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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

16 June 1420sr

Frodo dreamt he was with his beloved Lily, and when he opened his eyes to the morning twilight, she was there, with him. He smiled, as she was sleeping more on him than off. What a sweet feeling it was.

He remembered again his own worry about his weight on her, that first afternoon, the day they were wed; she was so much smaller than himself. But Lily had told him -- and his heart beat a little harder, recalling the soft blush which touched her cheeks as she whispered -- it was, in fact, the sweetest feeling she had ever known.

He kissed her hair, a slow, tender kiss, and she slept on. He allowed himself to lightly caress her long auburn tresses -- soft, like a silken blanket upon his chest, reveling in the feel of it and in the scent of sweet honeysuckle.

They had discovered, in those first few magical days and nights, the satisfying comfort of falling asleep in one another’s arms. We were so inexperienced, Frodo mused. We hadn’t foreseen how wonderful it could be -- it was infinitely preferable to sleeping apart, as they had heard many husbands and wives did, afterward...

Frodo blushed, despite Lily being sound asleep. He smiled to himself again, remembering her shy, quiet plea that he stay near her, and hold her... she had not wanted him to let her go. He had laughed softly, and told her he was relieved, and happy, for the very thought of releasing her saddened him. He promised to hold her only if she promised not to let him go. Then she smiled and sighed, content, and kissed him and held him a little tighter.

The memory of it drew a sigh from Frodo, and Lily stirred slightly, then settled her head against his scarred shoulder once more.

He closed his eyes and struggled to hold still. This feeling of her... so close... truly, I never imagined it feeling quite like this...

Memories of his expectations before the wedding brought a smile to his lips. Then, he anticipated with joy never again having to say goodbye to her at the end of the day. But their shared love now was beyond his comprehension before the marriage; nonetheless, he knew what to expect... or he thought he knew...

But this nearness of her, the touches throughout the day, and when he woke in the middle of the night, finding her there... The long conversations... he had wondered if they might run out of things to say, but there was a pleasure in her quiet company which caught him by surprise, as did so many small things, too numerous to count...

A few days past their wedding, he was sitting on the edge of the bed... had he just replaced a candle, or banked the fire, or closed the window? He could no longer remember. They were talking... about what? No matter. He recalled they were both tired and spent, and were looking forward to sleep. Then he felt his wife’s gentle hand, rubbing his back. He had been faintly relieved when he asked if she wanted more, and she shook her head and told him she simply wanted to touch him. Then he had gathered her into his arms to sleep. These small things; there were so many...

Indeed, I had not ever pictured them, Frodo smiled, and now I find them filling my days and nights with joy and immeasurable peace. It is difficult to describe... they are so -- intimate...

He felt a sudden desire to touch her, to trace the gentle curve of her ear. But he refrained; he knew Lily needed her sleep, and he searched his mind for a distraction, recalling their seventh morning together -- their one-week anniversary.

Frodo remembered murmuring against her ear how much it meant for him to wake up beside her. How it meant more than he could express. She had answered him with a kiss, then whispered her agreement, adding she was certain she could no longer sleep without him near.

He could not hide the concern that crossed his face. As memories of her weariness in his presence swept over him, he had asked her if she were all right...

Lily had quickly shared her relief at how healthy she felt, and how much energy she had -- how much they both had -- since the wedding.

Frodo recalled the excitement in her voice that morning...

“I” -- she had paused, then continued after a deep breath. “We’re -- we’re no longer being worn down, dearest love,” she had explained, smiling as she endeavored to express her joy and relief to him. “We’re not exhausted, fighting the darkness each day, as in our courtship. For months...”

Indeed, the relief was so powerful, she had said; and then she had dissolved into tears, and he wept with her, for Lily’s joy was his own...

They thanked Ilúvatar for the blessing of each other, then kissed away each others’ tears, desire awakening gradually with each kiss. The desire was never far away.

And it felt nothing like the old desire, the old longing for the Ring. Those seven days had passed, and now seven more, and the horrible desire for It still had not returned. With each passing day Frodo became happier and yet more nervous; nervous It was still lurking. Still waiting to catch him out unawares. He would not ruin any of his time with his wife by telling her of this. Every single moment with her was precious. He marveled again he could think of the word; he could say the word. It was another unlooked-for miracle.

