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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

2 August 1420sr

Lily and Frodo decided to take second breakfast in the feasting hall, with plans to visit the Conservatory afterward, agreeing it was the easiest way to avoid any awkwardness should Bilbo come searching for them.

“What would you like to read about today, Lily-sweet?” Frodo shuffled through the books they had been perusing the past several days.

Lily leaned against his shoulder, gazing at the tome-strewn table. “Are there any books here that speak of hobbits?”

Frodo glanced at her, his brows drawn together in question. “I fear not much is written of us, sweet.”

“I know the stories our own Folk tell of our beginnings, Frodo-love, but I am curious what other Races know of it.”

“In truth, not even the Elves know where we came from... only that we are children of Ilúvatar, and are believed to be related to Men in some manner, though no one knows how.”

“Nothing more?” Lily could not hide her disbelief.

“Only what they have learned of us since they became aware of us.”

“What of the other Races?” Lily wondered, her eyes wide.

“Men call us halflings because we are half their size, but most Men did not believe we existed at all; that is, until the Quest. Boromir was quite surprised to see Bilbo and myself at the Council, then Sam and my cousins... did I ever tell you they’d been eavesdropping that day? Or as Sam is wont to say, ‘dropping eaves.’” Frodo chuckled. “Dear Sam... I miss him, and Rose...”

Frodo smiled at his wife softly as she nodded her agreement. Her face was only inches away; he was tempted to kiss her, but her expression told him she had more to say.

His eyes were so revealing that Lily had seen him set aside the temptation to kiss her, giving her his full attention. She would have smiled at this, but a new question was uppermost in her mind.

“You mean, they think we are like creatures in a bedtime story?” Lily drew her brows together. “I suppose not unlike hobbits who don’t believe trolls are real?”

“Very like that.” Frodo’s smile faded.

“Dear one, what is it?” Lily beseeched. “Your heart is burdened... by what?”

Frodo sighed, then paused to gather his inner strength. He stared up at the sunbeams reaching toward them where they studied. The light shone so effortlessly, it seemed to him. It was so clear and strong -- as if there had never been any Shadow. Again, as had happened so often before, he wondered if he had dreamed the Quest. As was now his habit, Frodo dropped his gaze to his hand for the mute answer it supplied. He cleared his throat and made his eyes meet his wife’s understanding ones once more.

“Sauron did not know of hobbits, not at first, and even when he did become aware of us, he did not understand us... Gandalf told me once it was to our advantage, for we were not thought of as any consequence, being so small... Boromir, at first, believed us to be more like children, though he changed his mind quite quickly...”

Lily’s eyes did not waver from her husband’s gaze. “Gandalf told me, when you were ill, that the Ring could not have the same power over you as it might others, because we’re hobbits...”

Lily touched her lover’s hand, and he smiled for her.

“Yes...” Frodo glanced back at the dancing sunbeams. “May we not speak of the Ring, today?”

“I’m sorry. I thought it might be all right, since Bilbo told of how he got It, and you did not seem distressed... did I not sense your feelings rightly?” The worry Lily felt was revealed in her voice.

“You’re right. Somehow, Bilbo’s story seems altogether a different tale from mine, and I sometimes forget my part was simply a continuation.”

“Then we’ll speak no more of it, today, for I wish for sunshine.” Lily smiled warmly. “The Elves have so many beautiful songs -- would you share some of them with me?”

Frodo softly kissed his wife’s cheek in appreciation. “I’m afraid I cannot sing them as they do...”

Lily giggled. “If you did, I’d not understand. Please, would you translate some of them for me? Ones we’ve not yet heard...”

Frodo painstakingly translated several songs before Bilbo found them in the Conservatory.

“All the beautiful gardens of Rivendell are waiting for exploration. Why aren’t you out there?!” Bilbo blustered. “Instead, you’re inside reading books! Frodo, my lad, how often have I told you to get out and enjoy the world around you?” Then the old hobbit broke into an indulgent smile.

Lily schooled her expression, hiding her amusement. “How can you tell the difference, here? It seems the outside has been invited in.”

Bilbo blinked, then chuckled. “She’s sharp, Frodo-lad. Watch yourself.”

“Thank you, Uncle Bilbo, but I prefer watching her,” Frodo grinned.

Bilbo laughed out loud. “Come with me. I long to hear about Bag End, but someplace more comfortable than in this stuffy library.”

Lily could not keep herself from raising her eyebrows in surprise.

Frodo noted it, and smiled at his uncle, but his words were for Lily. “Bilbo, for all his advice about going exploring, considers any room but his own stuffy.”

