West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

A Rose For My Love
Yuletide in Tuckborough, and an unexpected alliance is formed.
Author: Elderberry Wine
Rating: NC-17

 

Daisy and Pearl lay as frozen as they had been during May's sudden appearance, and just as sudden disappearance. Her voice was heard in the hall, gaily leading Nell off, and then there was silence. Daisy wondered, in a sort of a daze, exactly how her heart could manage to beat quite so loudly, as she lay on the bed, only partially covered by Pearl. Even if she had had the thought of denying appearances, the fact that Pearl was unclothed from the waist up was going to be difficult to get around. Daisy was, however, made of sterner stuff, and not much for deception in any case.

She heard Pearl give a shaky breath, as she rolled away from Daisy and sat up, leaning back against the low headboard. "Do you think May will say anything?" she asked, in a voice that was somewhere in between fear and excitement, as she rested an arm up on the wood, an easy unconsciously graceful sprawl of lithe limbs, small breasts, and creamy, generously freckled skin.

Daisy shook her head, sitting up as well. "Not 'til she's had a chance at me, first, she won't." With a sigh, she reached out to Pearl's other hand and took it in both her own, carefully studying the soft well-shaped hand between her own two, roughened and reddened from the hard work that was her lot. Her hands had once been as soft, but the years of boiling water and strong soap that were the fate of a laundress had changed that forever. She had known, when she came, that this was what she had hoped for, but she had never thought that there could be any hurt in it for Pearl. She had been wrong, and it was only luck, and fast thinking on the part of her sister, that had avoided that. "I should have let you be," she added softly, still staring at their hands.

"You came because I hoped you would," Pearl stated without hesitation, watching Daisy steadily.

Daisy sighed, and rising from the bed, walked over to the window, staring sightlessly at the swirling white without. "Not much sense in startin' something that we can't be finishin'," her voice was quiet but firm. "My place is back on the Row, with my da. He's more forgetful, these days. He can't be stayin' with Sam, and Mari'd have her hands full with her fauntlings. And May, well, one of these days, she'll be gone, to be sure."

She turned then, and regarded Pearl somberly. "And you're almost of age, Pearl. The eldest of the Took lasses. You'll not avoid bein' married much longer."

Pearl's back stiffened at that thought, and she sat up proudly on the bed. "I'll not be foisted off, like some prize breeding mare," she declared, with an unconscious toss of her head.

Daisy's face softened into a fond smile. " 'Twould be unlikely anyone would take you as such. But there'd be lads aplenty who'd love you for who you are, no mistake."

"But what if I don't love them back?" Pearl replied, standing up and walking over to Daisy. "What if the one I love is the lass who stands before me? What's the good of being a Took, then?"

"The risk'd be yours, Pearl," Daisy made one last attempt, holding onto Pearl's arms as Pearl began to embrace her.

"Fair enough," Pearl closed her eyes and met Daisy's mouth in a kiss. Drawing back, there was the ghost of a smile on her face as she added, "At the worst, they'll throw me out. And maybe, that would be at the best, not worst."

"Ah, Pearl," Daisy surrendered to Pearl's arms then, throwing her arms around Pearl's neck. "You're a brave one, my love."

"Hmm," Pearl gave a soft chuckle as she lightly brushed back the curls from Daisy's ear and gave the tip a loving fondle with her tongue. "I'd say more single-minded than brave."

But Daisy, who had never quite felt that particular sensation before, never heard the last words, as she had all she could manage to do to get the both of them back to the bed before her legs became completely useless underneath her.

*****

It was the crunch of footsteps in the snow, and Pippin's laugh, that made Sam turn around before he saw them. He had been chatting with the gardeners of the Great Smials, out in the snowy gardens, and had completely lost track of the time, when he heard the others approaching. But he stopped his conversation quickly, for this was not something he wanted Frodo to know of. Not quite yet.

And there were the cousins. His beloved Frodo, along with the future Master of Brandy Hall, as well as the future Took and Thain, all come to look for him. At times, that thought fair took his breath away, but then Frodo would smile at him with that warm, hungry glint in his eyes that was reserved for him alone, and he knew it was no dream.

"What did I tell you?" Frodo walked up to him, throwing an arm around his shoulders with a fond chuckle. "I knew this is where he'd be. And I suspect he hasn't even had lunch yet."

Pippin's eyes opened wide at that. "Sam," he declared in mock reproach. "What kind of hospitality do you think we'd be having here? No hobbit should ever miss a meal." Catching one of Sam's hands up in his, he tugged a laughing Sam in the direction of the kitchen.

"Not a bit of it!" Sam protested, "No need for that. I'd have already lunched with these fine..." and as he spun around to indicate the gardeners, he saw that they had already discreetly faded back into the smial. With a shrug, he turned back again to the others. The snow had settled down into a fine, although steady, falling and he saw there was already a frosting of white flakes in Frodo's dark curls. Sam almost stretched out a hand to brush them away, catching himself just in time, but the look in Frodo's eyes indicated that he knew what Sam had intended, and Frodo's smile deepened at Sam's neatly concealed impulse.

Pippin, in the meantime, had turned to see where Merry was. But even as he turned to Merry, whose back was, at that moment, to the other three, a quick gust blew by a small pear tree by the garden wall, and a frosty dollop of snow fell off and directly on to the back of Merry's neck.

"Hoy, there!" he cried out, and spinning around to the other three, quickly settled on a laughing Pippin as the likely culprit. He bent down, and in a quick motion, a handful of snow was hurtling in Pippin's direction. Pippin's eyebrows shot up at that challenge, and the game was on. But Pippin decided, nearly at once, if two in the game was good, three would be even better, and with a wicked chuckle, let fly a handful at Frodo as well.