The wedding was now a fortnight past. That day, Sam and Rosie, at luncheon, had been the ones to suggest they take a few extra days, beyond the traditional ten, for their niwealdor.

“No need to go worritin’, Mr. Frodo,” Sam assured them. “Me and Rosie’ll see to it you’re not disturbed.” And they had.

Frodo felt blessed. A full fourteen days of uninterrupted time together slipped away in endless moments of joy and peace -- and closeness -- he never believed possible. Not even in his most cherished dreams of her, in those long months of their courtship as he lay awake, counting the leaf-tips to avoid thinking of her, had he imagined these days...

The hours together were spent not only in shared love, but also in quiet talks of the previous weeks and months, revealing their worries and concerns, their hopes and dreams, from the time they met again in November until their wedding day. They told each other stories, reliving the days of their courtship through each others’ eyes.

Often their talks led them outside to the back garden. Though they never saw Sam or Rosie, they found a basket of fresh-cut flowers every day at the back door, usually accompanied by fresh-baked scones or bread and some garden treasure; strawberries, tomatoes, watercress, and the like.

They both laughingly admitted to wondering from time to time, in the middle of a kiss, where Sam and Rose were -- expecting to be interrupted by their fyllans at any moment. Their friends had become such a part of them...

Then they had finally spoken of the advice Rosie and Sam had given each of them. Talk of their dearest friends always drew them closer. They decided to show their appreciation by making their fyllans the first invited guests for a meal when their niwealdor was complete.

Curious, Frodo realized they spoke not at all of the Quest, nor of any plans beyond the moment. His smile faded as thoughts of visiting Rivendell crept in.

He wondered where the idea to go to Rivendell came from. A part of him wished to enjoy its beauty once more and to share it with his beloved Lily, but old memories -- painful memories -- would be stirred unavoidably...

Now he remembered. The day they wed, he mentioned in passing, at luncheon, that he wished Bilbo could meet Lily.

Gandalf had leaned back a little, staring ahead at nothing. “And why could he not, Frodo?”

“What do you mean?” Frodo had asked.

“Why could Bilbo not meet your new bride? The roads are safe now. You’ll not be fleeing anything, or anyone. You could stay to the main roads and take a leisurely pace. Sam and Rosie, I’m certain, would gladly care for Bag End, and you and your lovely bride shall have time away from everyday cares to get to know each other better...”

Frodo smiled at the memory of Gandalf’s words. Getting to know her better... I can’t imagine how, he mused, and felt his cheeks warm, even as he felt a new surge of gratitude for her love.

Lily’s eyes had lit up, Frodo recalled, until she glimpsed the pain and fear that flickered in his own. She missed nothing, he thought somberly. There was something comforting in her attentiveness. Many a time she had told him she would do anything to make him happy, and he believed her, although he needed very little more than her presence, his friends, and mayhap a bit of food now and then...

The smile left Frodo’s face as his thoughts drifted. Lily had assured him, whenever he asked, he was healed of the darkness, and again he believed her... his soul, light and free, spoke to the truth of it as well. But she also admitted to him she knew his memories of the Quest would continue to invade their peace and quiet, although she hoped they would fade, over time... She understood this.

She is a wonder, Frodo marveled. She truly understands me...

Lily had laid a gentle hand on his arm and offered to forego the journey if it were to bring too many unpleasant memories for him.

Frodo had gazed down at her gratefully. He was sorely tempted to accept her willingness to forget the trip, but Lily hadn’t hidden her disappointment quite quickly enough.

A tremor coursed through his body, and a small sound escaped Lily as she nestled closer to him in her sleep. He closed his eyes and turned his thoughts to the previous day.

Yesterafternoon, he spied Sam in the garden, and asked the Sam Gamgees to dinner in the early evening. Sam happily accepted the invitation on behalf of himself and Rosie.

Frodo smiled again as he remembered Lily fretting over having the meal in the dining room.

“Lily, darling, they’re our dearest friends. I think we’ll all be more comfortable at the kitchen table, as always.”