Bilbo sputtered, then blushed. “Any room that isn’t comfortable is stuffy. I’m not as young as I once was, and it’s no easy feat to be climbing up on these Elvish benches and chairs. Come along, now, I’ve arranged for a fine spread to be laid for us on my balcony.”

Lily disguised her smile by opening her eyes wide and blinking. “But Bilbo, don’t the Elves arrange for every meal?”

Bilbo scowled, refusing to look at the couple, for fear he’d break into a grin. “I’m not so sure leaving the two of you alone is such a good idea, if you’re going to be so sassy because of it! Now, the food I arranged is getting cold.” He promptly took Lily by the arm and winked, then waved to Frodo to take his other arm as he guided the couple back to his quarters.

---------

After filling in the corners, the hobbits settled comfortably on the balcony, enjoying the Sun and a summer breeze. From where they sat they could gaze at the distant falls; a rainbow formed in its mists, its vibrant colours shifting, vanishing, only to return again as they watched in quiet contemplation.

Bilbo and Lily basked in the serenity of the scene and its ephemeral beauty -- the falls, the rainbow, and Rivendell spread out before them. But Lily also sensed within her husband’s spirit a weariness at an old memory come to life. Trepidation. Resignation. Sorrow, and some fear...

She met his eyes for a moment, and at her expression of concern, Frodo gave her the merest of smiles. It was best not to speak of the old sorrow of the Quest in Bilbo’s presence. They both knew the aged hobbit would be grieved to learn too many details of what had befallen the Fellowship in general, and his nephew in particular. The spell between them was gently broken as Bilbo spoke.

“Now, Lily, tell me what you think of Bag End? I long to hear of the dear old hole. Is that tree root in the cellar giving you any trouble?”

“Sam is very good at seeing to the care of the roots and the hole. If there is any trouble, I’ve not heard of it.” Lily smiled. “I’ve never seen a hole that incorporates the roots as pleasingly as Bag End.”

Bilbo smiled approvingly. “Are there still books strewn from one end to the other? I imagine with Frodo living there the books are piled along every wall of every room...”

Lily giggled. “Frodo is endeavoring to convince me to turn the dining room into a library, to ease the load of the overflowing books from the study.”

Concern suddenly crossed the old hobbit’s face. “Have you had to change the place very much?”

A soft and reassuring smile touched Lily’s face. “Very little, Uncle Bilbo. Frodo gave me the far guest room, for my own, to do with as I please -- the one just off the main entrance hall.”

“Did he?” Bilbo brightened.

“Indeed. I do hope you don’t mind...”

“Not in the least, my dear. I’ll tell you a secret. I can’t even remember what that room looks like. I never used it. In fact, I believe the only time it was ever used was when Frodo’s friends would visit.”

Frodo grinned. “I seem to recall a myriad of Dwarves using that room.”

Bilbo flushed, then chuckled. “I suppose there were a few, from time to time... Now then, my dear Lily, if Frodo here can keep from interrupting, tell me, will you be making that your sewing room? I’ve heard lasses like to have such things.”

Lily smiled shyly, and Bilbo startled at her response. “I do hope I haven’t asked anything amiss?”

“No,” Lily assured. “It’s only that I have -- forgive me, Uncle Bilbo...”

“What is it, my dear?” Bilbo’s eyes grew wide with apprehension.

“I’m afraid I have changed things a bit...”

Bilbo could not hide the concern pressing in on his heart. He struggled to keep any bit of accusation from his voice. “What have you done, my dear? Surely, it isn’t as bad as you paint it? How could it...”

Lily gazed at her hands as they lay in her lap. She glanced up at her husband when he covered her hands with his own, then gave her a reassuring smile.

She turned once again to Bilbo. “In truth, it’s about -- about -- your study...”

Bilbo’s eyes grew wider, and his face began to lose its colour. “What about my study?” he asked, faintly.

“I--” Suddenly, Lily worried about the old hobbit’s reaction, but realized she could not back out now. “My sewing box and embroidery stand are by the wingback chair...”

Bilbo blinked. “But everything else is the same?”

“Oh yes!” Lily nodded vigorously. “I like to sit in the chair -- and very comfortable it is -- and sew, while Frodo writes or sorts through his notes.”

Bilbo laughed out loud. “I think my study will survive that little feminine touch, my dear.”

Lily smiled with relief.

“Now, tell me, is the rest of the hole to your liking?”

“It is well arranged and beautifully furnished. I could not wish for more... if I did, I should think myself terribly ungrateful.”

“Then tell me, which is your favourite room? The study is my personal favourite, though I do love the kitchen, the pantries and the cellars, for obvious reasons,” the old hobbit chuckled.

Lily blushed.

