West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive



Festival Dancing
A Festival dance entwines Rosie Cotton in the truth of Frodo and Sam's relationship.
Author: Ruby Nye
Rating: R


Dedicated to Eykar Bek, who asked all the right questions.

The wooded darkness at the edge of the Party Field was full of the music of Lithe dancing, little laughs and cries and whimpers; in the middle distance a breathless lad's bawdy song harmonized with his partner's giggles and moans. Rosie stumbled a bit, over a root or a branch or her own tipsy feet, and fell against Sam's firm warmth, and giggled. Sam smiled fondly at her as he pressed his hand caressingly into her waist, holding her up, holding her to him, and she wriggled against him, thinking I love Lithe, and licked the tip of his ear.

Sam turned his head to let her zigzag her tongue along his ear, sighing in a warm and encouraging way, but then Rosie saw, as Sam turned further, a flash of pale and deeper dark beyond him. She leaned from beneath his arm to see what had drawn his attention. "Ain't that Mr. Frodo?"

Indeed, it was Mr. Frodo Baggins, walking almost soberly and oddly alone on this Lithe night, his hands in his pockets, his pale face upturned to the moon, silvered by its light. Rosie gasped and bit her lip at the sight of him, fair and dark and fey, remembering when she was a wee lass and her friend Samwise had run to her to tell her there was an Elf come to visit Mr. Bilbo. She looked up at Sam, and his brown eyes reflected the moonlight, the light off Mr. Frodo's face, as he looked at his friend, his master. His arm was still tight around her waist, but his eyes followed Mr. Frodo.

Maybe it was the ale, maybe it was the moonlight; Rosie was certainly never so bold beneath the sunshine of an ordinary day. Maybe it was the contrast of sunny Sam, golden even in the night, and moon-touched Mr. Frodo, shining like that mithril in Mr. Bilbo's mail shirt, down in the mathom-house. Whatever it was, Rosie felt her heart glow with it; when Sam turned his eyes back to her she grinned at him, and bit her lip to plump it, and stepped out from beneath his arm to call, "Mr. Frodo!" as she launched herself towards him, half-skipping, half-stumbling. He looked up, surprised and smiling, reaching out his arms to catch her as she fell against him. "Sam! Rosie!" She laughed and wound her arms around his slender chest, standing on her toes to kiss him; he tasted of tea as much as of ale. He tasted sweet. She pushed up into the kiss, feeling his mouth surprised and warm against hers, parting as of its own accord for a moment before he gently pulled his head back. "Rosie, you're tipsy," he said softly, his smile undoing the reproof in his tone.

"Aye, sir," said Sam, a laugh in his voice, as he carefully walked over to them. "And so am I." Rosie watched that shining blue gaze go over her head as Mr. Frodo raised his eyes to Sam's, as Sam carefully laid one arm around them both. "It's Lithe, Mr. Frodo, we're all dancing."

"Come dance with us!" cried Rosie, as Sam stood warm and close behind her, his hand on Mr. Frodo's shoulder. Between them Rosie felt hot, a good kind of hot, a Lithe-night kind of hot, as she pressed herself against Mr. Frodo, seeking to warm him to them. He turned those blue eyes on her again, those lips parting in surprise; Rosie wanted to kiss him anew, but she'd already had one kiss, so she unwound one arm to reach for Sam's other hand and put it on Mr. Frodo's other shoulder. "Sam, kiss him and he'll come dance." She turned her head to Sam, expecting him to take the invitation eagerly, but he was regarding Mr. Frodo with a thoughtful smile, his eyes bottomless and warm. "Seems to me, Rosie lass, that Mr. Frodo should kiss me, if he wants to dance with us."

Mr. Frodo laughed at that, and when Rosie glanced at him he was smiling, leaning forward, as Sam's hand on his shoulder slipped around to his back, as one of Mr. Frodo's arms slid from Rosie's waist to Sam's shoulder, his hand burying itself in Sam's hair; their mouths met as they pressed tightly to each other, pressing Rosie between them, mouths unfurling, caressing, dancing together. Rosie gasped at the sight, the golden head and the dark-framed pale face pressed together, as heat coursed through her belly and down her thighs, as Mr. Frodo's other arm tightened around her shoulders and Sam's around her waist; Sam's hand curved firmly around her hip as they pulled each other closer and pulled her closer too. Rosie watched Sam and Mr. Frodo kiss, and quivered, as worked up by the sight as if they were both kissing her.

Slowly, warmly, they pulled back from each other, mouths clinging, eyelids slowly rising over dazed eyes that only cleared when they locked for a long moment. Watching Sam and Mr. Frodo, Rosie didn't realize she held her breath till they turned their shining eyes to her. "Well, Rosie," said Mr. Frodo softly, bending to her, "how could I say no?" And then he was kissing her the way he'd kissed Sam, his arm surprisingly strong around her shoulders as he pulled her in, his mouth demanding over hers, parting her lips, caressing them with his own and his tongue. He moaned into the kiss, and she managed to pry open an eye and see, past Mr. Frodo's shining cheek and dark lashes, Sam's head, pale fingers still twined in his hair, bent to Mr. Frodo's neck. Sam was tracing a path with his lips and tongue up over Frodo's neck to his ear, right before Rosie's delighted eye, until Mr. Frodo, still kissing her, still moaning, slipped his hand up to caress her neck and then wind his fingers into her curls and pull her closer still, his tongue entwining hers, and she couldn't keep her eyes open as she moaned in response.

When Mr. Frodo pulled back again Rosie followed him until she teetered on her toes and fell against Sam, feeling him solid all down her side as he steadied her and cupped her behind all at once. "All we need now," said Mr. Frodo, "is a comfortable place."

"There's a friendly beech," Sam indicated with a nod, and, seemingly without moving her feet, Rosie found herself under it, between mighty roots that cradled a snug patch of mossy ground just large enough for three friendly hobbits. Sam and Mr. Frodo loosened their hold on her to kneel, but Rosie kept her feet, the better to watch them, as she swayed gently and the midnight breeze whispered further heat into her blood. Mr. Frodo leaned into Sam, his tongue tracing from the hollow of Sam's throat across his collarbone, and Sam closed his eyes, shuddering deliciously with pleasure for a long moment before he opened his eyes again, reaching a hand to Rosie. "Be you ready, Rosie lass?"

Rosie sighed and shuddered herself, Sam's hand warm and broad around her own, Mr. Frodo's hair soft and darker than night amidst her fingers. "Let me see you kiss again," she said, her voice husky in her ears, "and I will be." Mr. Frodo grinned up at her at that, and raised his hand to Sam's cheek, tilting Sam's face towards himself; Sam's heavy-lidded eyes fell closed, his smiling mouth opening to Mr. Frodo's. They kissed again, leaning into each other, mouths opening to each other, and Rosie moaned at the sight, her knees going weak, as she sank down to join them.

Rosie woke up in the softest bed she'd ever lain in, beneath a sheet that felt as fine as her best chemise, her front tucked warmly against a bare-skinned back. Disoriented, she blinked, momentarily unable to remember how she'd wound up there, but the dark hair before her eyes told her everything she needed to know. She lay tucked up against Mr. Frodo. Mr. Frodo Baggins, gentlehobbit, Master of Bag End. And, on the other side of him, wrapped in those pale arms, lay Sam, sleeping like a full-fed baby, his head tucked beneath Mr. Frodo's chin. One of Sam's hands lay loose and warm on Rosie's arm, which she'd apparently draped over Mr. Frodo.

Rosie blushed hotly, amazed at her own cheek. What had she drunk last night, that she lay in bed now, not a stitch on, manhandling Mr. Frodo --- and that thought brought up a heated memory of how she'd handled him the last night, and Sam watching and smiling and kissing her as his turn came. Rosie remembered, and thought her face would catch fire, not least because underneath it all she wasn't really sorry as she should be.

Experimentally she wiggled her arm a bit, and Sam's hand slid off onto Mr. Frodo's ribs, which were just a bit painfully visible. He was so thin, she thought, wanting to run her hand over those ribs covered with velvet skin. Pulling her mischevious hand back, Rosie gently disentangled her legs from Mr. Frodo's and Sam's, moving slowly so as not to wake them, until she could finally sit up.