Frodo gave a quick gasp, and then a peal of laughter, as he quickly joined forces with Merry in directing a volley of snow at the by now helplessly giggling Pippin. Sam stood by the wall watching the proceedings with a smile, and never saw Frodo deliberately letting a handful of snow sail past Pippin, landing squarely on his jacket sleeve. Starting up in surprise, he only hesitated a moment before grabbing up some of the snow at his feet, and returning the favor.

Frodo laughed again delightedly at Sam's retaliation, blue eyes sparkling over cold-reddened cheeks, and quickly tugged at Pippin's sleeve. "Youngest and oldest, Pip. I choose you. Prepare to defend yourselves, you two." Pippin let out a crow of delight, and a flurry of snowballs nearly immediately besieged Merry and Sam. With a quick glance at Merry, Sam silently indicated a soft snow bank behind a barberry hedge, and Merry gave a comprehending nod in return.

Almost instantly, they were behind the hedge and the soft snow was rapidly put to use. Pippin and Frodo valiantly held out in the face of the attack as long as possible, but their lack of cover, and Sam's deadly aim, soon had them routed.

"Truce! Truce!" Pippin called out, waving his arms over his head. Merry cautiously stuck his head up over the hedge and gave them a dubious look. "You think they're to be trusted, Sam?" he asked, warily.

"Only if you'd be seein' four hands in the air," Sam replied, still steadily forming snowballs as a precaution.

Merry studied their opponents suspiciously. But then, with a sudden chuckle, he declared, "Ah, there go Frodo's too. Too much for you, lads?" He triumphantly stepped out from behind the hedge with a grin, followed by a similarly grinning Sam.

"Well, it's just getting a bit chilly," Pippin responded nonchalantly, blowing into his cupped hands, "and I'd hate to be keeping an elderly hobbit like cousin Frodo here out in the cold."

"Admit it," laughed Merry. "The two of you had no chance. Where did you learn to throw like that, Sam?" he asked, turning to Sam with admiration. "I could hardly keep up with you at all."

"Sisters," admitted Sam, brushing the snow off of his knees.

Merry gave a smirk at that, and turned to Pippin. "Didn't do you much good now, did it?"

"Pearl does have a deadly arm," Pippin allowed reluctantly, brushing the snow from his jacket, "but why would she show her favorite target any pointers?"

Frodo, who had been watching this exchange with delight, suddenly gave an elaborate yawn. "You know," he casually mentioned, stretching his arms out behind him, "I must be getting as old as you say, Pippin. All this exercise and fresh air really has me sleepy suddenly. I think a nap would be just the thing."

Sam gave him a bewildered look at that statement. Frodo was not at all prone to naps. It wasn't until Frodo gave him a very direct look in passing, that he suddenly turned a rather rosy color, and unconsciously cleared his throat. "I'd be glad to lend you a hand, Mr. Frodo," he murmured, and quickly followed him toward the smial.

Pippin just barely heard Frodo mutter, "I certainly hope so, Sam," as they both disappeared, leaving the other two regarding each other with raised brows.

*****

Sam closed the door to their room behind them, and turned around with a smile of anticipation. "A nap, Frodo?" he shook his head incredulously. "An' since when would you be the nappin' sort?"

Frodo gave a rather breathless laugh to Sam's query, but with no further explanation, crossed the room over to the bed, and was immediately on all fours, looking under it. "Since never, I guess," he muttered, "but let them think what they will, I really didn't want to wait... Oh, blast. Don't tell me they actually cleaned the room."

Sam, who was beginning to realize that the addition to the bedpost that he had been eyeing in puzzlement was in fact the remains of Frodo's bread-and-butter from the morning's breakfast, chuckled. "Wouldn't think so."

"Well, then, where..." Frodo was beginning to sound distinctly exasperated as he continued to search. "Ah!" came the sudden triumphant cry, and with a flourish, he produced the concealed butter pot out from under the bed.

Sam's eyes widened at the sight of the crockery, and he gave a rather convulsive gulp. Turning quickly, he walked back over to the door, and with a sigh of relief, determined that, yes, the doors at the Great Smials did indeed have locks upon them. It was instantly put firmly in place.

"I told you I needed to thank you for this morning," Frodo's voice was becoming distinctly husky as he placed the pot on the table next to their bed, and glanced over to Sam.

"You can be thankin' me any time you'd like, Frodo-love," Sam answered, returning to the bed on which Frodo was sitting, and holding his hands out to him. "Whether I'd be deserving it or no."

Frodo smiled, and gave Sam's hands a gentle tug. "And can I be thanking you any way I like, as well?"

Sam gazed down at those blue eyes, dancing with mischief, and nodded, not trusting his voice.

"Good," Frodo's smile deepened. "And then you can begin by having a seat right here, Sam. You're entirely too far away."

Sam sat down next to Frodo, but as soon as he did so, there was a firm hand on his shoulder, pushing him down onto the bed, and there was another hand cradling his face, and Frodo's mouth was on his. "Ahhmm," Sam exclaimed happily, throwing his arms around Frodo's shoulders.

"Ah," he heard Frodo laugh at his enthusiastic response, and giving his ear tip a quick nibble in passing, Frodo sat back up next to him. "But I want to thank you, Sam. And I can't do it properly if you're thanking me back as well."

Sam gazed up at Frodo with a baffled look, but Frodo's expression was impish indeed, and that was always promising.

"Whatever you'd wish, me dear," he replied, trustingly, as Frodo laughed again, and gave him a quick kiss on his nose.