Bilbo’s eyes widened once more. “Have I spoken amiss, again?”

“No, Uncle Bilbo, not really,” Lily assured. “It’s only that... well, my favourite room is the master bedroom.”

Bilbo coughed, then sputtered, and Lily hurried on. “Because of the painted leaves on the ceiling!”

Frodo kept his mouth tightly shut. He could barely maintain a serious expression, and was holding his breath, so as not to laugh out loud at their exchange. Dear Lily! She had managed to wiggle her way out of that one well enough!

“Painted leaves?” Bilbo’s brow furrowed. “What painted leaves? I don’t recall--”

“When Frodo returned home to Bag End last autumn, he had a local artisan paint leaves, like those found here and in Lothlórien, on the ceiling beams...”

“Did he now?” Bilbo turned his penetrating gaze on Frodo, whose countenance had only a moment before turned serious and wistful, as memories of his past life, the one before Lily, flooded his mind.

“Rivendell and Lothlórien were the only places I knew any peace, on the Quest... and I wished to bring a small bit of them home with me...”

Bilbo’s eyes softened as they met his nephew’s. For a moment no one spoke, and then he coughed and turned cheerily to Lily.

“And how do you like the kitchen, and pantries and cellars? Do they suit you? They’re the finest in the Shire! And has Frodo shown you the hidden passageway yet?”

“Hidden passageway?” Lily turned wide eyes to Frodo, as two spots of colour appeared on his fair cheeks.

“No, Uncle Bilbo. I’ve not shown her that just yet.”

Lily almost giggled, but managed to stop herself. “Not to worry, Uncle Bilbo. We’ve been quite busy settling in to our new life, and when we return home, I shall insist Frodo show me the passageway.”

They all turned to the sound of Bilbo’s door opening.

“Gandalf!” Frodo cheered.

He and Lily stood as one and embraced their old friend, who in the nick of time raised high above their heads the tea tray he was holding.

The wizard’s heart warmed at their open, genuine affection. He laughed and nodded a hello to Bilbo, who smiled and winked in reply.

As he loosened his hold on Gandalf, Frodo was filled with sudden joy, his eyes stinging with unshed tears. It felt as though his friend had been gone for months instead of only days. Frodo blinked, craning his head back to see the well-loved face.

“Oh!” Lily exclaimed. “You’ve brought us tea, dear Gandalf! How kind! Thank you!”

“Disappearing and reappearing without notice, as usual,” Bilbo groused, barely concealing the twinkle in his eyes. “Where have you been, now, old friend? Or is that a secret?”

Gandalf gave them an indulgent smile, and laid the tray on the table. “Is all well, my hobbits?”

“Yes,” they chorused, and laughed.

Frodo watched in silent admiration as Lily gracefully poured tea for everyone.

“Will you be staying long?” Bilbo raised his brows. “Or are you off again, without a by-your-leave?”

Gandalf raised his brows in turn. “I was not aware permission was required to come and go, from anyone save the Master of Rivendell? Have things changed so much, in my brief absence?”

Lily’s eyes grew wide, then she giggled softly when Gandalf gave her a conspiratorial wink.

When he turned his gaze back to Bilbo, he was stern once more, or hoped to appear stern, at the very least. It was a trifle difficult to maintain the pose, he mused, as Lily continued to giggle, and Frodo suppressed a grin by studying the fur on his own feet with sudden interest.

The old hobbit opened and closed his mouth, but before he could utter a word the wizard continued.

“I wonder now if you have shared the good news with our young couple here. Have you?”

“What news?” Bilbo replied tartly.

“The news they would not have heard because they were traveling.”

Bilbo scrunched his face in consternation. “What are you going on about? And they say my mental faculties aren’t what they once were...” The old hobbit eyed the wizard pointedly.

Gandalf ignored the gibe, and continued calmly. “So you have not told them of the happenings in Gondor?”

“What happenings?” Bilbo’s face reflected his confusion and irritation, then his eyes opened wide.

“In all the excitement, I’ve completely forgotten.” He blushed down to his toes.

“Would you like to tell them now?”

“Why don’t you?” mumbled the old hobbit.

Gandalf nodded, and turned his full attention to the patiently waiting couple. “Your friends in the Shire have already received word.”

Lily’s eyes widened as a clear impression touched her mind. “The Queen -- oh, I am sorry, Gandalf, for interrupting, please, continue.”

Gandalf smiled broadly. “Yes, the Queen delivered a daughter, and they have named her Gilraen, in honour of Aragorn’s mother.”

“How wonderful!” Frodo embraced his wife, laughing.