“But Frodo, I don’t want them to think I’d not go to the trouble to properly prepare for them, just because they’re our friends.”

Frodo searched her worried eyes. “Lily, we never ate in the dining room before we were married...”

“But I wasn’t the Mistress of Bag End, then.”

Frodo did not miss the shimmer of tears in her eyes. Then understanding dawned in his own. He drew Lily into his arms and kissed her forehead.

“Beloved, Mrs. Longburrow was right, you know. You’re a fine mistress for Bag End, and long overdue. And part of what makes you so perfect is the warmth and welcome you bring...”

Lily slipped her arms around Frodo’s waist, and laid her head against his shoulder. “I don’t want anyone thinking you chose poorly because I don’t know how to be a proper mistress of an estate such as Bag End.”

Frodo listened to her voice grow smaller as she spoke. His brows drew together as he mulled over her words, and his heart whispered her words hid her true worry. Suddenly, he knew.

“Sweet Lily, do not concern yourself with what is thought of me.” He smiled as she buried her face in his waistcoat; he had guessed rightly. “My love, everything you are shall only ever speak well of me. In marrying you, for my part, I showed uncommon good sense.”

He held her closer for a moment, aware he had just learned something new about his bride. “I didn’t know you worried about what others thought.”

Lily rested her head against his breast. “It’s not so much that I worry about what they think, but I don’t like them speaking ill of you.”

Frodo thought his heart might break at the overflowing love he felt for his wife. He pulled back a little to search her hazel-blue eyes, at the same time allowing her to see into his own.

“My beloved Lily, I fear they shall always speak ill of me, as I am, after all, a Baggins.” He offered her a crooked grin.

Lily sniffled, then giggled. “And now so am I, my husband.”

Frodo’s eyes clouded. “I fear they may speak ill of you as well, beloved.”

“I care not.” She searched his eyes and caressed his cheek with her fingertips.

He turned his head slightly and kissed her fingers, then gazed into her eyes once more. “Mayhap, sweet Lily, you’ll bring some respectability to the Baggins name again.”

Lily did not hide the gleam in her eyes. “Mayhap.” She smiled. “But not likely. All right; I give in. We’ll eat in the kitchen.”

Frodo laughed and held her tightly, then gently swung her around, setting her on her feet, giggling and breathless. They kissed once, then touched noses, smiling.

“Mister Baggins,” Lily chided, “if I do not get busy, none of us shall eat, either in the kitchen or the dining room.”

“If you insist, Mistress Baggins,” Frodo sulked; but there was a twinkle in his eye. He swiftly kissed her once more, then eased his hold on her with a chuckle. “I shall never tire of seeing your lovely smile, and the way your eyes sparkle when you blush...”

Lily’s eyes grew wide, and Frodo realized he had spoken his thoughts aloud, and blushed himself.

A soft smile spread across Lily’s face as she realized her husband had said more than he intended. She knew he could see the colour of her eyes shift to a green hue. She felt the change in her own emotions, and the intensity in his expression caused a catch in her throat.

“I -- love you, Frodo Baggins.”

He met her steady gaze and held it. He would never cease to feel wonder that she loved and wanted him so. “And I love you, Lily Baggins...”

They stood for several moments while Frodo laid his cheek on her hair and rubbed her back, in small slow circles. They startled as they heard Sam whistling past the kitchen window.

Lily broke their trance with a giggle. “Would you like to help me, beloved?”

Frodo grinned. “I rather hoped you might ask.”

They headed to the pantry when Lily stopped abruptly and turned to Frodo. “Just don’t distract me! I do wish to lay a proper table, even if it is only in the kitchen.”

Frodo allowed a faintly hurt expression to cross his face. “If you insist...”

“I do.” She then gave him a broad wink, and turned back to the pantry, with Frodo chuckling after her.

They fell into their routine of preparing the meal together, sharing knowing smiles, simple conversation, and blushes. When Lily placed the last dish on the table, Frodo could bear it no longer and whisked her into his arms, covering her mouth with his own.

He broke the kiss just as abruptly, both of them breathing unevenly. He gave Lily a worried look. “I’m sorry, beloved. I should not have... not with Sam and Rosie arriving so soon...”

