"There now, Bill," Sam said softly to his pony as he brushed the animal's mane. "Thunder's gone and it didn't even rain."
As soon as Sam heard the rumbling he went out to Bill. He knew the pony disliked the loud sound and a good brushing always calmed him. The heat had broken a day ago with a gentle shower but more rain would be welcome. Sam guessed it would come sometime during the night. Bill nuzzled Sam's ear, making him smile. They were both startled at the rustle of approaching feet on the hay-strewn floor.
"Sam and Bill!" Merry said, trying to keep his voice low. Sam had told him probably a hundred times to keep quiet around Bill when it thundered.
Bill raised his head and lowered it again, almost as if he was nodding at Merry. Merry patted his head. "Hullo," Sam said. "Don't you be scarin' Bill, now. I've just got him calmed down."
"It's Pippin you should be worried about," Merry said as their friend joined them, eating a very crunchy apple. "He's been making noise since breakfast!"
"I hardly had any second breakfast," Pippin protested. "Here, Bill, have an apple? See, Bill doesn't mind. And he knows a good apple when he smells one."
"Farmer Maggot's apples?" Sam asked.
Pippin laughed. "No, not these! We bought ‘em fair. We've got more if you're interested. And we did find the best mushrooms! I hope we're not too late for tea; Merry and I have only had apples and pears and cheese all afternoon. Don't you feed this pony, Sam?!" he exclaimed as Bill tried to get his nose into Pippin's pockets.
"Now, Bill," Sam said, gently pulling the pony away. "You already got one."
"Well," said Merry, "There was the ale and sandwiches after lunch."
"Oh that was a snack," Pippin sighed.
"Sam, how are things? What have you and Rosie been up to?"
"What we're always up to," he answered, starting to brush out Bill's tail. "What's the news, are the new trees still growing?"
"All the ones we've seen are. Next year most of ‘em will be nearly full grown, at this rate. How's Frodo?"
"As well as can be expected, I suppose. Still working on the Book."
"Do you know what he wants to tell us?"
"What makes you think he wants to tell you anything?"
"His note said he'd like to ‘see' us," Pippin said. "That means he wants to say something."
"You're sure he's alright?" Merry asked. "He's not going to tell us he's ill, is he? He wouldn't say much about something like that to us but you'd know, Sam."
Sam straightened up and looked at them. "You think I'd tell you something that Mr. Frodo isn't ready to?? Well you'll just have to ask him yourself and take whatever he tells you."
"So there is something, isn't there?" Pippin said. "Give us a hint, Sam!"
Sam brushed Bill's tail very attentively. "If he has any news you'll have to hear it from him."
"Oh it must be exciting!" Merry declared, making Sam frown.
"You've lost your wits," he mumbled.
"When you won't look at us that means you're trying to hide something," Pippin said. "Just give us a hint!"
"As if you'd settle for that! I'm not sayin' a word about Mr. Frodo to you, so whatever you want to know you just go and ask him!" Sam glared at them. Bill tried to get into Pippin's pockets again. Pippin squealed and hurried out; Merry following, laughing.
The quiet of a summer afternoon in the study of Bag End was broken by a pair of Hobbits laughing. Fortunately, Frodo thought, these two were not unexpected. He set his pen down as they came in.
"Frodo Baggins!" Merry said, bowing. Pippin bowed too. Frodo smiled; it had been weeks since he'd last seen them.
"Still wearing your swords round the Shire?" he asked them.
"Well it makes us feel at ease," Pippin said and pulled an apple from a pocket. He tossed it to Frodo. "Bill thinks these are mighty fine apples so you'd better have one while you can!"
"You're not done with that?" Merry inquired as he came closer to Frodo's desk and looked over the papers spread out.
"Oh no," Frodo answered around bites of apple. "I've done much of it but there are still so many details. It's time for a rest, though."
"Good! What's this secret of yours, then?"
Merry and Pippin sat nearby and fixed him with keen gazes. Frodo sat back.