Lily knew her expression was happy, and was glad Frodo was looking at Gandalf, and not at her, for he would have seen the faraway wistfulness she felt certain showed in her eyes.

She composed herself, briefly tightened her hold on her husband, then eased it, looking at Gandalf, questioning. “Has Lord Elrond had the opportunity to see the child?”

The smile on Gandalf’s face faded. “No. He is required here, in Rivendell. The Elves are leaving Middle-earth, and this is the last Elven Home before the Grey Havens.”

Tears gathered in Lily’s eyes. “Is there no way for him to see his grandchild, then?”

A smile slowly spread across Gandalf’s face. “I am hoping for news of just that, within the next few days. But Elrond has not yet been informed, so you must remain silent as well, my hobbits.”

They nodded their heads so enthusiastically that Gandalf chuckled at the sight.

“Now,” he sighed contentedly, “before I arrived, what were the three of you discussing?”

“Bag End,” Bilbo declared. “I was asking Lily if it suited her.”

“I understand,” Gandalf mused, “that Mrs. Longburrow has declared our fair Lily quite the most suitable mistress for Bag End.”

Lily blushed with surprise and pleasure.

“Did she now?” Bilbo did not disguise the wonder in his voice. “She’s not an easy one to please -- dear Mrs. Longburrow... she was a great help to me, all those years...”

He turned his gaze to Lily and the corners of his eyes crinkled up, accentuating his crow’s feet as he grinned at her. “Well done, my dear. I suppose a mistress is long overdue there...”

“Perhaps,” Gandalf countered. “But then perhaps it was best Bag End went without a mistress for so long, or things might have turned out very differently, indeed.”

Lily’s heart tightened as she thought of Frodo’s sacrifice; how often he told her that had they met earlier he would not have gone... but then where would they all be? She pushed the memories of his darkness away, turning her thoughts to the day’s discussion, of Bilbo’s concern about what a mistress would mean to his beloved Bag End. His story of his abrupt departure at Gandalf’s insistence leapt to her mind, and she giggled. “Uncle Bilbo was just telling us the other day of his adventures with you and the Dwarves.”

“He was, was he?” Gandalf asked with a raised brow. “I wonder how much of my part he got right, or did he paint me somewhat darker...” He eyed the old hobbit, who fidgeted uncomfortably.

Frodo’s eyes held a smile he could not suppress. “Perhaps you should tell us your side of the story, Gandalf?”

The wizard gazed sharply at the younger Baggins, and struggled to contain the overwhelming joy he felt. The darkness is truly gone... he still felt unexpected wonder at the realization.

Lily’s eyes grew wide once more, as she remembered her query from earlier in the day. She could not resist asking the one person who might know, and now he was here.

“Gandalf, could you tell us of the beginnings of hobbits?”

Gandalf blinked in surprise at the question.

“Which would you like to hear more: the old story of Bilbo and the Dwarves, and my own small part in that tale, or, the history of the hobbits, short as it is?” He smiled at his own jest, all the more because the dear hobbits, of course, did not perceive it.

“Oh...! I believe, the latter.” She turned to her husband, curiosity shining in her eyes. “May we?”

“Certainly, Lily-sweet!” Frodo chuckled. He met Gandalf’s amused smile. “Lily and I were in the Conservatory this morning, when she asked what the other Races knew of our beginnings. I told her that not much was known.”

“And indeed it is not, not even by the Maiar.”

“Frodo told me only Ilúvatar knows, but surely some note is made somewhere?” Lily offered.

“Frodo is correct; only Ilúvatar knows, but I can tell you of my earliest encounters with hobbits. I have had dealings with them, down through the years. From the beginning, I found you a hearty race. And though the other Maiar had no interest in you, I found myself being drawn back, again and again.”

He told of various encounters with hobbits, some known by his listeners and some not. The trio sat in rapt attention, barely uttering a word, until Felena entered to gather her charges.

“Mithrandir, it is good to see you back.” She turned her attention to the couple. “Dinner is in a half hour. I did not inform you sooner, as I was certain you preferred chatting.” She gazed between the hobbits and the wizard.

“Gandalf, will we see you at dinner?” Frodo could not hide the hope in his eyes.

“Indeed you shall,” the wizard smiled.

---------

At dinner, Elrond seated Gandalf on his right, with Bilbo beside him, and Frodo on his left with Lily and Felena.

Seated round their large table were more Elves Lily had not met; she nodded shyly to each as Elrond presented her and made introductions. The Elves greeted her warmly; some smiled broadly, with something like a twinkle in their eye. The others, with shimmering golden hair, were more reserved, but smiled all the same. Lily remembered another small party of Elves from Lothlórien had arrived that morning. She thought they seemed taller, even seated, than the Elves with dark hair.