Lily struggled to catch her breath, then returned seriously, “No, you should not have...” Then the merest of smiles touched her lips, and she kissed him back.

They broke their kiss at the knock on the door.

“Was that the first knock or the second?” Frodo asked breathlessly.

“I don’t know...” Lily pulled away from him slowly. “Would you mind answering it?” She could not bring herself to tell him her knees were weak, and she needed a moment to collect herself.

Frodo hurried to the front door. Just before opening it, he glanced back to the kitchen.

Lily stood in the doorway, smoothing her skirts. She glanced up and met his smile, then nodded.

Frodo returned her nod and opened the door.

“Rosie! You look lovely as ever,” Frodo grinned. He quickly kissed her cheek and drew her into the smial.

As Sam and Frodo exchanged greetings and embraced, Rosie caught sight of Lily and met her in the middle of the greatroom. The two friends smiled.

Lily whispered, “Thank you.”

Rosie smiled brightly and murmured back. “I’m so happy for you... and for Frodo.”

They embraced.

Frodo and Sam watched their wives, and shared a smile of their own.

Lily stepped back, wiping tears from her face, with Rosie mirroring her. They laughed.

“Come in, come in. Dinner is ready.” Lily smiled through her tears and showed the way to the kitchen.

Once seated at the table, Frodo and Lily bent their heads in silent prayer; Sam and Rosie followed them. Then Lily lifted the towel from the main dish.

“Lily!” Rosie gasped. “Mushroom pie...”

“...and taters!” Sam chimed in.

“Is this...?” Rosie queried.

Lily nodded and smiled.

Sam raised his brows, expectant but wary. “Is this what?”

“Does he know, then?” Rosie continued, eyeing Frodo briefly.

“No,” Lily smiled shyly.

“Well? May I tell him?”

Frodo drew his brows together, then he glanced from Lily to Rosie and back again. “Tell me what?”

“Rosie wants to tell a tale on me,” Lily grinned. “Yes, yes; go ahead and tell him.”

Rosie clapped her hands. “Has she made her mushroom pie for you before, Frodo?”

He shook his head slowly.

“Taste it, then.”

Frodo eyed first Rosie and then Lily warily. He glanced at Sam, who only shrugged and shook his head, pausing with a forkful of the pie part way to his mouth.

“I’ve not even an inkling of what they’re on about, Mr. Frodo, sure and certain.”

With another quick glance at his wife and friends, Frodo gingerly tasted a bite of the pie, still piping hot.

He rolled his eyes in appreciation. “Mmm... Oh, dear Lily, this is delicious!”

Lily and Rosie cocked their heads, waiting for more.

Frodo knitted his brows. “It reminds me very much of...” He met Rosie’s knowing gaze. “...of your mum’s mushroom pie!”

Rosie laughed. “That’s because it’s me mum’s recipe.”

“It was very thoughtful of her to share it,” Frodo observed, “but how is that telling a tale on my Lily?”

“Remember when you caught that summer chill? What was it now, about six years back, wasn’t it, Lily?” Rose queried.

Lily blushed and nodded.

Rosie winked at her friend and continued the story animatedly. “Sam stopped in to visit my brother Tom, or so I thought at the time.” She eyed Sam, and raised her brows.

Her husband blushed and stabbed a piece of potato with his fork. He was readying to make one bite of it, but stopped, listening intently. He realized he had no more idea of what the lasses were on about than Frodo.

“Me mum asked Samwise how the Master of Bag End was faring, and Sam stated you were feeling poorly. She wondered aloud what your favourite dish was, not expecting any answer, just talking to herself to sort things out, like. But Sam, bold as brass, says, ‘Mr. Frodo loves mushrooms.’ So me mum decided to make a mushroom pie and sent it along with Samwise. Well, Sam returned the pie plate on a day when Lily was visiting us, and he brought a note along from you, Frodo, thanking mum for the pie, and telling her it was now your favourite dish. Not that visit, but the one just after, Lily asked me mum about her mushroom pie, how did she make hers, and the like, and of course Mum was happy to teach Lily the recipe.”