"It's no secret, that's why I was hoping to see you both so I could talk to you." He paused, picking up his pen and tapping it lightly against the edge of the desk. One had to be careful when telling these two things.
"Well?" Pippin persisted. "Don't keep us guessing!"
"Well you remember when I was in Oakleaf with you both and Sam a while back?"
Merry sat up. "You're going back– Pippin, I knew it was something big!" He elbowed Pippin and grinned; Pippin grinned back.
Frodo leaned his head into his hand. "Why do you think it's anything ‘big'?"
Merry laughed. "Oh, Frodo! Don't be silly! You're going to see Lily, we know that! And good for you, I might add. It'll do you wonders to get out and about."
"Of course it will," Pippin added. "Don't worry about anything here, we'll take care of whatever needs taking care of. You just go on your way and visit Lily, and for once, enjoy yourself."
Frodo looked hard at them. "That's it?"
"What were you expecting?"
"Never mind, I'm not going to tell you. Well I've thought a lot about it and I see how good Rosie is for Sam, and when I let myself think about it, I'm lonely."
Merry smiled. "Of course you are. Sam and Rosie have each other and you don't have anybody to look after you that way. You don't have to explain. You haven't gone anywhere and nobody comes here but us, mostly, from what Sam says. What you need, Frodo, is to air yourself out."
"Have you told Lily?" Pippin asked.
"No, I'm going to just go down there. If she's back at her own home then I'll go there, it's not all that much farther."
"Then what else?" Merry asked, noting Frodo went back to tapping the pen.
"Well, this is the complicated part. Elrond is planning to sail from the Grey Havens into the West, with most of the Rivendell folk.... including Bilbo. Bilbo's made it clear he's going. I said I was going too."
"Oh, no, Frodo!" Pippin exclaimed. "You wouldn't just leave us– I suppose you would...." he added with a sigh.
"You already decided that?" Merry said, his voice strained. Frodo felt terrible, seeing how this plan affected his friends.
"Well I did, because I didn't feel I had any reason to stay after finishing the Book. I'm not myself and I never will be again. It isn't that anyone didn't do enough for me, it's the wounds deep inside that will not heal. Cut off from the remnants of my life here, I believed I could become a new person. But the more I think about leaving, the more I think about Bilbo and Lily. You see, there is no return from the Undying Lands. If I go there, I cannot come back." He looked up at them and saw much of Sam's sadness mirrored in their eyes. "Leaving Sam here does not trouble me much because he has Rosie and he has much to do yet. You, both of you, are young and able to recover. You even have each other's friendship. If I went across the Sea, I believed I would not be leaving anyone in trouble. But, if I stay, Bilbo will not, and I will lose him. I will be here with all of you and that makes me glad. I would very much like to see how your lives go on. But it means losing Bilbo and that is hard to bear."
The younger Hobbits looked ready to weep but they did not. Merry hugged Frodo. "Are you sure it has to be one or the other?"
"No. Lily could always say no. If I don't go with Bilbo now, I could go with another party of Elves. But if she wants me to stay I will be without him for a long time. I don't know what the right thing to do is."
"You didn't happen to ask Gandalf, did you?"
"In fact I did. He said I knew the answers to my own questions. But if that was true I wouldn't find this so difficult."
"Frodo," Pippin said, "I think Gandalf is right. I think you simply don't want to lose Bilbo yet but you want your own life too. Elrond will look after Bilbo."
Frodo blinked at Pippin. "You really do think that?"
"Of course," Merry agreed. "I know you want to be with him and I know you want to be relieved of the Darkness. Bilbo wants you to be happy. You know he will be taken care of. Take care of yourself now."
Frodo brushed tears away. ‘They're right, Bilbo will be at rest. I'm going to miss him but I do so want this chance.' He drew a deep breath. "Alright then. I'll do it. It won't be easy."
"So let Lily help you," Merry said.
Frodo smiled; it was a small smile but it was there. "I'll try. I might not know how but I'll try."
"That's not the first thing you started without knowing how!"
Frodo sat down again. "I think it will be the last."
"Not where a woman is concerned!" Merry and Pippin both said.