When Lily turned back to Frodo, he appeared to be lost in thought, very far away, indeed. He was looking beyond the Elves, at nothing. She sensed no pain within her husband, but a strange wistfulness, as at old memories one cannot quite grasp. She put her hand on his, where it rested on the table, and he started slightly, coming back to her. They heard Gandalf clear his throat, and turned to him.

“Lily, how have you found Rivendell?” Gandalf eyed her carefully.

Her smile was warm, and reached her eyes. “It’s beautiful.”

“Yes,” Bilbo grinned. “Did you know, Gandalf, they’ve spent more time in the Conservatory than almost anywhere else?!”

“Indeed?” Gandalf queried.

“It’s true,” Bilbo asserted, “and I can’t figure it...”

“Then what have you planned for the morrow?” the wizard wondered aloud.

Lily glanced at Frodo, questioning, who shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. She was pleased. Her husband seemed not to have a care in the world this evening.

“I have it!” Bilbo chuckled. “What say you we talk of old times? Before I left the Shire. We can tell tales of Frodo’s precocious nature!”

Frodo rolled his eyes. “Must we?”

“Frodo,” Elrond began, amusement raising one corner of his mouth. “I wonder if I might converse with your lady on the morrow?”

Frodo was suddenly reluctant to relinquish Lily’s company, but he began to nod his head, then stopped. He turned to his wife. “Lily, are you agreeable?”

Lily’s eyes grew wide. “Of course...” She gazed up at the Master of Rivendell, and continued quietly, “but why would you wish to talk to me?”

Elrond’s smile broadened. Her manner is direct, he mused, but very respectful. “I sense in you a gift, a gift I did not believe hobbits possessed.”

A proud smile lit Frodo’s face. “She can indeed see into the hearts of others.”

Lily blushed.

Elrond softened his tone. “I should like to speak of it with you, if you might consent.”

Lily smiled tentatively. “I am willing.”

“Would after the midday meal suit you?”

“Yes, my lord.”

Gandalf smiled. “Then I think perhaps we should save the stories of Frodo for another time, when Lily may be present.”

“A very sound idea,” Bilbo decided. “Frodo, you could tell me all about how you and Lily met, then when Lily joins us again, she can tell her side, and we’ll compare!”

Gandalf glanced quickly between the two young hobbits. How much did the young mistress wish to reveal of the truth of their relationship? She would not want to deceive anyone...

“Mayhap, dear Bilbo, it would be better if they could share the telling of the story.” The wizard looked down at the hobbit from beneath his eyebrows. “And if I may suggest, my friends, it has been far too long since last I enjoyed a leisurely smoke...”

“Oh, indeed,” Bilbo agreed eagerly. “That would be very nice. What say you, Frodo?”

“It sounds to be a pleasant afternoon. If I may not be with Lily,” Frodo smiled, “then it will do.”

“So,” Bilbo grinned. “Since Gandalf insists the two of you tell the tale together, now is as good a time as any. How did the two of you meet?”

The couple blushed together, and Frodo wondered just how much they should say. He glanced at Lily, his eyes pleading for her to understand the worry within his heart.

Lily gazed at her husband steadily, searching his eyes. A soft smile touched her lips, and she turned back to the old hobbit. “Uncle Bilbo, truly, there isn’t much to tell. We met when Frodo returned home to the Shire, in Bywater. He’d stopped for the night with Sam at the Cottons’, on their way to Bag End. I was on my brother’s porch, feeling sorry for myself, and Frodo comforted me. We ended up talking most of the night.”

“So you have been in love ever since? Love at first sight?” Bilbo asked, wide-eyed.

They grinned at Bilbo’s frankness; then Frodo looked to Lily, smiling, and curious to hear her response. “After a fashion, yes,” Lily confirmed. “But every couple has their rough spots to traverse, particularly when first becoming acquainted.”

“And it’s none of my business,” Bilbo mused, his eyes twinkling.

Lily smiled, gently. “May we save the rest of the story until the morrow? I’m feeling a little weary.”

Frodo had listened as his wife artfully divulged the barest details of their story, his heart filled to overflowing. When she glanced at him again, his eyes conveyed his deep appreciation. He swiftly hopped from his chair, then helped her down.

The couple excused themselves with a bow and a curtsey, and slipped out of the feasting hall.

“Lily,” Frodo whispered.

“Not here, dearest,” Lily whispered back. She glanced back toward the feasting hall. Then, hand in hand, they hurried back to their rooms.

---------

Lily gazed up into Frodo’s eyes, and smiled. His hands felt wonderful, there on her waist, so warm. But he was speaking...