"I believe it'll be you doing the wishing," he heard Frodo mutter merrily, as he suddenly reached down to grasp Sam's legs and, with a swift movement, swung them and Sam around on the bed, so that Sam was lying stretched out over the blue coverlet. "Now, let's see," Frodo gave a quick glance upward and, pulling both of Sam's unresisting arms up over his head, placed them on the rung of the headboard.

"Now can you promise me, Sam," he eyed Sam, suddenly quite solemn, "that you can keep your hands there, no matter the provocation? Can you swear to that?"

Sam gave another unconscious gulp at that, his hands suddenly gripping the wood tightly, and his eyes widening as he stared back at Frodo. "Aye, I'll do my best," he breathed in a rather hoarse voice. When Frodo was in a fey mood like this, there was no telling, just no telling at all, and he had not forgotten the butter pot.

"I'll be taking that as a promise, Samwise," Frodo whispered, lightly running a finger down the side to Sam's face, "and I know how you are about promises." There was a light kiss upon Sam's forehead, and when he opened his eyes again, Frodo was on his knees on the bed next to him, looking down at him, suddenly quite serious. "You're so beautiful, Sam," he said quietly, and as Sam opened up his mouth to respond, Frodo quickly shook his head and lightly placed a finger over Sam's mouth. "No, I know you deny it, but you truly are. It's the quiet kind of beauty though, like green leaves in sunlight, or a quiet brook in a meadow, and you pay it no mind, until a sudden moment when you look, really look, at what has been before you all along. And then it takes your breath away, and you think, how beautiful, how perfectly beautiful."

Bending over Sam once again, he lightly kissed Sam's cheek, his eyelids as they closed, his mouth. "That's what you are for me, Sam," he murmured, stroking the side of Sam's face as he reopened his eyes, "you are my lovely Shire lad, and always will be, and all that is beautiful and dear about this Shire is in your eyes."

"Oh, Frodo," Sam breathed, his heart in the look he gave Frodo at his words.

Frodo gave a rather shaky smile then, and shook his head almost ruefully. "You're right, Sam love. Too many words." And his mouth was once again on Sam's, hungry and wanting, as Sam's yearningly opened to his. That cunning tongue of his, that could always find just the right spot to give Sam the shivers, was busy now, and Sam was finding it increasingly difficult to respond in just the right way, and still manage to keep himself from sweeping his arms around Frodo. But when, out of a highly distracted corner of his mind, he suddenly noticed the feel of clever fingers tugging at his garments, pulling them out of his trousers, and lightly, teasingly, running across the bare skin of his waist, well, it was becoming nigh on impossible, in Sam's rather befuddled opinion.

"Oh, Frodo, oh!" he gasped as Frodo finally drew his mouth away and smiled.

"I just want you to know," Frodo murmured, as one hand glided up over Sam's chest, under his shirt. "That I love the touch of your skin." And now both hands were quite occupied with the buttons of Sam's shirt, quickly undoing them and pushing the shirt to the side. Frodo's head bent down again, and Sam could feel that tongue busy over his chest, over those circles of darker rose, caressing over those nubs that made Sam jerk up and unconsciously writhe under Frodo's feathery teasing touch.

"Oh, Frodo, oh, what'd you be doin' to me, love?" he gasped, grabbing at the bed headboard with all his strength. But there was only a tantalizing laugh from Frodo, as he continued to bend his head down. All Sam could see now were those soft dark curls, but the tongue, ah, that tongue was still busy at work. Frodo's hands ran slowly up his sides in the meanwhile, the push against his skin strong and painstaking. "Oh, Frodo," he whispered, arching his back up. Promise or no, he couldn't help but feel that it was only a matter of time now before he would have no choice but to let go and grab Frodo, and pin him to the bed, if he kept this up. Then Frodo's hands were gone for a moment, although the tongue was still busy teasing and tormenting, and Sam's eyes closed as he squirmed breathlessly under that highly skilled touch.

The mouth was suddenly withdrawn, and Frodo sat up again with a smile, and Sam gasped, trying to regain his breath. Somehow, Frodo's shirt had managed to come undone too, but he seemed unaware of it, as his hand slowly descended Sam's side, and now, roaming further down, encountered Sam's trousers precisely where they bulged up so. "Ah, Frodo!" Sam moaned again at that experienced touch, stroking with just the right amount of pressure. "You'd best be takin' them off and soon. I've only the one pair w'me."

Frodo laughed at his words, and gave Sam a quick nibble on his earlobe. "My ever-practical Sam-love," he murmured fondly, but his hands were indeed on the fastenings, and soon enough, Sam felt his trousers slowly being pulled off. And then Frodo's hands were on him, encircling and stroking, with a touch both gentle and demanding, and Sam closed his eyes, losing himself in the sensation of the moment, and only hazily realizing that if there was something that Frodo wanted to be doing with that butter, it'd best be done quickly.

Frodo, however, seemed to have come to a similar conclusion, for there was a moment's pause, during which Sam, with a moan of protest, blinked his dazed eyes open again, only to behold Frodo hastily undoing and casting away his own trousers, followed by the sumptuous sensation of the butter lavishly being put to good use on him. With a smoldering look in his blue eyes, that almost ended the whole proceedings for Sam right then and there, Frodo lifted himself over and straddled Sam, with his knees on either side of Sam's chest. With a heated moan of "Sam," Frodo's mouth was suddenly fiercely on his, and he could feel Frodo's hand reaching back for guidance. He was abruptly aware of Frodo slowly starting to enclose him, pushing steadily downward, and his gasp was lost in Frodo's mouth.