Her head didn't thank her for that. The softness of the bed made her nearly overbalance, and the swift movement sent her headache spiking through her head fiercely enough to dim the dawn light for a moment. Pressing her temples to keep her head from exploding and biting her lip to keep in a moan, Rosie looked at Sam and Mr. Frodo, asleep in each other's arms. It had quickly become obvious that they were lovers, but last night all Rosie could feel at that discovery was delight, as she watched them together, looking so same and so different and so beautiful, as they pulled her in so that she felt them together, before Mr. Frodo had led them both by the hand up to his own home and his own bed. The memories shimmered, unbidden and unstoppable, through Rosie's head: their laughter and fumbling fingers as they undid her garments; their sure, swift way with each others' clothes; the way Sam's wide brown hands looked on Mr. Frodo's pale skin; the moment when she kissed Mr. Frodo and tasted Sam on his lips and how that just whipped up the fire in her blood. Head pounding, heart aching, Rosie sat and watched them sleep, and remembered till she thought she'd burn into ashes right there on the side of Mr. Frodo's feather-bed, till she thought her heart would break at the beauty of them together.

At last, wanting to have been gone, wanting to get back into the bed, wanting to know the right thing to do, Rosie hauled herself to her feet. It was past dawn now, rising to morning, and she reminded herself that she ought to be getting on home before her parents fretted and sent her brothers to find her. The thought of any of her family finding out how she'd danced her Lithe made Rosie's face burn anew as she sorted through the clothes strewn all askew and outside-in on the floor. Slowly she straightened the clothes, smoothing out Mr. Frodo's fine garments and laying them on the chair by the window, folding Sam's and piling them neatly on the foot of the bed, shaking her own out so she could wear them home, as she thought of an old tale of a lass who had danced at Lithe with a beautiful ghost; in one version of the story the maiden bore for the rest of her life a kiss-shaped mark on her cheek, where the ghost's kiss had burned her with its cold. Rosie felt a bit like that, burned by a beautiful and perilous magic.

At least the crops will grow, she reminded herself in her mother's sensible voice. Her mother had said that after Lithe two years ago, when Tom had woken up at noon the next day, all done in and unable to remember the night before, or at least saying he couldn't remember. Her mother had so much sense; Rosie entertained a wild thought of telling her of this Lithe night, of asking her help to make sense of it all, before she dashed it away and pulled on her petticoats and chemise. She couldn't ask her mother this.

Rosie shook her hair, and a ribbon floated free; she turned to catch it----

---and fell into a pair of deep blue eyes.

She squeaked and jumped back as Mr. Frodo sat up, running a hand through his tousled hair, disheveled and beautiful; Rosie didn't know whom she envied more, him or Sam. He looked up at her with an unreadable gaze, and suddenly Rosie felt every imperfection and dishevelment, from her uncombed feet to her unlaced bodice to her disarrayed hair, and above them all, her very presence. "Mr. Frodo, sir, morning, sir, I'm just going, sir---"

"Rosie?" he asked, tilting his head, as Sam sat up beside him, rubbing his temples. As if in sympathy, her own head pounded all the more, and she took another step back, trying to lace her bodice herself even as her fingers shook worse and worse.

"Rosie, lass, you're shaking like a willow in a high wind." Sam was looking at her with something like wonder, and something she could almost have believed was delight, even though he was already blushing bright red. Sam climbed out of bed---before, Rosie would never have noticed the quick sweep of his fingers across Mr. Frodo's wrist--- and smiled when he saw his clothes straightened and folded. "Let me just dress, and I'll help you with that lacing."

"No, I, I" Rosie was forced to drop the laces and press her hands to her prickling eyes. She was not going to cry as if it had been her first time, even though the warm simple three-part dance of the night before had fragmented this morning into something sharp and dangerous and complicated and confusing. Sam let his shirt hang unbuttoned and untucked as he firmly took her laces and did them up, while Rosie shook helplessly, gulping air and trying to think of nothing.

When she opened her eyes again Sam was looking at her the same way Mr. Frodo was, and she realized that their brows were furrowed with worry. For her? About her? Rosie looked from the brown eyes to the blue, and couldn't say a word. She found herself heartily wishing she hadn't leaned forward, skipped forward, been forward...and yet, that night was scorched into her mind, and it would be a memory she would be glad to have, if she could survive this day.

Mr. Frodo stood up, bare as he'd been born and not seeming to notice a whit, and reached out for her hand. "Rosie," he asked gently, "are you all right?" Sam laid his broad, warm hand on her shoulder, and though she tried to nod, caught between them once more she couldn't but shake her head.

Mr. Frodo sighed, but when she dared a glance at him he was looking at her kindly, perhaps even fondly. He looked at her for a long moment, as if making up what to say, but before he said anything Sam did. "Begging your pardon, sir," said Sam reluctantly, "but it's well into morning, and Rosie and I should go down to the Party Field and help with the clean-up."

"And reappear before your families come looking for you both." Mr. Frodo sighed again, but the look he turned on Sam was nothing less than fond. "Tell the crew to come by here for luncheon, Sam?"

"Mr. Frodo, you should be in bed, not cooking for us all. You must be hung over---"

"And you're not?" Even as they bickered, they smiled at each other, and Rosie suddenly felt like laughing as well as crying. "You two will have some water with me before you go." With that he pulled a robe from the pile of blankets at the foot of the bed, belted it around himself, and led them both to the kitchen, where he gave them both mugs of cool water and sweet biscuits, and watched them eat and drink before he had anything. After a little straightening, washing-up, and buttoning, Mr. Frodo let Sam and Rosie out by the mudroom door. "It's not that I am ashamed of you," Mr. Frodo made sure to say. "Either of you," he emphasized to Rosie, and she smiled shakily for reply, Sam's arm around her shoulders.

"I always know that, Mr. Frodo," said Sam quietly, and Mr. Frodo smiled at that and kissed him, not for very long but very warmly. Then he took Rosie's hand in his again and raised it to his lips, his eyes holding hers; despite it all, Rosie squeezed his hand, before she let go and Sam walked her down the back path.

"We might as well go home and change into working-clothes," Rosie heard herself saying, as if some part of her had regained its normal sense.

Sam squeezed her shoulders. "If you don't mind, I'd rather go to the Party Field first so they know we're not in a ditch somewhere."

"They'll think we spent the night together." That same calm voice, or was it shocky?

Sam smiled at that, and replied, "well, lass, we did at that!", but when Rosie said nothing he stopped her and looked at her. "Are you sorry, Rosie?"

Rosie thought about his question, looking up into Sam's wide brown eyes and the sunlight beyond his golden hair. She looked back at Bag End and the garden around it, lushly beautiful even on the back hillslope where no one could see, the work of Sam's hands, Sam's love, every bud and fruit seen and appreciated by Mr. Frodo, and loved right back. When she looked up at Sam again, she shook her head and smiled and said, "no, no I'm not sorry," and Sam smiled in turn.

His smile was a bit dented by the next thing she said, and she hated saying it, but it was part of the answer, too. "I had thought, though, Sam Gamgee, I thought I knew your mind."

"You've always," Sam replied, holding her closer as they began to walk again. "Now you know my heart."

Rosie shook her head. He felt so solid and real beside her, but how could she believe it? "But, I had thought, I always thought that, one day, now that you've come of age, you would want a hole full of children, Sam."

Sam considered this in silence for so long that Rosie nearly took it back; finally he spoke, looking ahead as their path took them into the woods around the Party Field. "I might yet. When Mr. Frodo and I first knew each other's hearts, we talked about that. He wanted to be sure, he didn't want to 'cheat' me, he said." Sam shook his head at that, smiling, such love in his face Rosie could hardly breathe. "Mr. Frodo, they say he's mad like Mr. Bilbo was, but it's just that, he thinks higher, different. He thinks things no one else does. He thinks he'd like to see me married, if I want it, if I find a lass who could understand what he and me are to each other." Here Sam looked sidelong at Rosie.

A shard of ice that had impaled Rosie's heart all morning melted at that look as if in the spring sun, though she kept her nose pointing forward as stubbornly as Sam did his. "The right lass might understand," she agreed, as calmly as if her heart weren't beating madly. "And be right lucky in that understanding."

Sam squeezed her shoulders, and they stepped together into the sunshine of the Party Field, to their families' greetings and laughter and cheers.

Four slow hot July days passed, and Rosie threw herself into her chores and returned Sam's friendly smiles and curtseyed to Mr. Frodo and didn't think whenever she could manage it. On July Fifth it rained, and Rosie sat inside all day mending her brothers' clothes and trying, and failing, not to think of the past Lithe. Her fingers, trailing over the cloth to find the holes, remembered the feel of velvety, moonlight-pale skin and sun-browned, gentle, calloused hands; she stitched to the remembered rhythm of heartbeats and gasps; she thought of the feel of Mr. Frodo's fine clothes as she folded and smoothed her brothers' coarse garments. Rosie was remembering how her name sounded in whispers and in moans when a voice shouted, "Rosie!"; she gasped and jumped and pricked herself, and swore under her breath.

"Mam would box your ears to hear you say that," observed Jolly, leaning on the wall. "What're you woolgathering about, anyway?"