“Sweet, I could not begin to imagine how to explain our meeting without telling--”

Lily pressed her fingers to her husband’s lips, gazing up at him with undisguised adoration. She traced the edge of one dark eyebrow, smoothing the furrow there.

“No one...” Her voice revealed her deep emotions. She paused to gather her composure. “Beloved Frodo, the only ones who need to know all of what took place between us are you and me.”

She took a deep breath and slowly released it. “Frodo, tell me of that night... There is no need for shame or regret. I am truly well -- like you, since the day we wed -- but I would like to know: why were you out on that cold November night?”

Frodo turned away and stared at the fireless grate.

Lily stepped behind her husband, and slipped her arms about his waist, rubbing her cheek against his back.

Frodo sighed, and laid his hands upon his lover’s. “You were not feeling sorry for yourself, Lily-sweet... It wasn’t like that...”

“In a way, I was, my love. I fretted over the life of my father and brother. And I did lose my father, but the truth of the matter is that he was one out of nineteen. Eighteen others were lost as well. And I did not lose both father and brother, as some did, nor even two or three or four close members of my family, as others did. Mayhap it could have all been avoided if we hobbits had been more willing to be aware of what happens beyond our borders. Perhaps not, but I could have been braver...”

Frodo turned abruptly in his wife’s arms and grasped her by the shoulders, locking his gaze to hers. “Lily, you are the bravest hobbit-lass I know, even braver than Rosie. You willingly faced my darkness with me. You would not be the person I love so dearly had you sorrowed less for your own folk. And it was because you sorrowed for your folk that I found you at all...”

Lily swallowed the tears gathering in her throat. “Which brings us back to my question... We know why I was outside, but why were you, beloved?”

“I --” Frodo searched his wife’s eyes.

“If you do not wish to tell me...”

“No, sweet, it is only that I’m not entirely certain, myself. My thoughts were scattered... I needed to walk...” Frodo’s brows drew together. “You must have come outside just after I did, for I’d not walked far when I heard you...”

“I thought myself alone,” Lily admitted. “And a good thing, too, for had I known anyone was about, I would never have given in to my weeping...”

“Then I would not have found you...”

“But you did find me...”

“I worried I might frighten you... I did seem to...” Frodo touched his wife’s cheek, enjoying the soft warmth of her skin against the palm of his hand.

For a moment she closed her eyes, then met his once more.

“You did not frighten me, Frodo-love, but I was indeed startled.” She smiled at her husband’s questioning gaze. She refused to let the blue in his eyes distract her. “At supper, my da and Will said you and Sam were back, along with Merry and Pippin, but I had lost count, over those long years, of the number of times we had been in Bywater at the same time, with our paths never crossing... It was an effort not to cry in relief, to know you were home. Then I decided, in my sadness, that our paths probably would still not cross -- just as they hadn’t, all those other times. To know you were so close, Frodo, and yet not to be able to see you again, not to be able to speak to you! And I could not seek you out, of course -- it would have been far too unseemly...”

Lily watched her husband’s expressive eyes as he took in her words; there she saw overflowing love bound with the wonder-filled light of his soul. His love for her was so freely given -- ! Her heart rose in her throat, for the memories of that sacred night were powerful, burning as brightly as if no time had passed at all. But much had changed since that night -- blessedly, for the better...

“Once my vision cleared,” she began, and then released a deep breath, “I did recognize you, and thought my heart might burst! We were finally face to face again, and it should have been such a joyous occasion, and it was, and yet, it was not...”

Frodo gently stroked her cheek with his thumb. “I hoped to comfort you, and yet I felt so inadequate to the task. But I needed to try. From the moment I was in your company I began to feel better. I wondered at it. Now, I know the truth...”

“I am well now, Frodo-love. Completely well. And I was glad to be able to offer you some little relief.”

“It was more than a little, beloved. Did you know, even then?”

“In truth, I did not know, nor did I understand; not at first. I knew I felt a little unwell, but I could not understand why. And it didn’t matter, for more than anything -- more than anything, Frodo -- I wanted to be with you. My heart was soaring, to have you so near, to feel your gentle concern... your tenderness... and yet you seemed so far away...”

His voice was low and soft, like music. “I thought -- I thought I saw wonder in your eyes...”

Lily smiled softly. “You did. I thought myself in a dream, then you slipped your cloak around my shoulders...”

“I felt better than I had in such a very long time. I didn’t understand it... And I saw tears in your eyes...”

“I realized you did not remember me, and I thought my heart might break...”

