his shoulder.

He held her more tightly as he spoke, his voice shaking. “Tell me you are real, beloved. Tell me all of this is real. Please. You are so beautiful. I love you so much... Please tell me -- tell me I’ll not lose you.”

Frodo shuddered again, and Lily endeavored to give him what scraps of calm she still possessed. His words resonated deep with her. Now it is my turn to reassure you, she smiled. She touched his shoulder again, and spoke softly.

“I shall never leave you, dearest love. You shall not lose me. You shall never lose my love. Don’t be afraid. All shall be well. All is well. This is real; we are here together. Ilúvatar has blessed us.”

She felt him calm at her words, and when her hand caressed his face, he rose and drew her into his arms again, unable to speak. But she knew he was less afraid now.

Their eyes locked, and her breathing quickened as she searched his eyes for the courage she needed. Taking his right hand, she echoed his earlier gesture of love and acceptance. She kissed where the finger should have been, then pressed his palm against her heart so he could feel how it raced, through the softness of the chemise. Her whole body trembled at his touch.

Frodo gasped, then choked a little, at the permission she granted him. She watched his eyes close, and his head dropped for a moment to his chest, but he did not remove his hand. He raised his eyes again, first to where his hand lay, then to her eyes. She drank in the pure wonder there.

“Oh, my love -- dearest Lily... You are so lovely! I want so much to please you.”

She gave him a soft, encouraging smile, then spoke as calmly as her trembling would allow. Only the faintness of her voice revealed the vulnerability she felt. “I love you, my husband... I trust you.” She placed her own hand on his breast, as before, then leaned into him, her lips near his.

“I love you, my wife,” he whispered against her lips. “I trust you.”

Lily kissed him deeply, endeavoring to put all her love for her husband into one kiss, and knowing it was impossible. Yet her kiss was like the turning of a key in a lock; nerves or no, by his fervent response, Lily knew Frodo had turned a corner, and so had she. They would not be looking back.

After all the long months of patient waiting, Frodo gave in to the sweet intense longing he felt for her. Lily allowed him to be set free, and gave herself to him, her fears gone, her heart at rest.