Frodo was dumbfounded. Lily told him she loved him since the day they met at the Bywater Fair... it would be thirteen years ago, on June 22nd. And he believed her, but... even six long years ago, Lily was asking after his favourite recipes--!

He gazed at Lily, who was blushing furiously. He needed to know. “You remember, from that long ago?”

“I practiced it from time to time, just to keep it fresh in my mind. I -- I always hoped we might -- meet again, one day...”

Lily’s voice trailed away as she continued to blush. Her eyes sparkled with green, her emotions running high.

Frodo searched her eyes. “Truthfully?”

Lily nodded, then dropped her eyes. The blue in his pierced her to her heart, reflecting the burning knowledge of their last two weeks together... It was not an uncomfortable feeling, not at all, but--

“But Lily, this is the first time you’ve made it, if I remember correctly--?”

“It’s best with fresh summer mushrooms, and Rosie thoughtfully included some with this morning’s basket of flowers and scones...” she explained, raising her eyes once more to Rose, and then Sam. “And thank you for those lovely daily baskets.”

“Yes,” Frodo smiled, allowing his wife to change the subject. “Your thoughtfulness touched us both deeply.”

Their friends blushed, and then Sam cleared his throat.

“No trouble at all, Mr. Frodo. Now, let’s catch you up on the news of the Shire.”

Rosie giggled. “It’s all about your wedding, don’t you know. Folk can’t stop gossiping about it. And just so’s you know, it’s spoken of in awe and excitement. Gandalf’s fireworks, o’course, are the main topic.”

Frodo’s eyes clouded. “He’s gone, isn’t he...”

“He promised he’d be seeing you sooner than you know, Mr. Frodo...”

Sam’s trying so hard to reassure me. Dear Sam...

Frodo heard his wife’s soft voice as she slept, a small wordless sound which pulled him back to the present. He stroked her hair, then soothed, “All is well, beloved.”

Lily settled quietly again.

“I must be more careful,” he murmured. “You are far too aware of me.” A soft smile touched his mouth as he remembered again yesternight...

Sam had innocently complimented Lily on her cooking, telling her it was better than the fare found in Rivendell. Frodo had waited for Lily to make some comment about visiting the place, but she merely replied with a thank you and a soft blush.

Tears neared, as they often did when he thought on the lass who graced his life.

Lily stirred and pressed closer to him, tightening her arms about him and holding him fast. She would wake soon. He returned her embrace, wondering if there really was any decision to make at all. He realized he need only decide when they would leave.

---------

After first breakfast, Lily left with Rosie for the market. Rosie had tapped on the door and then waited outside while Lily and Frodo said goodbye.

Frodo knew if he were indeed to take Lily to Rivendell, it must be soon. He could put it off no longer. A quick list was drawn up of what they would need for the journey, including writing posts to Crickhollow and Bree. After reviewing the list several times, he realized only one item was missing, and Lily might be home at any moment. Quickly, he searched for Sam and found him in the front garden, checking the roses there. Frodo sat on the bench outside the front door.

“Sam, I need to find a pony for Lily. I know you’re busy...”

“Now, Mr. Frodo, I’m never too busy for you. So you’ve decided to take her after all...”

“Yes, Sam, but we’re not walking. Lily’s been on Strider and Bill, and Diamond in Deephallow, and I’m wondering if I should give her Strider and find a new pony for me or find a pony for her. What think you?”

Sam’s heart tightened a little. How grateful he was Lily had entered his master’s life! Frodo’s quiet, sad air had seemingly evaporated like the morning dew when the sun comes out. Yet he found himself watching Frodo with deepening concern. He knew what this trip would mean for Frodo, facing old memories. But Lily was good for him. She seemed to know just the right way to turn his thoughts back to the present. She was a blessing, sure and certain.

“I’d lend you old Bill, but I’m not sure how he’d hold up on such a long journey.”

Frodo smiled warmly, “I know, Sam. It’s all right. I truly do appreciate all the times you let us borrow him, but I really would like Lily to have a pony of her own. Besides, I know well enough you’ll be needing Bill while we’re away. Do you know where we might find one just right for her?”