And it was Frodo's expression that held him, as Frodo suddenly lifted his head, and arching his back, slid tightly down on him. No matter how compelling the sweet force with which he was held, ground down upon, gripped with a wonderfully aching firmness, it was Frodo's face of which he was most aware, dark blue eyes half closed and scarcely visible under full dark lashes, dusky curls stuck against the luminous ivory forehead and reddened cheeks, and that glorious mouth half-opened with gratification. With a choked groan, Sam heaved his body upwards over and over, Frodo meeting every movement of his with skill, fervor, and a complete lack of inhibition. But Sam finally had to abandon himself to the inevitable, uncontrollable, concession of giving himself to this dear one he loved so, and he arched up a final time, stiffening with a hoarse cry. With a final gasped moan, Frodo's head fell forward and he shook as he followed Sam. He pulled himself reluctantly from Sam, with a last sigh, and collapsed onto his chest.

Frodo's damp curls, and his forehead were what Sam kissed, once he had enough breath, and Frodo raised his head to smile at him wearily, but triumphantly. It was only then that his eyes widened, and he exclaimed, with remorse, "Oh, your hands, Sam! Really, you can put them down. I didn't think you actually could..."

But Sam only looked tenderly back at him, and although unclamping his hands from the bed frame where they had seemingly become attached was initially rather difficult, he brought them down and around Frodo. "Whatever you fancy, Frodo-love. You just go on thankin' me like that, dearest." There were tingles running through his arms, true enough, as the blood began to circulate through them again, but there were tingles elsewhere that Sam was far more of a mind to savor.

Drowsily, he glanced toward the window, and the increasing white flurries drifting past the glass. Returning his gaze tenderly back down at Frodo's face, whose eyes were already beginning to blink shut, he smiled again, with a deep contentment. "Just a minute, love," he murmured, rolling the both of them to the side momentarily, so he could grab a blanket up from under them. Frodo sighed sleepily, and then curled closer to Sam under the warm blanket covering them both. "I think that nap as you'd mentioned would be just the thing, me dear."

Frodo smiled, eyes still closed, and gave Sam a light kiss right under his ear. "You have such good ideas, Sam," he whispered, throwing an arm around Sam's shoulder. "That must be why I love you so."

*****

Nell glanced into the crowded hall with surprise. "Why, I never knew," she exclaimed.

May nodded her head, with a pleased smile. "Aye," she declared happily. "Dancing."

She had brought Nell down to the servants' hall that afternoon partially to prove to her that, yes, there was dancing and music to be found, partially as an excuse to become involved in that activity again, but also to distract herself from the confusion of thoughts that it was taking all her will not to examine. Daisy, she was quite certain, would not be coming, and that was probably all to the good, for the time being. It would be soon enough, come nightfall, to face her sister, and ask questions. But for now, all she wanted to do was lose herself in the dancing.

Nell was, of course, instantly recognized, but by silent general consent, the occupants of the hall agreed to treat her, although not one of their own, as a welcome visitor. May had no lack of invitations to step out, since her enthusiasm and skill had been noticed the day before, but she stayed close to Nell, and it was clear that if one lass was wanted on the floor, the other best be invited as well. Fortunately, all three of the Took lasses were well-liked, and after the initial surprise, several of the more well-to-do farmers of Tuckborough, who were staying at the Great Smials for the holiday, took the liberty of asking Miss Pimpernel to step through a reel or two with them, if she didn't mind. Of course, she didn't mind in the least, and was soon floating through the turns and twining her way through the dancers with every bit as much glee as May, her reddish curls, in their fashionable new array, bouncing gaily behind her.

May, as much as she was enjoying herself though, had been keeping an eye out for her partner from the day before. He was not in the hall when she and Nell had first arrived, but in the midst of the first lasses-only line dance, she noticed Lar's quiet entrance. He seemed a little distracted, at first glance, and even holding himself a bit stiffly, but it was difficult to tell from the brief glimpses she got of him through the other dancers.

As soon as the figure had finished, and the musicians took a few moments to refresh themselves with tea and beer, she made her way over to the young hobbit and greeted him with a smile. "Your master certainly keeps you busy," she said to him merrily. "I'd almost thought you'd forgotten the way back here."

"That he does," Lar answered quietly, without a smile, but then seemingly shook himself, and gave a polite bow to May. "But here I am, now, and nothing would make me happier, then you giving me the pleasure of this dance."

"Well, now," May laughed charmingly, holding her hands out to him. "You'd have a golden tongue, sure enough. How could I ever say no?"

"I suspect you don't say no to many dancing partners," Lar gave her a warm smile, grasping her hands and drawing her out into the dancers, as the musicians struck up a new tune.

"Not to one who asks as prettily as you," May gave a breathless giggle, before she was swept up by Lar, into the melody and the infectious swirl of dancers.

*****

Daisy hazily yawned, blinked, and stretched a bit. No doubt the dancing in the servants' hall had already begun. May would be there, certainly. Resolutely, she closed her eyes again at that thought. What she would say to May, she had no idea, it really wasn't something that she wanted to contemplate just yet.

She turned and snuggled a little more into the warmth of the bed, and her sleeping partner. Odd, she thought, an unconscious smile briefly touching her face. To be nearly of age, and yet as innocent of what her body could do, as the greenest of tweens. Well, it had been an enlightening afternoon, no mistake, and there was no question in her heart as to whether or not it should be the last such. Somehow, they would, and must, find a way. But there would be time later to consider such things, now was the time to lay a gentle hand on the soft skin beside her, and let their legs entwine, and to let that delicious lassitude lull her back to sleep again.

*****

"There you are, dear boy." Esme Brandybuck's clear tones were unmistakable. "I've hardly seen a bit of you for days, it seems like."

Merry glanced wistfully over to where Paladin had steered Pippin into a knot of elder Tooks, but turned stoically back to his mother with only an internal sigh. "Tea, mother?" he asked politely, seating himself on a stool near the chaise in the center of the room, where she had, as usual, ensconced herself.