"And what d'ye want, Jolly Cotton?" Rosie snapped, feeling herself blush most annoyingly and quite disinclined to answer his question.

Jolly waggled his eyebrows at Rosie. "Sam Gamgee's come to see you."

Though her hands shook and her brother smirked, Rosie folded the breeches in her lap, stood up, brushed off her skirts, and calmly walked out to meet Sam, holding her head high even when Jolly and Tom snickered and commented to each other behind her as she stepped through the front doorway. Sam smiled at her, a poppy in his hand; Rosie tucked it behind her ear, linked arms with him, and all but dragged him away from her home.

It was a beautiful evening, fresh and wet and cool after the rain, the sun low in the west beneath ruddy clouds, but Rosie hardly noticed as she marched herself and Sam away from her family's prying eyes. When she was far enough away, out of sight among some trees, Rosie let out a long breath, leaning her head on Sam's arm as she let all the pride that had held her ramrod-straight drain away. "Oh, Sam, I thought I'd never see you more. I've missed you."

"I've missed you, too," Sam laid his other hand over hers on his arm. "I'm sorry to worry you, but didn't want to come by too soon---"

"My family half has us married already," Rosie filled in. "And me two years from being of age, and even though everyone knows Festival dancing is about the Festival and not ordinary days.. Don't I get to be a tween before I'm a matron? At least they lighted on you, Sam, at least you're my friend."

Sam squeezed her hand, but didn't say anything more for a long moment; when she looked up she found his cheeks as red as the poppy he'd brought her. "Samwise," Rosie asked slowly," why do you blush?"

Sam shook his head, but Rosie kept her eyes steady on him, and after a moment he turned to look at her. "Because I have something to tell you, Rosie Cotton, and I hardly know what it rightly is to tell it to myself, or if you'll want to hear it."

"Try me, Sam Gamgee."

Sam took a deep breath, then, and fixed his eyes on a spot about a handsbreadth above her head; Rosie took a deep breath, and tried not to look at Sam's wide eyes and broad shoulders, and listened. "If I were going to marry, Rosie, I would want to marry you. But this isn't---I'm not asking, and not just because I haven't the money saved as yet. I feel," Rosie made an encouraging noise as her heart turned over and over, and Sam went on. "You may well think this is naught but the result of Mr. Bilbo and Mr. Frodo stuffing my head full of tales, and perhaps it is, but I feel I have something to do before I can marry. Mr. Frodo, he's as light and unsettled as a tween, and I think he has an adventure before him, just like Mr. Bilbo did. And when Mr. Frodo goes on that adventure, I think he'll need me with him."

Now Sam looked into Rosie's eyes, and she looked back, trying to make sense of the wild thing this seemingly sturdy hobbit lad had just told her. She could have thought that it was nothing but a fancy, nothing but foolishness, except that, when she looked into Sam's eyes she saw the certainty there, and when she looked into her heart she saw, beside the refusal to be sorry for Lithe, the knowledge that he was right.

"I think," Rosie said, "I understand."

Sam's whole face lit up at that, and he kissed her, then let go of her, blushing as if he'd catch fire.

Rosie raised her hand to her lips, feeling the warmth of the kiss going all through her, feeling again like laughing and crying at once. Sam looked at her cautiously, and she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him back. "Sam Gamgee, I would wait for you till the king came back."

To her surprised dismay, Sam's face fell, and he raised his hands to Rosie's arms as if to disentangle her from himself. "No, lass, no. I don't want you to wait for me."

"But, Sam, I..." I thought you wanted me, Rosie thought, but did not say. She let go of Sam, hoping she could run away before she began crying, but he caught her hands, and almost unwillingly she looked at him again.

"Oh, Rosie. I'm Samwise indeed. I mucked the telling of this all up. I want you, I said it and I meant it. But I can't ask you, not as I am now, knowing what I don't know, if you follow me." Rosie wasn't sure she did, but she nodded anyway. "I know, I don't know what it is, but I know Mr. Frodo needs me now, and he will need all of me one day, so I can't promise aught to anyone else, and I wouldn't cheat you that way. You---" Sam's voice broke, and he turned red again, but he glanced down, swallowed, and looked up again. "You're lovely as a flower, and warm as the Sun, and I couldn't ask you to wait for me when you could walk out with a better hobbit and bloom and be happy."

"I don't think there is a better hobbit than you, Samwise Gamgee, but for that you want to do my choosing for me," Rosie said as sharply as she could, though her hands clutched Sam's tightly. "I've known you since we were little, and I'll know you when we're gray and bent. As for now---" Here her inspiration left her, and she looked down at their joined hands, trying to make sense of it all, and found the sense again. "For now, Sam, you're my friend, and I won't ask more from you than that. I'm two years too young to marry. In two years, we can think about all of this again, and see where we are."

Sam's expression was as unsettled as Rosie's heart, part worried, part delighted, all Sam. "Aye. Till then, I just....I want you to be happy, Rosie."

"Stay my friend, Sam, and I will be." Sam pulled her into his arms at that, and they held each other for a long moment. His arms strong around her, Rosie laid her head on Sam's shoulder and felt his broad back warm under her hands and breathed in the warm male scent of him, and felt almost content.

Eventually, she reluctantly pulled away. "We'd best be getting back." Sam nodded, then blinked. "I nearly forgot! Mr. Frodo gave me a note for you." Sam produced the note, a small folded square of heavy paper with her name on one side. Rosie looked at it in wonder, turning it over in her fingers, touching the red blob of sealing wax on the far side, before finally, carefully opening it.

Dear Miss Cotton,
I would be delighted if you would take tea with me on July Seventh at Two O'Clock in the Afternoon.
Yours, Mr. Frodo Baggins.

Rosie read the note over three times, looking at Mr. Frodo's handwriting, remembering when she had stamped her child's feet and cried, "'tis not fair that Sam can read a story and I can't!" and Mr. Frodo had responded, "is that so? Then let me show you how to read." If not for him neither she nor Sam would ever have learned their letters, or so much else.

Rosie folded the note and tucked it into her bodice. "I haven't anything fit to write a reply on, Sam. Can you carry my answer back?" Sam nodded, and Rosie took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. "Please tell Mr. Frodo I say yes."

Rosie stood before the round green front door of Bag End, clenching her fingers in her skirt. She had dressed carefully; her first impulse to wear her best had been crushed by the realization that she couldn't tell her family of this invitation. Her mother would likely go with her as chaperone, or send Tom, and besides they'd want to know why even an eccentric gentlehobbit such as Mr. Frodo would want to have tea with Rosie, and that she was not going to explain to them.

So, she told them he'd asked her to do some work for him, and worn her newest working-dress, and laced her bodice as tightly as she could, and hoped she looked like something other than, well, what she was.

The door opened, and Mr. Frodo stood there, smiling as if she were a guest. "Mr. Frodo, sir," Rosie said, curtseying.

"Miss Rosie, come in." He bowed in greeting before her wide eyes, shut the door behind her, and gave her his arm. Gingerly, careful not to be too forward, she took it, and they walked to his dining room.

Rosie hadn't known what she'd expected, but it certainly wasn't this. Mr. Frodo sat her down and refused to let her fetch anything, and even served her a cup of tea and a plate of cakes and summer fruits. Rosie looked at the beautiful food on the beautiful plate, and the teacup like a painted eggshell, and the polished table, and the polished gentlehobbit sitting across from her, and felt her mouth dry up and her stomach clench. The world felt topsy-turvy.

"Rosie? I've never seen a hobbit resist strawberries before." Mr. Frodo smiled at her, and she took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Mr. Frodo. It's just, this is all so lovely and rich. I'm not, I'm not a gentlehobbit, sir, I'm not used to this. Nor to you."

Mr. Frodo's smile tilted wryly. "Sam used to say that. All the time." He laid his hand on the table, palm up; Rosie looked at it, at the dabs of ink staining the fair skin, the slenderness of fingers whose cleverness she remembered well, and blushed, and laid her wide small rough hand in his. "You used to be used to me, when you were small."

"I remember, sir." She did, those days when she was a child, making Mr. Bilbo's tall young cousin laugh and learning her letters from him and drinking in his stories; other children drifted away, but she and Sam kept returning, till she was too grown for her parents to let her go. Sam had never stopped. "I remember those days, and loved them, but when I was small I didn't have to behave proper."

Frodo sighed at that, and nodded, and squeezed her hand. "I suppose I'm lucky enough to have won through propriety to have Sam. It would be more luck than one hobbit could have...the tea is growing cold. Can you eat anything? You should at least try a cake. Sam made them for you, you know."