“Oh, Lily!” Frodo gathered her in his arms and held her close, stroking her hair, feeling his own heart close to bursting. He ached for her. “Dearest, Lily! ...and I feared you were too cold, and might become ill.” His voice caught. “I could not bear the thought of anything happening to you, and I chastised myself for caring so deeply when we’d only just met. Neither could I believe you might have any feelings for me at all, not at first...”

“I wanted to keep you near, Frodo-love...”

“You offered me tea, then began to weep -- I did not know why...”

“It all seemed -- such an impossibility... I did not believe you could ever care for me, and I was worried about my father and Will...”

“And I dared not believe you might care for me...”

“I worried for you, as well...”

“I know... and then you fainted, Lily. I confess I was terrified...”

He could not let her go, as he felt her arms about him. Her warmth, her love, the fragrance of her hair... He felt his throat closing, but he had to speak. What came out was a tortured whisper.

“If I had known I was the cause of that faint, Lily, I would never have stayed...”

The thought of not ever knowing her, not ever loving her -- ! It was beyond his comprehension. He felt her voice against his shoulder, like a blessing, and closed his eyes, to listen more intently.

“You were not the sole cause, dearest. You know now how I am easily overwhelmed by my feelings.” Lily smiled, knowing he could feel it even through the layers of clothing which separated them. “It is a miracle I didn’t faint again, that night.”

Frodo felt her slowly pulling back. He released her a little, and as she looked up to him, he allowed his gratitude to show clearly in his eyes.

Lily smiled, tears gathering. “I worried you might leave, and then you offered to get me some water...”

An answering smile stole across Frodo’s face. “I wanted to help you, and stay close to you, for as long as I could...”

“And though you offered to make tea, I felt I should do it... it was then I realized the ill feeling was from the darkness...”

Frodo gasped. “You knew as soon as all that?”

“I am fine, Frodo-love. Yes. Though I knew the source, I did not understand how it was possible...”

Fresh tears gathered in Frodo’s eyes, to match those in hers. “You felt it even then, but still you wanted to be with me...”

“Yes, beloved. The ill feeling could not compare to the joy and peace I felt with you... and I remembered meeting you for the first time...”

Frodo’s eyes clouded. “How I wish I could remember more of that day...”

Lily laid her hands on his shoulders. “We had only shared one cup of tea and yet you remembered I used sugar, and even how much... and you shared one of your lovely Elven handkerchiefs with me...” She laughed a little as a tear fell.

Frodo felt her joy, and shared it. “I wished I could do so much more... I worried for you, and felt certain I should leave, but you asked me to stay...”

“Thank you for staying...”

“Lily-sweet...” Frodo kissed her brow tenderly, then stroked the softness of her beautiful auburn curls once again. “I could not think why you wished my company, but I wanted to make it as pleasant as possible...”

“So you asked me about my home and family...”

For a moment, sadness filled Lily’s heart. “I’m so sorry I didn’t know how the word -- precious -- would affect you... It was not until a few days later, when Sam told me the story of the Quest, I learned of its significance...”

Frodo lifted his hand from his wife’s tresses to caress her cheek, drawing a gentle path with his index finger. “It doesn’t matter, Lily. Not any more...”

“You offered a prayer for me, Frodo...”

“The first of many. It was in those moments that I wondered if my darkness affected you in some way I did not understand...”

“It is gone...”

“Yes...”

“You let me help you, as well...” Lily smiled up at her husband softly, reveling in his touch. “Then we spoke of Sam...”

“And feelings I never imagined flowed through me...” Frodo could not help himself. He pulled his wife close to him once more, raining kisses on her hair. He thought he smelled honeysuckle, and wondered vaguely how she’d gotten it... probably Felena... it didn’t matter. He breathed in deeply as he moved to kiss her neck, hearing the low response in her throat.

Lily smiled to herself at her lover’s ministrations. It felt so wonderful. He was so wonderful...

She felt herself blush, the heat in her cheeks, when he kissed her, like this... The delicious warmth began to flood her body, and she shivered. It was so very difficult to concentrate... she willed herself to think clearly, to speak...

“You cared for me, even then,” she murmured, and then pulled back, to clear her mind a little, and to kiss his mouth, feather-light. “...not just as another hobbit of the Shire, but you cared for me,” Lily spoke with wonder. “I had not realized it before tonight...”

“Yes, though I did not recognize the depth--” he reined in his desire, in order to form the words “--the depth of my feelings for you... in truth, I didn’t believe myself capable, before you...”

“We spoke of the darkness, then... You see, Frodo, it was never a secret between us. We simply did not understand it...”

Frodo searched his wife’s face, his eyes drinking in all the love revealed there. “The future was set, even then?”