"Oh, I don't mind," she murmured vaguely, giving a not-too-well disguised glance about the sitting room. Having satisfied herself with who was, and was not present, she took the cup Merry offered her with a short nod.

"I see Frodo has not managed to find his way here once again," she pointed out with a crisp laugh and a sip of her tea.

Merry, who had just poured his own cup, froze in the act of placing the pot back of the small side table.

"Probably taking tea down in the servants' hall, with that little friend of his," she continued mildly, still observing the rest of the room sharply. "Just as well, I suppose. A far better plan than trying to bring him in here."

Merry placed his untouched cup down on the table without a word, and started to rise, his mouth tightly shut.

"Oh, sit down, Meriadoc," his mother turned to him with an arch laugh. "I'm not insulting your cousin, now am I? Just merely pointing out facts. I'm glad to see that Frodo has some sense of discretion left to him, that's all. Although it certainly was not much in evidence the night before, at dinner."

"Mother, I am not going to discuss this," Merry replied tersely, his face beginning to flush. "And now, if you would excuse me..."

"No, I will not," Esme studied her son's face intently, her eyes suddenly dangerous, and her voice lowered. "It's bad enough that everyone knows Frodo Baggins was raised at Brandy Hall. This infatuation with his gardener is degrading enough to us as it is. The lad's clearly still a tween, and appears to be dim enough to assume that his Master's attentions actually mean something. But at least there is Bilbo's influence to point to, and most folk'd believe anything of him."

Merry's face betrayed his disgust at her words, but he held his tongue until she was through, before he quite coolly replied, "I am more than aware of your opinions, Mother. May I go now, then?"

"No. Because Frodo is really no longer my concern. You are, Meriadoc," she took another sip, and then looked bluntly at him over her cup. "Let me remind you of a fact of which you appear to be losing sight. Your cousin may seem wonderfully romantic to you. Don't deny it," she added impatiently, as Merry started to speak. "You've been infatuated with Frodo Baggins since you were a fauntling, and lately it's done nothing but get worse. The only saving grace of this whole mess is at least it's kept him from turning those eyes of his on you. But I'll not have him putting ideas in your head that you can get away with the same. You are the future Master of Brandy Hall, and you will be getting married, and you will be responsible for producing an heir."

Merry, breathing hard, had to pause for a moment before he could trust himself to reply. "I know my duties, Mother," he finally bit off the words, as the chatter in the room continued obliviously about them.

With a cool glance of contempt, she looked over to where Saradoc was standing in amiable conversation with Paladin, who was standing with his arm fondly around Pippin's shoulders. "As do I. I can only be grateful that I was able to produce an heir on the first occasion, and didn't have to go through three other squalling fauntlings first, as did the unfortunate Lana."

It was at that moment that Bracegirdle chose to make his appearance, and she gazed over to him with a look of relief. "Ah, a welcome voice of reason," she got gracefully up, preparing to greet him, while Merry still stared at her in shock.

But she turned quickly around once more, to him, before leaving. "Just one last word of advice, Merry dear," she mentioned in icy tones. "Peregrin is still a teenager. I trust you'll not be forgetting that fact."

*****

The massive Great Hall was well crowded that night, for it was Yule Eve. As one of the most ancient, if not the most ancient, families of the Shire, the Tooks tended to uphold the old customs and ways from before hobbits had made their way west to the Shire. And one of these customs, and an eminently practical one, was that Yule should be celebrated upon its Eve, leaving Yule Day itself for the celebrants to spend as they saw fit, and recover in time to be off again the following day.

So it was that the feast this evening was truly of a staggering magnificence. All the fireplaces in the Hall roared merrily, warming, for once, the farthest limits of the Hall. Even the small nesting birds that normally lived undisturbed in the cavernous upper reaches, flying in and out of the chimneys that were rarely put to use at the distant ends of the Hall, blinked awake at the commotion below. Their Yule feast would come later, for no one would be expected to tidy the Hall this night.

The Hall was filled this frosty evening with not only all of the folk of the Great Smials and neighboring lands, only excepting the kitchen staff, who were still labouring mightily on their night of glory, but also as many Tooks, Brandybucks, Baggins, Boffins, Bolgers, and other far-flung descendants of the Old Took, as had been able to make their way here. For whatever the general opinions of the Shire folk were regarding the Tooks and their suspected taint of faerie, as well as their capacity for the unexpected, none could deny that no one did Yule quite as well as they.

Frodo and Sam stood toward the back wall near the entrance, unnoticed in the flurry of arriving guests. The smell of damp earth, for the ancient hard-packed walls of the Hall had never been covered, was soothing to a nervous Sam, and even Frodo, who had not been here for Yule for some years now, had nearly forgotten how almost intimidating a crowd like this could be. He reached for Sam's hand, and unobtrusively held it clasped firmly at his side. "We need to find your sisters, Sam," he murmured. "The families need to sit together, at least at the beginning, for the toasting of the Names. Keep your eye open for them."

Sam turned to him then in puzzlement, tightening his grip just a bit, but also distractedly admiring the effect of the torchlight on Frodo's damp curls. They had managed to find an unoccupied bath room, and had taken a surreptitious dual bath, that had nearly caused them to arrive unconscionably late. Frodo turned to him, though, with a smile. "Nothing to worry yourself about, love," he assured him fondly. "Just raise your glass at the appropriate time, that's all. I'll be with you, never fear. There may, indeed, be other Baggins here, but none that I know by sight. They're on their own, I'm afraid."