Rosie looked at the sly cheer in Mr. Frodo's expression and couldn't help but smile; then she looked at her plate again, picked up a cake, and took a bite. It was predictably delicious. And, after all, she was a hobbit; that bite led to others, and before she knew it her plate was empty and full and empty again, and she felt better, and she and Mr. Frodo were talking again and laughing. Eventually, Mr. Frodo had gone back to the kitchen for more tea; Rosie smiled, laughter still echoing in her ears, and picked up a redcurrant. It popped on her fingers, and she giggled and licked them just as a flash of movement caught her eyes.

Mr. Frodo stood in the doorway, looking at her. He smiled, and she realized she was sucking on her index finger, and blushed redder than the redcurrant. He grinned at that, with the mischief she knew of old, and suddenly she giggled, and they were laughing again, as merrily as when she'd been young enough to ride on his shoulders.

"Oh, Mr. Frodo," Rosie said, holding out her hand again, and he set down the teapot and took her hand, stroking the back of it with his thumb. "Oh, I should have known, really, how Sam would love you."

That earned her a blush from his pale cheeks, and a smile that was almost shy. "Thank you, Rosie. He also loves you, you know."

"I know." Rosie smiled at that, the pleasure of hearing it bittersweet but undeniable. "We talked, when he brought me your note. I had been wondering why he hadn't spoken, since he came of age. I'd not ask, but I had wondered. Now I know, and I---I'm glad to know."

Mr. Frodo smiled at that, as bittersweet an expression on his face as in her heart, and placed his other hand atop hers. "I had worried, well, so many things. That you would feel I'd come between you, to start with. I feel sometimes as if I have."

"If you did, it's because Sam chose to put you there, and I told him he couldn't do my choosing for me. I can't do his choosing for him." That last hurt to say, but it was a pain that healed. Even so, Rosie felt her eyes filling.

"Ah, Rosie." Mr. Frodo raised his hand to her cheek, his thumb gently catching the tear that spilled over. "I told Sam I hoped I hadn't made things harder for you two. I want you both to be happy."

"I know, Mr. Frodo. And I want you and Sam to be happy. He feels you need him."

The thumb moved over her cheekbone, catching another tear. "I wish I could say I didn't. But I do. I feel," Mr. Frodo's eyes unfocused as he looked into space, till Rosie could almost see the thoughts spinning behind his eyes. "I feel as if I have something before me to do. I'm going to be fifty in three years, and Bilbo set out on his adventures when he was fifty." He dreamt for a long moment more, his eyes focused on the unseen, before they turned back to her face. "I wish I could see Sam settled and happy, but I fear I may have filled his head with my moonshine."

Rosie smiled at that. "His feet are still on the ground, Mr. Frodo. And, at any rate, we have time. You'll be fifty in three years, though no one would believe it to look at you, and I'll be thirty-three in two years, so none of this needs to be settled now. For now, Mr. Frodo, Sam is my friend, and, I hope, so are you."

"I am. I very much am. Come here?" Mr. Frodo drew Rosie around the edge of the table to sit on his lap, and wound his arms around her waist. Firmly telling the voice of propriety within her to shut up, Rosie leaned against his shoulder, and they sat together warmly.

"I am sorry, Rosie," Mr. Frodo murmured into her hair, and shushed her when she opened her mouth to reply. "Not for Lithe. Never for that. That was a wonderful night. You're beautiful, you know. And Sam is beautiful. And the two of you together..." he trailed off for a moment, winding his arms more tightly about Rosie's middle, leaving her thrillingly breathless. "Perhaps I shouldn't have pulled you two back to my bed. That took it from a Festival dance that no one marks, to something between the three of us that marked us. But I wanted, I wanted you both in my bed, and I wanted to shut out all the rest of the world. I hope you can forgive me my greediness."

Well, what could be said to that? Rosie leaned back a little, and when Mr. Frodo turned his head to look into her face, she leaned down and kissed him.

He kisses differently than Sam, thought the small corner of her mind that could still think, that wasn't engaged in stroking her hand over a high cheekbone and tangling her fingers in dark curls and parting her lips warmly over his and feeling his hands sliding up her back to wreath themselves in her curls as he pulled her closer. Then those fingers tensed, as he pulled her head back to kiss his way down her throat, and she couldn't think of anything at all beyond the moist heat of his mouth on her skin.

Rosie heard a moan and realized it was hers, and that thought sobered her enough to realize where and who she was. She was a lass, not a lad; even as a tween, there were liberties lads could take that lasses couldn't, and pressures she could not put this wonderful, fragile friendship under. And if she didn't get up soon she wouldn't rise from Mr. Frodo's lap until he picked her up to carry her to his bed.

That she couldn't have, because she wanted it. She couldn't have it with Sam, not when he couldn't promise to marry her and she had agreed not to bind him, and she certainly couldn't have it with Mr. Frodo.

"Sir?" Rosie croaked, trying to sit back and gently pull Mr. Frodo's head up. For a moment he held her tighter still with those surprisingly strong, sweetly bossy hands; then he heard her, and his arms fell away from her as his head came up. "Oh," he blinked, and then smiled, and then blushed as red as she'd ever seen a hobbit. "Oh. Rosie. I-"

Rosie laid a finger on his lips for a moment, then climbed off his lap and wobbled on unsteady feet back to her own chair. "Don't apologize," she said, feeling her smile lopsided, but feeling it true. "I, I liked that. I just, we just can't. Not like this."

Mr. Frodo took a deep breath and smiled crookedly. "Yes, we can't. But I'm glad, Rosie, that you're my friend."

"I am too, Mr. Frodo. I am."

Life settled back down after that, but not quite as before. Rosie did her work and smiled and minded her parents and laughed. Sometimes she would walk out with Sam, and they would sit together and talk and kiss, but, mindfully, stay at that. Before he brought her back to her door, Rosie would always give Sam two last kisses, one for him and one for Mr. Frodo, and he would smile and cradle her face in his warm hands as she gave them to him. Sometimes Mr. Frodo would invite the families of Bagshot Row over for dinner or for tea and stories, and would smile at Rosie; twice he lent her a book over her parents' protests that such learning was wasted on a lass. When the families left he would kiss the misses' hands, and Sam's sisters would giggle, but Rosie would flush pink and squeeze his hand in return, just for a moment.

Sometimes Rosie would lie in bed in her own tiny windowless room, the privilege and prison of the only girl, and wonder at her contentment when she and Sam were less settled than ever. Except that, as she came to realize, now she knew his mind and his heart. It would hardly have seemed proper to anyone she told of it, but somehow between the three of them it was right, and when she thought of Sam's voice, saying "If I were to marry, I would marry you", her heart grew so warm she was surprised she couldn't see the light coming through her, and she would roll over and sleep with a smile.

Also, twice a year, at Lithe and at Yule, no matter whom she started out dancing with, Rosie would vanish when it was late enough, and so would Sam, and so would Mr. Frodo.

The first Yule, it hadn't been planned. As she was tying ribbons in her hair that morning, Rosie's mother brought her a mug of bitterroot tea and a spoonful of redcurrant jam, and when she blushed and stammered, her mother winked and said, "'Tis one of two times a year you can drink it, my Rosie, with you not handfasted and all, though I do not know what that Gamgee lad is waiting for to ask you." Rosie blushed deeper at that, but all she said was, "Thank you, Mam," and drank the bitterroot down and licked the spoonful of jam to kill the taste.

That night the Yule fire burned hot and sweet-smelling, what with all the herb-charms the Hobbiton tweens cast into it to bring their wishes true in the new year. Rosie danced and laughed, as she always had, but inside she wondered if she shouldn't just leave and go to bed. The bitterroot made her feel vaguely ill, and no one caught her eye enough to tug their hands and dance them away from the firelight towards a warm shadow.

Then she spun in a dance, and someone stumbled towards her, his head flashing golden in the firelight. She reached out to steady him, and felt her hands curl around Sam's strong shoulders. "Sam!" Rosie cried, and he smiled bashfully down at her, already spinning with her in the dance, and suddenly it seemed a better, brighter party by far.

A little more dancing, talking, laughing, and Rosie found herself being gently tugged from the main gathering, and went willingly, though she drew Sam's ear down to hers to doubtfully whisper, "I don't know if there are any free corners." She gently nipped that ear to show that her words weren't a refusal, and delighted to feel Sam quiver beside her; when he turned his head he was smiling, cheeks ruddy, eyes dark. "I know a place," he whispered in her ear, and kissed the spot beneath it. "If you're willing to go there again."

Rosie gasped, knowing her eyes were round with surprise. He couldn't mean, he must mean---! "Oh, but, oh, Sam, yes, yes I am willing. Let's go, before my sense comes back."