Sam thought a moment. “Let me do a bit of asking ‘round. A good pony’s not an easy find, but there might be one about, though not as good as Bill or Strider...”

He eyed Frodo curiously. “And sir -- your asking me about this with Lily gone off with my Rosie and all -- is this to be a surprise?”

Frodo blushed despite himself. “Sam, I haven’t talked about our journey at all; and dearest Lily has said nothing. She’s quite willing to let it go by the wayside if that’s what I wish. But I cannot forget the light in her eyes when Gandalf mentioned Rivendell. You know as well as anyone my reasons for dreading the journey, but my own fears pale at the thought of disappointing Lily.”

He held up the two letters in his hand. “I’m posting letters to Merry and Pippin and Barliman Butterbur to let them know we’re coming, and promising to send word as soon as the date is fixed. In truth, everything is planned. All that’s left is the pony for Lily.”

Sam nodded and took the letters. “I’ll post those for you, Mr. Frodo. Now, about the other -- what with having Bill and Strider down in the livery now, and my work around the Shire, I think I know pretty well who owns which ponies, and who’d be of a mind to part with one.” He thought a moment longer. “In fact, I think I know of one what’ll suit your purpose, Mr. Frodo. I’ll look into it...”

Sam realized Frodo was no longer listening to him. He turned to where his master’s attention was focused and smiled.

Walking up the lane were two lovely hobbit lasses, one his darling Rose and the other the new mistress of Bag End, the only mistress in many a year. Each carried a basket filled with goods from the market. They were chatting together and laughing.

As Lily and then Rose stepped through the gate, Frodo stood.

Lily caught Frodo’s eyes.

Today was their first time apart since the wedding, and feelings rushed through Frodo, almost overwhelming him. He wanted to drink in the look in her eyes and touch her hair and hold her hand and...

He suddenly remembered Sam standing beside him and whispered, “She’s so beautiful.”

“Yes, she is, sir, thank you.”

Frodo nodded and smiled and then looked at Sam, confused.

Sam’s smile broadened as his master blushed. “Yes, Mr. Frodo, your bride is lovely too.”

“Thank you, Sam!” Frodo laughed softly. “And your Rose is very pretty, as I’ve always said.”

“That you have, sir; that you have.”

Rosie hurried up the steps and took Sam’s hand. “We’re heading home for a bite to eat. We’ll call on you later.” She knew their friends were now blind and deaf to all but each other, but she quickly smiled at them, then led Sam out the gate.

Lily ascended the steps more slowly, never taking her eyes from Frodo. Her morning had passed pleasantly in Rosie’s company, but it required effort to keep her mind on their conversation. Rosie had teased her about it as they walked up the lane, and they both laughed, for it was true. She sighed as the center of her thoughts -- her husband -- reached for her basket when she touched the top step.

They stood gazing into each other’s eyes, for a moment completely unaware of the world around them.

She reached up and softly kissed his cheek, and then whispered into his ear, “I missed you.” The warmth of her smile wrapped around him and drew him with her into Bag End.

They placed the basket in the kitchen. Lily decided everything could be put away later, as Frodo led her down the hall to their bedroom.

He enfolded her in his embrace. She slipped her fingers into his chestnut locks. He bent his head and kissed first one cheek and then the other. Then she softly caressed his lips with her own.

Frodo breathed in sharply, his eyes searching hers; his voice was warm and rough. “Lily Baggins, you were only away a short time this morning and yet I missed you terribly. How did I live without you for so long?”

“As I did for so long, though I did not know it, by the hand of Ilúvatar, to fulfill His purpose.” A soft smile reached from Lily’s lips to her eyes. They shared this conversation at least once a day.

Lily nestled her head against his shoulder as Frodo kissed her forehead, holding her more tightly. Within moments they were breathing together.

Frodo could feel her smile against his neck as she murmured, “Dear Rosie found me quite hopeless this morning. She could not utter a word without me somehow tying it to you. Everything reminded me of you.”

“Sam, too, was required to listen to me speak of you. Fortunately, he bent my ear often enough about Rose, so he feels he owes me.”

They laughed together.