Sam nodded then, although with still a small amount of trepidation, and searched the crowd for the sight of May or Daisy. "There'd be May," he noted suddenly, pointing to where the two younger Took sisters stood beside a side table near the center hearth. There were several other young lasses in a crowd about them, all gaily chatting and giggling, and boldly glancing at a cluster of young lads who, gathered near another table laden with beer and wine, were shifting awkwardly and uneasily and all too aware of the scrutiny. And in the midst of it all, laughing happily, was May. Sam had to admit, as he watched her from the other side of the Hall, that she did not look at all amiss here, and had to stifle a quick guilty regret, that she was still bound to Bagshot Row.

Frodo had also spotted her though, and let go of Sam's hand and grasped his elbow instead, as he steered the both of them through the throng towards her. "We'll be able to sit where we like later on, Sam," he gave him a quick warm glance. "It won't be so bad."

But Paladin and Eglantine Took had entered the Hall just then, and immediately the guests dropped their conversations and began sorting themselves out, seating themselves by family up and down the long massive table. Bottles of wine, the finest obtainable, were opened by the score, and distributed up and down the table, glowing ruddy in the candlelight. Sam cast a glance over to the doorway just in time to see Daisy arrive in the company of Pearl Took. Pearl had obviously been educating her in the proceedings, for Daisy was nodding at her words, and smiling. Pearl left Daisy then next to Sam and Frodo, with a lingering look, and then turned to take her place at the center of the table with the rest of her family. Just then, May came up to join them, and Sam couldn't help but notice the look, almost a glare, that she gave Daisy as she sat down on the other side of Frodo and him. Daisy seemed unperturbed though, and looked about her with a rather dreamy smile. Sam mentally shook his head at that exchange, and said nothing. He had learned, long ago, to let his sisters sort things out on their own. He usually never understood what it was all about anyways, and had long since concluded that there'd be no point to try.

A few moments after the Tooks had found their seats, Paladin Took rose to his feet and held his goblet up high. A sudden hush fell over the Hall, and only the crackling from the fires could be heard. "To all our family and friends who are gathered here on this Yule-Eve," his voice rang out. "To my dearest wife, and my beloved children," he added, with a warm bow, as they all beamed back up at him. "May this next year be a glorious and prosperous one for us all. May happiness and comfort find each and every one of us."

A veritable roar greeted these words as all seated cheered their approval, and raising the glasses likewise, drank a swallow of wine, setting their glasses down again. And now a rustle of excitement and anticipation stirred through the great room, and voices could be heard, eagerly urging the Took and Thain on. "The Names, the Names!"

Paladin gave a pleased smile at that and raised his goblet high once more. "Tooks!" he roared out. And with an answering cry, nearly half of those seated stood, glasses aloft. "Good-Yule to you all, Tooks!"

With a mighty cry, the host of Tooks present raised their glasses and with a yell of "Good-Yule!" drained the wine, and sitting back down, let their goblets fall to the table with a mighty thump, as those seated cheered them on.

"Brandybucks!" Paladin called out next, and the sizeable contingent of Brandybucks rose, the Master of Brandy Hall and his family among them. "Good-Yule to you all, Brandybucks!" And there was another mighty cheer as the Brandybucks responded in kind.

Sam watched the proceedings with amazement as the Thain continued on through the Bolgers and the Boffins. "Baggins are next," Frodo whispered to him, his eyes sparkling. "Uncle Paladin always starts off in the same order. I wonder how many of us there are here."

Frodo was right. "Baggins!" came the next cry, and Frodo rose, catching sight of a few other risers farther down the table, and giving them a congenial nod. "Good-Yule to you all, Baggins!"

"Good-Yule!" Frodo gave the customary reply proudly and confidently, raising his goblet and draining it, to the cheers of the room, especially the younger contingent. Sitting down again, he glanced at Sam and laughed. "Probably should have mentioned to you not to put that much wine in. You do have to empty it, you know."

Sam gave a gasp as the implication of what Frodo was saying hit him. "Me, us?" his voice was nearly a squeak at that thought, and both of his sisters immediately turned to Frodo, alarm clear on their faces.

"He rarely misses a Name," Frodo was grinning broadly now, and if Sam hadn't have been so terrified, he might have enjoyed the sight more.

Frodo was right. It wasn't too long before an anxious Sam heard the call, "Gamgees!" ring out. Bravely, he stood up, with both of his sisters, and the three lifted their glasses high. "Good-Yule to you all, Gamgees!"

"Good-Yule," they responded boldly, to a hearty cheer of approval, for each of the three had already, in some manner, touched the lives of others at the Great Smials. They drained their glasses and sat back down.

Now that it was over, Sam's face was flush with a glow that did not entirely come from the wine. "Ah, now, if only the gaffer'd been seein' that," he whispered to Frodo. "The Gamgees, one of the Names."

"He would have been very proud to see the three of you, I know," Frodo murmured, giving Sam a warm hug. "We must make sure that he comes for Yule here himself the next time we do."

Sam smiled at the thought of it. "Aye, to be sure."

The Names were continuing on, and it seemed as though not a hobbit at the table, from the wealthiest to the most humble, had not been recognized. There was one, though, whose name had not been called, and at last Paladin could no longer postpone the inevitable. "Bracegirdles." he called out, with noticeably less enthusiasm. "Good-Yule to you all, Bracegirdles."

There was only one who stood at that, and the cheer at his response was rather perfunctory. Sam noticed then that, as on the previous evening, Lar was standing unobtrusively against the wall behind his master, the only one in the hall who did so. But Pippin, down at the center of the table, seated next to his father, caught his eye just then and grinned and tapped his nose.

And sure enough, there was one more name. "Hoarfeet!" the Name rang out. "Good-Yule to you all, Hoarfeet!"