Mr. Frodo met them at the mudroom door, smiling a mysterious little smile, and brought them into the smaller parlor, where a large fire had burned down to banks of warm coals. Rosie sat with Sam's arm round her and battled with her sense, which had returned to clamor in the back of her head that this was madness and moonshine, that she should get up and snatch her cloak and run home. Mr. Frodo had stepped out of the room, and Sam was basking with closed eyes in the warmth, so she quietly snuggled into Sam's side and tried to remember the wild warmth of the dancing, when she had thought this all was a good idea.

Mr. Frodo returned with a wine bottle and three beautiful glasses held carelessly between his fingers. He poured one full of ruby-red wine and handed it to Rosie; she took a sip and found her mouth full of a warm sharp sunny sweetness, the best of a summertime's fullness of grapes all together on her tongue. It slid warmly down her throat and into her heart and out to the ends of her fingers and toes and the tip of her nose and the top of her head, pushing back the winter's chill, drowning and quieting the nagging voice in the back of her head. Rosie opened her eyes, finding she'd closed them, and took another sip, only with difficulty managing not to drain her glass.

Mr. Frodo looked over the top of his glass at her. "Do you like it, Miss Rosie?"

Like it? Rosie wasn't sure such an ordinary word could be applied to such a marvellous drink. "It's, it's lovely, Mr. Frodo, what is it?"

"Old Winyards. Bilbo left me a few bottles." Mr. Frodo topped up her glass and Sam's, smiling all the more, and Rosie took another swallow of the best wine she'd ever had. Sam finished his glass and set it down carefully to the side, then put the other arm around her. "How do you feel?" he asked.

Rosie looked up at him, her glass empty in her hand, her head pleasantly light. "Warm," she said, smiling. "Warm and light. I might float away, if you don't hold me."

"We can't have that, now, can we?" Sam slipped one hand beneath her chin, and Rosie tilted her head back as he leaned down to kiss her. Sam kissed Rosie warmly and gently and thoroughly, his hand cradling her face; Mr. Frodo slid onto the seat beside them, hot against Rosie's other side, and she felt Sam's hand leave her waist to take Mr. Frodo's, even as Mr. Frodo's other arm went around both Rosie and Sam. They wriggled closer, and Rosie found herself pressed between them as Mr. Frodo kissed beneath her ear and Sam started unlacing her bodice and who needed a bonfire in all this heat? Rosie certainly didn't, as her fingers began undoing fine buttons and Mr. Frodo leaned forward onto her to kiss Sam and she felt herself moan for the sheer hot joy of it.

"I nearly forgot." Mr. Frodo's voice was husky as he leaned back a bit, his shirt half-unbuttoned, the skin revealed faintly glowing in the candlelight. "I've Yule mathoms for you, my beautiful friends." He turned and reached over the side of the seat, as Sam's hands slid gently over Rosie's belly. Fingers over her head in Sam's hair, Rosie idly wondered what they could be; Mr. Frodo had already given Yule mathoms to everyone living on Bagshot Row, he had given her a jar of rosehip jam. What now?

Mr. Frodo turned around again, with a ribbon and a little baked-clay pot in his hand. "This is for you, Rosie," he said, handing her the ribbon; it was bright red, embroidered and edged in gold. She smiled and leaned forward to kiss him, as he handed Sam the pot; the kiss was warm and moist before it ended, but a strange sound from Sam, somewhere between a gasp and a snort, made Rosie turn back around to see a bright red, yet smiling, Sam, staring down into the little pot.

"Sam, what is---goose grease?" Rosie raised her confused eyes to him, but he blushed all the more, and yet smiled all the more; she turned to find Mr. Frodo grinning most mischeviously. "That is Sam's mathom from me," he explained, blue eyes twinkling wickedly," and yours is to see what we do with it."

With that Mr. Frodo stood, blew out the candles, and gave Rosie his hand. Sam, still blushing and still smiling, stood and took Rosie's other hand, and Mr. Frodo led them off to his bedroom.

Rosie came awake slowly this time, knowing full well where she was and so happy to be there she was a little surprised at herself. It was still dark, but a half-moon had risen to cast silver light across the bed. Sam lay on his back, head tipped back, gently snoring; Rosie lay curled around his side, her head on his chest, while Mr. Frodo had snuggled his back into Sam and pulled her arm across both of them like a blanket.

Rosie looked up at Sam's profile in the moonlight, a face always gentle, now innocent in sleep. She looked up and remembered how that face had looked between her hands, trailing kisses across Mr. Frodo's chest and belly, pressing forward over her shoulder to kiss a path up to her mouth....and then Rosie remembered how Sam's face had looked above hers, as she held him in her arms and Mr. Frodo had entered him from behind, kissing his neck, whispering something soft and foreign and obviously loving, and Rosie had just held him, watching in awe. A tear had run from Sam's closed eye, and when Rosie kissed it away Sam had moved his face blindly, capturing her mouth with his own, kissing her harder than he ever had, moaning into the kiss as Mr. Frodo moaned love-words that slid up into a cry of pure pleasure, and a moment later Sam shook all over in Rosie's arms, wet heat bursting out over her hand. Then they both proceeded to collapse on her, but Rosie almost didn't mind; after witnessing that, she almost could have died happy.

Still, air was sweet, and they had been amusingly apologetic as they wiggled off her and she gasped and laughed at them and snuggled into Sam's side. Now she lay beside them, warm in Mr. Frodo's soft bed, drifting back to sleep almost before she realized it.

Sam woke her while it was still dark but for the bedroom fire, gently stroking her cheek till she opened her eyes. "Rosie, we'd best be up and home," he whispered, and she nodded, and leaned forward to kiss him briefly before sitting up. This time her head felt fuzzy but just fine.

"Oh no you don't," mumbled a sleepy heap of coverlet on Sam's far side. Mr. Frodo emerged from the coverlet to stretch like a cat and yawn hugely and reach for Rosie's hand. "This time you can at least have breakfast with me, both of you."

Rosie squeezed his hand, but still protested, "Mr. Frodo, we should---"

"Must you call me 'Mister' even in bed?" Mr. Frodo rolled his eyes, then rubbed them, as Sam chuckled. "It's who you are, sir," he replied, and Mr. Frodo attempted to pretend to glare at him, then gave it up and kissed him instead.

Lit by an assortment of candles that looked positively spectacular to Rosie's frugal eyes, Mr. Frodo yawned his way through being helped by Sam in preparing tea and toast. While he was distracted, Rosie found fresh sheets and made the bed, humming quietly to herself; then she brought her bodice down to the kitchen, and Mr. Frodo laced it for her this time, kissing her as he worked.

By the time they ate the toast with cheese and jam it was just the start of dawn. "Well, I think I like this Yule celebration," Mr. Frodo said, satisfied as a cat in cream, and Rosie blushed and smiled at him, until a memory came back to her. "Mr. Frodo, you told me once that it hadn't been right of you to bring us back here from Lithe. What changed your thoughts?"

"Well, Rosie, would you say that we didn't fill the Yule with warmth?" Rosie had to giggle at that, and shake her head 'no'. Sam put down his teacup, gently as a feather, and held out his hands to Mr. Frodo and to Rosie. "I think I like this way of celebrating, sir."

Mr. Frodo took Sam's hand in one hand, and reached for Rosie's with the other, the question clear on his face. "I do, too," Rosie said, and meant it, and was delighted by both their smiles.

Three years went by, of proper behavior and walks with Sam and two festivals a year. One late spring day Rosie found a pink-purple bruise on Sam's collarbone, and giggled fit to fall over when his blush told her how he'd come by it; that Lithe, Rosie opened dazed, wet-lashed eyes to find that Mr. Frodo had given her a matching mark, high up on her neck where it couldn't be hidden, and her whole family teased her and Sam for it for weeks even after it had faded, marveling aloud that gentle Sam could do such a thing while Rosie and Sam looked at each other and blushed. When Mr. Frodo went to Tookland for his birthday, he sent Sam and Rosie birthday gifts, honey for Rosie and fine biscuits for Sam, and they curled up at the base of a spreading tree and shared their gifts as they talked and kissed and read his letter together. Sometimes, Rosie would look at Mr. Frodo's ink-dappled fingers or up into Sam's honest brown eyes and feel such wanting she could almost have died of it; more often, she would lie in bed and remember the most recent festival, the last kiss Sam had given her, the last time Mr. Frodo had smiled at her, and feel well content.

One fall day Rosie was hanging the wash and thinking about her last walk with Sam, humming a slow, sad, beautiful song that Sam had said he'd learned from Mr. Frodo, when her mother came out with the next basket, but sat down instead of starting to hang it. "Rosie, I want a word with you."

"Mam?" That tone did not bode well.

"Rosie, it's no secret that every festival you dance with all the lads but the one you disappear with is Samwise Gamgee. It's no secret that you two walk out together. But still, you're not handfasted, and he's three years of age and you come of age in the spring. Did he not ask, or did you say nay?"