Lily was surprised by the sudden intensity between them, yet pleased to be wanted and to want. She slipped her hands to his shoulders and under his waistcoat, glad he hadn’t buttoned it today. As she used his shoulders to lean on, she kissed his neck, and slowly eased his waistcoat off.

Frodo reluctantly released his hold on her to let the velvet material fall to the floor. His breath caught. She was giving him what he wanted. He had not expected it...

His eyes studied her appreciatively. This morning, she dressed with such care, wearing clothes he had never seen before. A smile was carefully kept in check at the sight of the sleeves and hem of her pale blue silk chemise; it reminded him of her others... Covering it, her skirts were a darker shade of lined blue linen with small sunflowers and leaves embroidered along the hem. Her vest was the same shade of blue, covered with the same embroidered flowers.

He suddenly realized he had never coped with a vest before.

On their wedding day, her dress had been all one piece with buttons down the back. He smiled at the memory. Through the days since then she had worn her chemises with skirts and not worried about a vest, since they never ventured beyond their own back garden. Yesternight, she wore a vest, also laced up the front, at dinner with Sam and Rosie here, but she removed it herself when readying for bed. Surely it wasn’t much different from his waistcoat... was it?

Lily’s hands had followed the waistcoat down his arms to his hands. She laced her fingers with his briefly, but before he could capture hers she slid her hands back up his arms to his shoulders again, her eyes studying his face as though she had not seen him for weeks rather than hours. Her lips caressed his neck again; this time she made sure to kiss the scar there.

Frodo shuddered, and a small sound escaped his throat as he felt her kiss. He breathed deeply, then slowly released it, in a studied effort to control his trembling. He was only partly successful, and he slipped his hands about the slender curve of her waist, pulling her close again.

Her hands found their way into his curls as his lips found another curve he knew well, where her neck met the lovely whiteness of her shoulder. She was offering him her sweetness, and in wonder he returned the kiss she had just given.

Lily breathed softly in his ear. “I love you, Frodo.”

He lifted his head and searched her eyes. “Lily, love of my life...”

She lightly touched his mouth with her own. He tasted her lips and wanted more, much more, and so did she. He deepened the kiss, their desire growing together, fed by a passion now familiar and dear and renewing.

Lily gently broke the kiss and stepped a little away from him, still within the circle of his arms. Keeping one hand in the curls at the back of his neck, she reached for the laces on her vest with the other.

Frodo released one hand from around her waist to gently touch her hand on the laces. He did not know how he found his voice. “May I?”

Heartbeats quickened, and breathing came swifter for them at Lily’s hushed reply.

“Yes, you may.”

She placed her hands lightly on his shoulders as he slid his other hand from round her waist. Slowly, he pulled on the laces of her vest until the bow untied. His brows drew together as he realized it wasn’t like his waistcoat at all. What came next?

Lily smiled and tried not to giggle when he raised uncertain eyes to hers.

“Dearest...” She was breathless. “Just start at the top and pull the laces free through the eyelets.”

Frodo gave her half a smile and concentrated on performing the task. He began to pull one lace free and realized the vest was tightening at Lily’s quick intake of breath. Instantly, his worried eyes searched hers. “I’m sorry...”

Lily gave in and giggled, hoping he would not take offense; even through her own heightened emotions, her gift assured her he had not. “It isn’t as easy as a waistcoat, is it?”

Frodo blushed and laughed. “No. Are you all right?”

Lily nodded, her eyes sparkling with humor. “Here, let me teach you. To start, try unlacing one eyelet at a time. It takes some practice to get used to it.”

Frodo sighed heavily. “I’m not sure which is worse, buttons or laces.”

Lily laughed outright, and Frodo laughed with her. She showed him how to loosen the ties as he went along, so they would not continue to tighten.

He breathed a sigh of relief when finally the lace was free and her vest hung open, revealing the pale blue silk chemise.

Lily giggled again. “Now it’s like your waistcoat.”

She reached up and planted a kiss on his neck as she had earlier, and then dropped her hands to her sides to make her husband’s next step easier.

Frodo’s trembling returned as he reached for her vest at her shoulders. He gently slipped it down her arms and let it drop to the floor atop his waistcoat.