There was a noticeable pause before Lar stepped uncertainly forward, the only representative of his Name here. "Good-Yule," he answered, rather hesitantly, and nodded in lieu of toasting the Hall. There was a far more enthusiastic cheer for him, and he stepped back to his place with a smile and his face flushed with pleasure.

May, however, was watching from her seat next to Frodo with some dismay. "That villain of a master of his is not going to be pleased one bit at that," she observed, with a frown on her face. Sam could no longer see Bracegirdle, but he had no doubts about the accuracy of May's comment. However, the call of the Names had come to an end, and the feasting thus began in earnest.

*****

Later in the evening, the feasters had started to move about and sit where they would, as they went about the rather lengthy process of filling up the corners. Those with sufficient stamina had begun on the afters, which had just been brought out by an exhausted but triumphant kitchen crew, as their final tribute to the festivities. Frodo had managed to maneuver himself and Sam to a somewhat deserted, rather shadowy, section of the Hall with a bottle upon which they were making rather good progress. Wine was usually not Sam's drink of choice, but he had to admit that, after the first couple of glasses went down, that the taste of the rest suddenly became far more to his liking.

And it was entertaining indeed, to watch the goings-on, as he leaned back against Frodo, with Frodo's arm firmly around his shoulders, and Frodo's amused commentary to educate him regarding his relatives, as well as Tookish customs. He had always known Frodo to have a keen wit as well as a perceptive eye for those around him, but he rarely got to hear it displayed to its full advantage, so it was a treat indeed for Sam to listen to him.

Further down the table, he could see that Merry had managed to move from the Brandybuck group to sit next to Pippin. Pippin was laughing at whatever Merry was telling him, and Sam noticed that Merry seemed far more relaxed than he had earlier that evening. Perhaps it was the wine that made him speak out so undiplomatically, but watching the two from afar, he couldn't help but observe to Frodo, "Mr. Merry'd be lookin' a lot happier than he did before. Why's he always so mad, Frodo? I thought it was just me, but now it'd seem like it's everyone. 'Cepting you and Pippin, of course."

Frodo gave a sigh at that, and tightened his grip around Sam slightly. "I know you think that Aunt Esme wasn't the most maternal of sorts for me to have grown up with, Sam," he said finally. "And you'd be quite right about that. The problem is, it wasn't just me." He watched his two cousins in silence for a moment more. "I know quite well what a blow it was to Merry when I left, but I really couldn't help it. Bilbo offered me an escape, and I took it, I'm afraid. I really don't think it would have worked out well for either of us if I had stayed. Merry would never believe that, but it's quite true. I can't tell you how glad I am for Pippin, though."

Taking another quick swallow from his glass, he turned to Sam then with a tender smile. "But if I hadn't, you wouldn't have been here with me now, and so I must have done the right thing after all." Leaning over, he gave Sam a swift kiss, and Sam couldn't help but agree. But as Frodo straightened up again, Sam happened to glance down the Hall, and found Lar's gaze upon them.

*****

After Sam and Frodo had excused themselves, May sat at the table, sopping up her plate with a piece of bread, and watching her sister out of the corner of her eye. Daisy, her face far more flushed than usual, was idly tracing patterns in a small puddle of water on the table, and smiling to herself. May was quite positive, although it was difficult to determine over the general clamor in the Hall, that Daisy was, in fact, humming to herself. Of course, there was no doubt as to the cause of this unlikely behavior, as far as May was concerned.

It would be best to have it out now, she suddenly decided, tossing the last crust in her mouth, rather than face Daisy alone in their room later. So moving closer to her sister on the bench, filling the gap the other two had left behind, she turned to face her sister with her hands crossed over her chest. "So, then?" she gave Daisy a stern look.

But Daisy just laughed, and continued to trace patterns in the water without looking at May. "You'd sound just like the Widow Rumble, May, dear," she chided her gaily, and quite unmistakably went back to humming.

May's eyebrow rose at Daisy's comment, feeling that this was a rather uncharacteristic lack of shame on Daisy's part. "You're not going to be explaining all that as I saw?" she asked incredulously.

"Well, I don't think there'd be a'that much explainin'," Daisy retorted cheerfully, turning toward her sister then with a smile. "I'd not be thinkin' you'd be that green."

Both May's eyebrows were up by now. Not only was there a distinct lack of shame on Daisy's part, there was quite a discernable lack of guilt as well. But it was then that the irony of the situation struck her. Daisy, her upstanding, severe, humorless older sister, was in love. With Pearl Took, no less. Quite suddenly, with some assistance from the wine it must be admitted, she fell into a fit of the giggles. Daisy glanced over to her, her mouth quirking up as well.

Endeavoring to pull herself together, May sat upright again. "You'd not be Sam," she admonished her sister, with a last attempt at good hobbit sense, "and there'd not be a Mr. Frodo nearby with a cozy, empty smial."

"Aye," her sister acknowledged, with an unmistakably sly grin. "But I'd be able to visit Pearl, an' da'd be none the wiser. He figured out Sam, sure enough, but he'd never guess that two lasses could be up to the same."

May had to laugh at that. "Ah, Daisy," she acknowledged, giving her sister a warm hug. "True enough, dearie."

Daisy grinned happily as she returned the hug, and then swallowed the rest of her wine and rose. "Don't be expectin' me back tonight, May-love."

****

Groups of hobbits had finally begun to drift out of the Great Hall when Frodo noticed Sam starting to nod off. "Wake up, Sam," he shook him gently with a smile. "I think we can make our farewells now. Bed is beginning to sound rather good, isn't it?"

Sam sat up suddenly, shaking his head a bit. "Aye, that stuff always knocks me out," he murmured apologetically. "Don't you be mindin' me, Frodo."