Rosie took a deep breath. This was her mother, her wise, loving, sharp-eyed mother, her sturdy hobbit mother. How could she even begin to explain the truth? How could she even think of lying? "Oh, Mam. It's complicated, Mam. We talked, Sam and I. It's more complicated than that."

"There ain't nothing complicated about it," huffed her mother. "You're a lass nearly of age, he's a lad of age, you care for each other, what else is there? Waiting for the king to come back?"

Rosie snorted at that, and remembered that very turn of speech in another conversation, and laughed as she rubbed her wet eyes. "Oh, Mam. Sam and I will be fine. Please let it be..."

Rosie's mother peered at her, leaning close. "I don't want to see you end up pining away for a lad without sense to speak his heart, Rosie. You deserve better." Rosie nodded and smiled reassuringly, quaking inside, and her mother regarded her for a long moment, then mercifully let it be.

Rosie came of age, and her life kept up its pattern. Her mother gave her curious, sharp glances, and sometimes she wondered herself why she never spoke to Sam about handfasting or Mr. Frodo of his hazy future, but everything was balanced between them, it didn't seem needful yet. That Yule Mr. Frodo went to Buckland, taking Sam with him, and Rosie felt all her family watching her to see who she'd dance with in Sam's absence; laughing hollowly, she spun with all the lads, then escaped to her own narrow hard bed and cried herself to sleep, hating the day she had ever kissed Mr. Frodo and entangled herself in the truth of what he and Sam were to each other. The next morning her brothers all looked at her with wide eyes and her parents looked at her with pitying ones, but no one said anything, and for that Rosie was grateful beyond words.

Two leaden days later, and Rosie was scrubbing the luncheon dishes when her father came back from talking to someone at the door. "You have a letter," he said to her, looking dubiously at the folded paper in his hand.

"Me?" Letters were a gentlehobbit's pastime. Rosie dried her hands swiftly and took the letter; it did indeed say "Miss Rose Cotton", and her address, both in Mr. Frodo's firm hand, and the return address was Brandy Hall. When she opened it a smaller folded note nearly fell free; under cover of coughing Rosie tucked that into her bodice and sat near the window to read the main sheet. Her father was too stolid to ask what it was, but she heard him tapping his big toe, and said, "it's a list of tasks Mr. Frodo would like for me to do, to ready Bag End for his return." That was true enough.

"And he can't ask the Gamgee lasses?" Rosie's father snorted. "I think sometimes Mr. Frodo spoils you, my Rosie, wasting your time with books and stories. If you weren't Sam's friend, I might think he's courting you, and you know that could come to no good."

Rosie laughed as best she could over the pounding of her heart, and put up a show of stubbornness. "Dad, if he hadn't learned me my letters, no one on Bagshot Row but Sam would be able to read. Haven't I made good use of being able to read for you? Besides, Mr. Frodo's been my friend since I was a small lass."

"Yes, and you ain't small now, Rosie, any more than Sam is." Her father favored her with the same sharp gaze her mother had been giving her for over a year, and Rosie tried to return it steadily as if there were nothing in her heart that her father didn't know. After an endless moment, he shook his head. "Speaking of Sam, Gaffer Gamgee might have more cause to worry than I. Do you think Mr. Frodo is courting him?"

"Who, the Gaffer?" Rosie deliberately misunderstood, and her father's guffaws of laughter hid the false notes in her own giggles. Oh, Sam, she thought, putting on her lightest face. "Dad, I don't know but that Mr. Frodo's courting no one. Wasn't Mr. Bilbo a bachelor before him?"

"Ah, you're likely right, my lass." Rosie's father patted her hair. "I hope Mr. Frodo pays enough for a new party frock for you." Rosie smiled at that, relaxing, and made her escape to put the letter up carefully in her room.

There she pulled out the inner letter, and read it as quietly as she could, barely breathing as her lips moved to shape the words.

Dear Rosie,
I am sorry I neither came back nor returned to you your Sam in time for Yule. We both missed you. I did not intend such a long stay, but my cousins are very persuasive. The outer note said that will be back on the Fifth of January, but we will actually return on the Fourth. I hope you can be there.

Underneath that, in a scratchier, larger hand:

Dear Rosee,
One day you shuld see the Brandy Hall gardens. Roses for acres. Must be lovely in the summer. Not half as lovely as you.

Rosie folded the letter up again, and tucked it into the crack of the bed beside the invitation, and shed several tears of pure happiness before she pulled her face straight and went back out.

Rosie stood in the Bag End mudroom, hands on hips, wondering what else she could do. It was the morning of the Fourth of January, barely time for second breakfast, and easily half of the items on Mr. Frodo's list were completely made up, and the other half had gone quickly. She took off her apron, wondering if she dared go into Mr. Frodo's study and look at the wealth of books; then the mudroom door opened and in came Sam and Mr. Frodo. Sam promptly dropped his pack and swept Rosie up in his arms and kissed her, as Mr. Frodo laughed behind him. "That's very unfair, Sam, rushing ahead like that," he said cheerfully, and some small part of Rosie's mind marvelled at how she could still hear him through the roar of her own blood in her veins as she wound her arms around Sam's neck and returned his kiss. Then Sam let her down, and Mr. Frodo took her hand and pulled her in to kiss her as well.

"There's bread and cheese and jam, and chicken soup cooking---"Rosie's attempt to ask what they might like for luncheon was caught in another kiss from Mr. Frodo, as Sam laughed and put his arms around her waist from behind. "We ain't hungry, me dear," Sam murmured into her ear as he nibbled on it. "All we both want is you."

Rosie gasped at that, and Mr. Frodo took the opportunity to slide his tongue up over her lip, and she couldn't help but yield to his kiss, parting her lips further, and felt herself moan as Sam nibbled down her ear to kiss her neck. Some worry buzzed in the back of her head, but she hardly heeded it until Mr. Frodo let go her mouth to claim Sam's, and as she turned her face up to watch them kiss she felt herself sandwiched between two excited hobbit lads, and had a sudden thought of presenting her parents with an inexplicably dark-haired, blue-eyed child. The gasp that wrung from her was not one of passion, and Sam and Mr. Frodo broke off their kiss to regard her with concern. "Rosie?" Mr. Frodo asked as Sam took a step back to give her space. Rosie wriggled free, taking a deep, heaving breath, and couldn't raise her eyes, so she looked at her disheveled feet as she struggled to explain. "I can't, I can't catch a baby," she stammered.

Rosie heard a brief rummaging, and then Sam slipped his hand beneath her chin to turn her face up to his, holding a slightly crushed flower in his other hand. She looked from the warm brown eyes to the drooping green umbel, and tilted her head, and realized she was looking at a bitterroot flower. "You would not believe what grows in the greenhouse at Brandy Hall," said Mr. Frodo, smiling and shrugging out of his weskit as he came up behind Sam, who handed Rosie the flower and caught the discarded weskit. As Rosie looked at the flower, drooping its tiny stems and flowerlets over her hand, Mr. Frodo continued merrily, "however, I am afraid that my cousin Pervinca says the flower tastes even worse than the tea."

"We should've given it to you before," Sam said apologetically. "But, well..." he trailed off, blushing eloquently, and Mr. Frodo patted him on the back, his hand settling to caress Sam's shoulder. Rosie couldn't help but smile. "Then let me just fetch a cup of water---"

"Wait, I have something better." Mr. Frodo rummaged a moment in his pack, and pulled out a small jar of honey with a honeycomb in it. Rosie looked at the jar, and looked at the flower, and looked at Mr. Frodo and looked at Sam, and then decisively ate the flower, as she might have eaten a violet in spring or rose-petals in the summer. It was breathtakingly bitter, worse than the tea, but also faintly florally sweet. Sam dipped out some honey on his finger, and Rosie licked it off, and looked up at Sam as she did, feeling his flesh warm under her tongue, watching his lips part and his eyes darken, feeling the heat in his face catch within her.

She leaned back, just a bit, and looked at them again, Sam breathless, his breeches in serious danger, Mr. Frodo smiling with folded arms, but something deeper flickering in his eyes. Rosie looked at them both, and felt her heart so full it hurt sweetly, and laughed for the sheer odd joy of it all. "Well, then," she said, holding out her hands, "where were we?"

"What are you thinking of?" Mr. Frodo whispered, his breath warm on her ear. Rosie lay in the middle this time, and it was mid-afternoon. Sam, who had valiantly kept trying to get up and do any one of several necessary chores, only to be pulled back by two sets of arms and kissed into an active idleness each time, now lay sound asleep with Rosie pulled into the curve of his body. Mr. Frodo, who seemed not sleepy at all, lay on his back with one hand behind his head and the other arm stretched beneath Rosie's head, his hand gently tangled in Sam's hair. Rosie started to reply, "Naught at all," but Mr. Frodo's whisper, both gentle and firm, cut through the denial. "In all the time I have known you, you've never been one to think nothing. I care to hear your thoughts, Rosie."