Lily laid her right hand on the warmth of his cheek. “We had only to accept it...”

“It was almost lost because of the darkness...”

“But we won through...”

“Yes, beloved Lily. You stayed strong and courageous...”

“As did you...”

Frodo began to shake his head, but Lily gently cupped his face in both her hands.

“Dearest husband, I did not make the choices alone; we made them together... and Ilúvatar came to our aid...”

“He did,” Frodo murmured.

Her arms were already twining around his neck. Her lips were so close. He held her tightly, and kissed her mouth.

She felt his love flow into her, and opened her soul the more, for nothing else felt like this, and nothing else could. Her fingers curled into his hair, one hand holding the nape of his neck for dear life. His kisses became deeper and more heated. She thrilled to these moments when passion carried him away, for he always made sure she was carried along with him.

He drew back for only a moment, leaving her breathless, his blue eyes dark with love, and yet bright. Night had come fully to their quiet rooms, where three candles remained lit, throwing warm amber light and flickering shadows upon them, with the leap and play of each flame.

She allowed him to study her eyes, to search for, and find, all the love she bore him. Then he drew her back into his embrace, holding her so tightly she was losing air. She laughed inwardly; it was worth the lightheadedness to feel him against her, to let his warmth saturate her and comfort her and arouse her.

He pressed a slow kiss to her hair, and his voice flowed to her ear quietly, heavy with love.

“I need you every hour of every day, my dearest Lily, my sweet love,” he sighed, and paused. “Is it wrong?”

Lily nearly wept; his words were for her, and no one else. For her.

She felt her lover trembling even as he asked the question. He was trembling with need, she knew.

“Never,” she whispered. “It is never wrong.”

Her voice warmed his neck, and she kissed him there. He started at first, as if awakened from some reverie, then sighed, and she kissed him again, this time more slowly, drawing out the caress, lingering, tasting him... oh -- he was good --

She felt and heard his breathing quicken as his tight hold upon her relaxed.

“Frodo, love,” she murmured, and tipped her head up toward the line of his jaw, kissing him tenderly there, knowing this drove him slightly mad. Yes, there was much they knew now, of the ways of love. She wanted to give, and give...

His breath caught, and he could no longer be passive. The honeysuckle suddenly stirred within him sweet, glorious memories of loving her, and he pulled back just enough to claim her mouth in a deep, slow kiss. He knew well he was pleasing her, just as moments before she had pleased him. Her ardent response revealed how much she craved these deep, time-stealing kisses...

Frodo’s desire was upon him; Lily felt it, and smiled against his kiss, endeavoring with all her will to return his passion, to convey the richness of her longing for him, the deep yearning she felt.

She broke away, breathless, her eyes heavy and full of the pleasure he gave her.

They replenished their bodies with air for only a moment, and wordlessly, with only a glance to state their intentions, each began to undress the other, unhurriedly, lovingly, lingering for kisses and touches, taking and accepting.

Lily smiled as Frodo carried her to their bed.

He laid her there, kneeling beside her, finally allowing himself to take in her beauty; he needed to close his eyes, for he was overcome.

Her vision was filled with him. She knew no sight would ever be more dear to her; the stark scars upon his pale, perfect skin added to his beauty in her eyes. Not for the first time she was awed, her mind and spirit unable to hold all she felt.

His eyes opened, and the purest love was revealed there.

She swallowed hard, needing his nearness, needing his touch, needing the completion and wholeness he brought her.

He brushed a curl back from her forehead, and she took his hand, then kissed it, laying it against her cheek.

“Oh, Frodo... you are so very beautiful! I am -- I’m sorry... have I said it too often, my love?”

He leaned over her, framing her face with his hands. He knew she saw the flush of colour in his cheeks.

He smiled down into the hazel eyes he loved so well, then touched her hair with his right hand, stroking the long, long waves, until her eyes closed.

His voice was a caress, so soft it was. “No, love; no. It makes you happy to say it. In that, I am content. I need not understand it. If it brings you happiness, please, say it.”

Lily felt his lips upon hers, and smiled up into his eyes when he lifted his head. “Thank you. I am so happy, my dearest husband. I cannot express how happy...”

He lay beside her and held her. She felt his heart, his life, against her ear, felt his fingers playing within her tresses.

“I share the feeling, beloved,” he asserted, and she could hear his smile. “Remember the peace you’ve brought me, and the joy.”

Sometimes he led them; at other times she did. Tonight he led, the balm of the summer air cooling them as the minutes stretched into exquisite timelessness, each moment holding its own perfection, each caress given in love.

Afterward they offered their gratitude to Ilúvatar, and then slept, sated with happiness, still in each other’s arms.