But Frodo shook his head firmly. "No, no need to stay any longer. Do you remember the way, then? You go on and I'll just pay my respects again to Uncle Paladin and be right behind you."

That did sound good to Sam, for the thought of bed, "An' just for sleepin', too," he reminded himself firmly, was proving irresistible. He slipped out of the Hall then, with a group of serving hobbits, including Lar. They hadn't gone too far, though, before the rest turned toward the servants' rooms, and only Sam and Lar continued on to the section of the smial where the gentle-hobbits' bedrooms lay.

By this time, Sam was concentrating on the turns more than anything else, so he was startled to hear Lar suddenly speak to him. "I wouldn't mind any of it so much," he heard Lar say softly, "if he were only just a bit kind every now and then."

Sam stopped short at that, staring at Lar in bewilderment. "Not mind what?" he asked sharply, looking intently at Lar's face for signs of scorn or contempt. But he relaxed his guard as he saw that Lar appeared wistful, more than anything else, and was not looking at him. Indeed, he appeared to be speaking more to himself than Sam, as they started to walk down the candlelit halls again.

"Your master, now," Lar continued, as if Sam had said nothing. "Certainly, he must be gentle. You're very fortunate." He turned in another direction than Sam's then, and left Sam staring after him.

*****

Frodo was not long after Sam in arriving at their bedroom, and Sam greeted him with a warm hug, more to shake off the odd feeling with which the encounter with Lar had left him, than anything else. But Frodo was not at all loath to be on the receiving end of such a greeting, and returned it with a laugh. Pulling apart slightly from Sam, he rested his forehead against Sam's, and touched his nose with his own. "Sam, love, you may be indefatigable, but I, as Pippin so accurately observed, am an elderly hobbit. And when I mentioned bed, sleep was rather what I had in mind."

Sam might still have been a bit befuddled, but he still knew a good thing when he saw it, and tilting his head just slightly, met Frodo's lips with his own.

"Mmm, Sam," was Frodo's observation on this feint of Sam's, and it was several moments before he broke away. "Really, Sam, I mean it," he protested laughingly.

"Don' want to sleep," Sam demurred, before leaning forward again. However, his plan was foiled by the unexpected appearance of a hiccup. Sam's eyes widened at the sound and he was clearly at a loss to determine from which one of them it had escaped.

But Frodo was at no such loss. "Sam, you're swizzled," he laughed in fond delight, and grasping his arms, pulled him a little closer to the bed. "You need sleep just as much as I, or you'll be regretting it tomorrow."

"Am not," Sam automatically protested, but the effect was rather ruined by the second hiccup.

Frodo shook his head at Sam's denial. "Come here, love," he said fondly, beginning to unbutton Sam's weskit. Sam stood still then, and closed his eyes dreamily as Frodo continued, after slipping the weskit off of his shoulders, on the shirt buttons as well, only the occasional hiccup escaping him.

But when the final button was undone, he opened his eyes again, slipping his hands under Frodo's jacket, and said with a rather studied firmness, "You too, Frodo-love." Slowly, he pulled Frodo's jacket off, his hands almost reverential on the dark blue velvet. "Your color, me dear," he said softly. "It'd be hard to believe there'd be aught as could make you more beautiful, but..." His voice trailed off as he turned to the buttons of the weskit and shirt, his task made somewhat more difficult by the feel of Frodo's fingers stoking through his hair, but it was finally accomplished, and those garments slid to the floor as well.

"Your hiccups are gone, Sam dear," Frodo noted with a quiet smile as Sam's hands began on the fastening of his trousers.

"Aye," Sam agreed, with a wry smile. "All a matter of being distracted, I suppose." And with that, the last garment fell to the floor, and Frodo stood naked before him.

"You too, me dear," Frodo laughed softly at the look on Sam's face, and took prompt care of Sam's remaining article of clothing. Gently pushing Sam back against the bed, he reached out and pinched the candle by the bed that had been lighting the room, and crawled up onto the bed beside Sam.

With a hum of pleasure, Sam rolled over Frodo and propping himself up on his elbows, looked down at him inquiringly in the dim light of the smoldering fire. Frodo chuckled warmly, and threw his arms around Sam's neck. "You're right, Sam," he whispered. "Sleep is overrated, at that."

*****

Daisy couldn't help it. Pearl's light, feathery touches across her stomach revealed to her something she had never suspected, that she was wildly ticklish. With a veritable squeal, she curled herself up as Pearl laughed in delight. "Oh, dearie, oh, what'd you be doing?" she gasped, giggling all the while.

"Daisy, love," Pearl declared with glee, pinning her down again and staring down at her with a smile. "I do believe you're swozzled."

Daisy grinned back up at her. "I do believe I am," she agreed complacently. "Don't let that stop you, me dear."

"Right, then." Pearl needed no further encouragement than that, and further exploration past the ticklish zone quickly drove all other thoughts from Daisy's mind.

*****

May returned to her room quite late, and peered in cautiously. But Daisy's prediction had been correct, and it was empty. With a small sigh, she plopped herself on the bed and stared musingly into the flames. But then a thought suddenly struck her, and she turned to the nearby door with a grin.

In less than ten minutes, she was comfortably submerged in glorious warm water, as she sang gaily to herself in the candlelight, and twirled the soapy curls on her sturdy foot.

*****

Much later that night, Lar quietly backed out of his master's room into the darkened hall. Fortunately, he did have a good sense of direction, and would be able to make his way back to the visiting servants' communal room in the dark. In the silence, he wearily rested his head against the wall for a moment, and tried to ignore the ache and pain. But it was only for the moment. Straightening himself up stoically, he noiselessly left.

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