Rosie raised her head a little to look at Mr. Frodo, wondering if he really wanted her to drag her bumpy doubts into his soft warm bed. "I was thinking," she said slowly, "about where this all is going." Mr. Frodo nodded encouragingly, and she laid her head back down and went on. "When I stopped us, before Sam gave me the flower, what I had thought of was, was holding a babe in my arms with blue eyes and dark hair, and what everyone would think. If I caught by Sam he'd still have to wed me, and I promised him not to bind him, but if I caught by you....I couldn't do that to Sam, and I couldn't do that to you, have everyone think you were only my friend, only taught me my letters and told me lovely stories, to..." Mr. Frodo's sucked-in breath showed he understood. "And that Sam was such a fool. He ain't. His name is wrong, you know."

"That it is," Mr. Frodo said, with a little smile, and nodded to Rosie to go on. She took a deep breath and tried not to giggle when his eyes skimmed down off her face for a moment, and went on. "One day, though.... Mr. Frodo, bitterroot don't always work, and even if it did....I know you have something ahead of you, I know Sam's needed by your side, but what of me? What am I to do? How long can I live with, with having this but twice a year?"

She hadn't known she'd thought this till she said it; she didn't know she wept till Mr. Frodo pulled his hand from beneath his head to smooth it over her cheek, turning a little to kiss the tears from her eyes. "Rosie. Don't---no, I have no right to tell you not to cry. I sometimes ask myself if I should never have kissed you, that Lithe." Heart clenching, she turned her eyes to his, and he smiled reassuringly at her. "No, I always answer myself that I am glad I did. Sometimes I ask myself if I should never have kissed Sam, either, but no one knows better than you what a wise choice that was." Rosie smiled at that, and raised her hand to lay it over his where it lay on her cheek. "I'm glad you did, Mr. Frodo. I'm glad you kissed him, and I'm glad you kissed me."

"I don't deserve either of you," he said warmly. "I have such fortune. I just wish, I wish I had answers for your questions. I wish I could tell you when I will. Without those answers, do you still want, well, this?" His gesture took in the bed, full of cuddled hobbits, but somehow something more; his face was so troubled Rosie felt she should share some of her joy in their strange friendship, as well as her worries.

"Yes, Mr. Frodo, I do. I can have Sam without binding him, and I can have you. When I was a wee thing, my friend Samwise came to me and told me he'd seen an Elf go into Bag End. I ran with him to gape at a tall lad, dark and fair with eyes like pieces of the sky." Mr. Frodo blushed at that, smiling almost shyly. "Sam once told me you are the finest thing he's ever seen. Now, most lasses would be put out to hear such from their lads---" they both chuckled at that--- "and he blushed that blush of his right after, but I could see why he said it. If I can only hold you twice a year, at least I can hold you at all."

Mr. Frodo smiled at that so that his eyes fairly shone, and kissed her on her mouth. When he started to deepen the kiss Rosie giggled and pulled away to sit up. "Sir, I should be up, luncheon won't make itself, and poor Sam looks done in."

Mr. Frodo regarded her with a mixture of crossness and gratitude. "You know I didn't really ask you here today to work."

"Yes, sir, I do," Rosie replied deliberately. "But I told my parents I was coming to work, and there is work to be done. You can keep Sam company, but don't you wake the poor lad, " she finished teasingly. Mr. Frodo rolled his eyes and flopped on his back, and Rosie giggled again before she carefully climbed over Sam and out of the bed. When she looked back, Mr. Frodo had wrapped himself around Sam, pulling up the blanket a bit more; he smiled at her and shut his eyes again, looking content, and Rosie smiled to see it.

Rosie came to the answers to her questions soon enough, perhaps sooner than she might have liked, if she could have gone back and chosen again. They never had another day like the one in January, and though Rosie understood why and never asked, sometimes she thought another might be nice. Then she reminded herself that bitterroot didn't always work, and held onto her memories in her narrow bed at night. That spring, the wizard Gandalf visited, and after that visit Mr. Frodo started seeming more often distant and dreaming, and he rarely left Bag End, while Sam often looked worried; he would never tell her about what, but when they walked out Rosie would work at smoothing those lines between his brows with her fingers and her kisses, and would usually succeed, but when she next saw Sam those lines had returned.

Then, one fine summer's day, Sam came to her gate with as sad a face as she'd ever seen on him since his mother's death. She left the washing she was hanging, left everything to run out to him. "Sam, what is it?"

Sam took what seemed forever to say the words. "Mr. Frodo is selling Bag End and going to Crickhollow," he finally managed. "And I'm going to go, to do for him." Rosie stared at him, feeling her mouth hanging open, all her words stuck in her throat. Why? and How could you? and Why don't you ask me to go with you? all jammed together so that all she could do for a long moment was gape like a landed fish.

Then she shut her mouth and set her jaw, picked up her skirts, and ran as fast as her feet would take her, up to Bag End. "Rosie!" Sam ran after her, hard on her heels, and she didn't know if he meant to come with her or stop her, and she didn't care. She ran to the angry beat of her pounding heart, and ran ahead of Sam, that angry beat carrying herself all the way inside the front door before her sense slowed her.

Mr. Frodo emerged from his study, an apple in one hand, and she dropped him a low curtsey. "Good day, Mr. Frodo," Rosie heard herself say in a brittle voice. He blinked, and then he looked angry, and then he looked weary, and then he looked sad, and for the first time since she'd grown into a maiden Rosie was reminded of how much older than her he really was.

"I'm sorry, Rosie." Mr. Frodo set the apple down somewhere and held out his hands. Rosie knuckled away a tear and stood where she was. Sam burst in, and Rosie felt him look at them both and say nothing. She felt her chest heave. She felt the questions whirl in her head. Under Mr. Frodo's blue gaze, she felt the answer lock into place: Mr. Frodo was nearly fifty, and whatever he had felt in his future was coming to him. She opened her mouth to ask, and Mr. Frodo set his lips and gave his head one quick sad shake, and she knew that was all the answer she would get.

Rosie clenched her fists and burst into tears.

Sam stood awkwardly beside her as she pressed her fists into her eyes and wept; the sobbing took her so that she felt her knees begin to buckle, and hardly cared, but then Sam reached for her, his strong arms around her shoulders as she buried her face in his chest and wept and wept and wept. Somewhere beyond the tears Rosie felt herself lifted, heard Mr. Frodo saying soft things, felt Sam sit with her still in his arms and a different hand, surely Mr. Frodo's, on her arm. All these things felt very distant, outside the storm of her tears.

Finally, Rosie's sobs receded, leaving her hollow and light and empty. She felt Sam's brace under her hand and clutched it as if to keep herself from floating away; Mr. Frodo handed her a handkerchief, and she wiped her face and took a deep breath and pushed herself off Sam's lap. They were in the small parlor, where Mr. Frodo had given them that lovely wine on that first Yule. Rosie closed her eyes against the memory, biting her lip.

"You're going, and taking Sam." Her voice sounded flat and bleak in her ears.

Mr. Frodo nodded ruefully. "I am, Rosie. I must, but I'm sorry. I don't want to see you grieved." Sam squeezed her hand in mute agreement.

"No, no. It was. I'm not sorry." She smiled shakily up at Mr. Frodo, who smiled encouragingly, and then at Sam, who returned the smile with his own brown eyes full of tears. "I'm not sorry. This all was strange, and lovely, and so very fine, and I'm glad of it."

"So am I." Mr. Frodo took her other hand and squeezed it, so like how Sam had and so different, and Rosie shook her head and smiled a little more. "You lads," she said ruefully. "If I was a lad I might come too, as I willed. I would come now, Samwise, if you asked me."

Sam's eyes ran over at that, and he squeezed her hand as tightly as he dared. "And I would ask if I could, Rose. I would." It was true, and it hurt him to say it, and it hurt her to hear it; she pressed the damp handkerchief to her face and took a deep breath to steady herself, then looked up again. 'I don't know what I'll do without you," she whispered. "Either of you."

"Don't wither away," Sam said fervently, taking both her hands. "I want to see you happy and blooming, with a sturdy husband and a hole full of children."

"There ain't a hobbit I want for their father more than you," she said, but she nodded nevertheless. Mr. Frodo sighed. "Sam, you know---"

"Yes, Mr. Frodo, I know," said Sam, low and trembling. "But I know my duty too, sir." Rosie looked at Sam, wanting to slap him and to kiss him, and at Mr. Frodo, wanting to call him a thief and tell him she loved him. "Sam must do his own choosing, Mr. Frodo," she made herself say, and Mr. Frodo nodded sadly and sighed again, laying his hand on Sam's hand over hers, and there wasn't any more to be said.

Rosie went to her bed when she went home that day, and barely ate for the rest of the week. Her family watched her with worry, and when she answered all questions with sad silence her brother Jolly went to gently ask what had happened between Sam and his sister. When Jolly came back with no news, Nibs set off to ask a bit more firmly; Rosie came back from a trip to market to find Nibs nursing a black eye, and slapped him herself and told him it was none of his business and that if he'd hurt Sam he'd have to answer to her.

That Sunday, to Jolly and Tom's frank amazement and Nibs' and Mr. Cotton's glowering displeasure, Sam called at the Cotton smial (with not a scratch on him), and he held a red rose. Feeling all her family's eyes on her back, and not caring a thing, Rosie went out to him, and it was almost like it had been before, but that the knowledge that their time was drawing short lent it bittersweetness. Rosie thought of the honey she'd sucked off Sam's finger, mixing with the herbal bitterness of the bitterroot flower, and held Sam's arm tighter, and blinked back tears.

Then the time drew near for Lithe. Rosie walked out with Sam, and thought of asking him what would happen, and couldn't shape her mouth to the words, and these days she hardly saw Mr. Frodo, and could she have asked him? So she set herself to wait, and then there was all the work to be done, and she could almost put it out of her mind.

That Lithe Rosie danced as if the past three years had never been, laughing and happy and thinking of nothing but the moment, until she found a dark-haired gentlehobbit bowing to her as the hobbits around her cheered the master of Bag End for coming down to the dancing. "Miss Rose Cotton, will you dance with me?" asked Mr. Frodo, blue eyes sparkling in the moonlight, and she swallowed and smiled and gave him her hand; the past three years spiraled around them as they spun in the dance, and all their long years of friendship before that, and Rosie found herself thinking of the past and the future, and a little bit sad, and so very happy.

Mr. Frodo's fingers dipped into his pocket as they came to a stop, and as he gave her his hands to thank her she felt him press a square of paper into her palm. She curtseyed and smiled and carefully unfolded it as she went over to get herself an ale. The note said simply, "Will you dance with us once more? If you won't, I will understand. F."

Rosie stopped short, the crowd swirling all around her, then stuffed the note into the top of a lantern and watched it burn, suddenly angry. How could Mr. Frodo ask? He'd brought the past and the future back to her when she'd danced all night to forget everything but the moment. How could Sam let him ask? If Mr. Frodo didn't understand, couldn't Sam?

"Rosie Cotton?" Freddy Sandheaver stood at her elbow, holding two mugs of ale. "Would you like?"

"Freddy! Thank you!" Rosie took the ale and drank; she glanced up at Freddy over the rim of the mug and saw him watching her drink, and realized she could dance with him, in the circle of dancers and in the wood full of lovers. She took a breath, and watched Freddy's eyes watch her chest heave, and felt drunker with power than with ale.

As quickly as the thought came to her came another. Poor Freddy was a nice sturdy hobbit, but that was all. He didn't have Sam's golden glow and broad shoulders and gentle voice, Mr. Frodo's fey light and blue eyes. She might entangle him beyond his peace, and that wouldn't be fair. Rosie finished the ale as she thought, and smiled at Freddy again. "Miss Rosie, would you like to dance?" he asked hopefully, as she knew he would, and she shook her head and took his mug. "Thank you, Freddy, but I think I'm going to bed." She kissed his cheek with mere friendliness and went to drop off the mugs.

Bagshot Row was deserted, dark and quiet. Rosie stood at her gate, one hand on it, and looked up at Bag End, where there was a golden light in one window. She looked at her home, dark throughout, and over at the Gamgees', similarly dark. She thought of the golden threads in the red ribbon she wore in her hair. Then she turned and let her feet carry her up to Bag End.

Sam opened the door for her, smiling. "Mr. Frodo said you might be by."

"I mightn't, too," Rosie responded, hands on hips, but came in nevertheless. "I nearly went to bed."

Sam looked at her with sober eyes and a smiling mouth. "I hadn't thought you would be by," he admitted. "We've put you through a cruel time, and we both know it."

Rosie couldn't be angry any more at that. "I had to come," she admitted in turn, and gave Sam her hand; he raised his hand to her brow, brushing his hand over her curls, looking at her as if to remember her face, and gently drew her up for a kiss. "Mr. Frodo said he might dance awhile," Sam said, flushing a shy pink. "He said we had Bag End to ourselves if we would like. Rosie, would you like?"

Rosie grinned at that, her heart going from warm to Lithe-hot. "Naught against Mr. Frodo," and Sam returned the knowing smile she wore, " but to have you just to me on a Festival night? Yes, Sam, I would like."

Sam smiled at that, and kissed her again.

When Rosie opened her eyes her first hazy thought was of a figure of shadow holding a golden star; then she blinked and realized Mr. Frodo held a candle as he stood in the bedroom doorway. Sam snored gently beside her, his arms around her waist.

Mr. Frodo came and sat on the side of the bed, not his this time; Sam had led her to his own little room at Bag End. Rosie blinked up at Mr. Frodo, and he smiled at her; he leaned over to kiss the sleeping Sam on his cheek, regarding him tenderly, then took her hand. "It's three hours past midnight," he told her. "I stayed at the party till the end."

"Um, thank you, Mr. Frodo." How was it that she hadn't known all she needed to say to Sam till she said it, with mouth and hands and eyes? It had been almost like the first time they had lain together on a stolen summer afternoon, almost like the wedding night they might well never have, and yet also a farewell. The thought made her eyes prickle, but Sam's arms around her waist and Mr. Frodo's hand in hers kept her heart warm.

"I thought, well, it was only fair that you two have a chance to say goodbye." He looked a little sad at that, a little guilty, and Rosie squeezed his hand to reassure him. "Sam is going to miss you. I am going to miss you."

"And I will miss you, sir." Her eyes prickled harder, growing wet. "I don't know if I can dance at festivals again, not the way I've danced with Sam and with you."

Mr. Frodo shook his head at that. "I wouldn't want to take that from you. I want you to be well, Rosie."

Rosie smiled at that, feeling her eyes run over. "I want you and Sam to be well. Watch over him, Mr. Frodo."

"I will." Mr. Frodo set the candle down and leaned over her to kiss her eyes, one and then the other, and then kiss her mouth, deeply and sweetly, one last time.


Three and a half years later, two days after her birthday, Rosie gasped and fell back against the pillows, listening to the baby cry lustily, and smiled with closed eyes as Sam gently wiped her sweaty brow and kissed it. Sam's sister Daisy crooned to the baby and it hushed, and in the moment of quiet birdsong drifted in through the window.

Rosie supposed she should be eager to find if she had a daughter or a son, but she took another moment just to breathe, and to remember. If she had borne a son they would name him Frodo, and she thought once more of his namesake, gone this last half year. She thought of the year when Sam and Mr. Frodo were gone away, and all the troubles that came to the Shire, and of their triumphant return as they and the lordly Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin threw out the ruffians and brought in a wonderful year. She thought of the shadows and the light in Sam's brown eyes, the scar she'd found amidst his curls, the horrifying stories he told and the worse ones she knew he wasn't telling, the nightmares that still occasionally woke him in the night and her beside him. And she thought of Mr. Frodo, far more scarred and far more shadowed, of the long cold scar on his shoulder and the gentleness in what had been strong and bossy hands. She remembered his four-fingered hand gentle on her belly in her first pregnancy, gentle as he held Elanor, gentle on Rosie's cheek as he told her he had nothing left in him anymore, that he had to go. Rosie remembered Mr. Frodo, and wished he were here to see the new baby, and felt a tear escape her closed eye to run down her cheek; Sam's finger, gentle and strong, brushed it away, and she opened her eyes to look up at him, and he looked down at her, sharing her thought, a tear in his own eye.

Then Daisy came to them, holding a dark-haired bundle. "A fine birthday mathom you've given us, Rosie," said Daisy cheerfully. "A little boy, strong fingers, strong lungs." Rosie reached for him, and looked at him for herself, at his little fingers and toes, his wide closed eyes and his fuzz of hair, much darker than either hers or Sam's. Still, that happened sometimes.

Then the baby kicked up his little feet, and opened bright blue eyes like pieces of the sky, and Rosie's heart caught in her throat. She looked up at Sam, and he was smiling like the Sun, and a tear rolled down his own cheek; he put his arm round her and kissed the top of her head, reaching out the other hand to touch the baby's face. "Well, Frodo-lad," Sam said, "seems you'll be a good dancer like your Mam."

Rosie laughed at that, her heart overflowing, and leaned her head back, and Sam kissed her, sweet and strong.


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