Frodo scrambled to get his feet under him before he drowned. Once he got his footing, it was easy to keep his head out of the water and he realised that drowning probably wasn't too likely, but he had certainly had a fright.
"Frodo!!" came a shout from the water's edge.
He looked up to see Lily wading into the water, holding a hand toward him. He struggled forward and grasped her hand; she pulled while he plodded.
"I'm so sorry!" Lily said, trying to brush his hair out of his eyes. "I thought you were somebody else– I didn't know you were here– oh, I'm so sorry!"
"You did that? You hit me?"
"I did, but– I had no idea! Are you hurt?"
"No– but I will never cross you, Lily! I would have expected that from an angry cow perhaps, but not you!"
"Oh– well– " She pursed her lips. "I've been accused before of being too forceful. Come inside, you shouldn't be standing here all wet!"
He followed but asked why she would want to throw anyone into the water. "Yesterday somebody stole my money pouch. I didn't get a close look at him but you really looked like him from the back. I thought the thief had followed me home. Can you forgive me? If for one moment I thought it might be you I would never have done it!"
"You're forgiven. Have you *any* idea who it might be?" Frodo was unhappy that such behaviour would happen in the Shire.... but perhaps it was unrealistic to think it could not. He didn't like that thought either.
"No, no notion at all. It wasn't very much but the idea that someone would simply run up and take it directly from my hand– it makes me very angry!"
"I see that! We need to look into this."
"But not now. Here...." She had led him into one of her store-rooms and now looked through some things on a shelf. "I think these should fit you well enough. If that had been ice water I would *never* forgive myself! You can change in here. I need to change too."
Frodo shivered at the mention of ice water. He found that the clothes did fit well enough though the shirt hem was unfinished. The material was especially soft. He met Lily in the corridor and they went on to the kitchen.
"It may be August," she said, "But I'm feeling a bit chilled now! Would you like some tea?"
"I think I would. What sort of material is this?"
She answered as she began preparing the tea. "It's something new called ‘silk'. I'm one of the first Shirefolk to get it. It's expensive but I hear that in areas where it becomes popular it also becomes less expensive. It's supposed to be cool in summer and warm in winter. It's quite remarkable.... it's made from the cocoons of caterpillars. I can't imagine there would be enough caterpillars to make enough silk for clothing, but it happens. The outfit you're wearing is one of my tests. I've already sold three or four pieces. It feels wonderful, doesn't it?"
"Yes, it certainly does.... Caterpillars? Where do they live? How did you get this?"
"Ah, that is a trade secret, my friend! The land they live in is far from here, much warmer. I have a network of traders that keep me informed and supplied. This is a fascinating business, Frodo. I have learned much and only left the Shire once. The rest of the world is wide and full of many things Hobbits have only dreamed of.... and some things not dreamed of." She sat across the table from him. "But I suppose you already know that. You've seen Elves and orcs, wizards and Dwarves; I wonder if you don't sometimes miss traveling."
"Not out there. Lothlórien and Rivendell are the only places I'd like to see again. And even by now, there may be many changes there. My home is in the Shire. But if I remember right, you never admired traveling much."
She smiled, just a little. "That's true. I've talked to so many traders since my younger days, though. These people come from far far away, many of them. I've had to learn bits of their languages. I'm not *quite* the innocent you used to know!" She laughed then sighed. "Why *are* you here?"
"Well... I wanted to see you. I've had a long time to think and I realised I missed you."
She smiled. "Really? How wonderful! And I ruined it by flinging you into the water! You must think I've lost my mind!" She shook her head.
"No, no, I understand. You haven't ruined anything. I'm glad you don't mind me showing up."
"Mind? I've thought so much about you! I've wanted to write you so many times, but I didn't want to meddle. You seemed so certain about leaving me.... about not being able to go on with your life. Are you saying that's changed?"
Frodo did feel uncertain now, but about how to explain his feelings, not about hurting her. These were things he'd never had to say before, just this way. "Some of it has. I feel lonely sometimes, Lily. Sam has Rosie; they complement each other so well. They have a daughter now. I can't help but think that there might be something left for me here, maybe. My friends all tell me I should be looking after myself now. I'm still not sure I'm comfortable with that.... so I thought I'd ask you."
"Me?" Her eyes widened. "What do you mean?"
"I know I wouldn't be lonely if you were around." He was a little nervous about facing her.
Lily stared at him, seeming to have stopped breathing. She reached out suddenly and grasped his hands. "Frodo....." she whispered, her eyes intense. "I'd given up. I felt you leave. But you're serious, aren't you! At last you have truly come back! You really are alive! I can come with you tomorrow."
"Come with.... But I haven't asked you to come anywhere!" Now he was worried she had misunderstood.
"You need to be in your own home. You need familiar surroundings and friends. It'll be much easier for you if you're at home and I visit. I can stay in Bywater or Hobbiton. I'll come up there with you tomorrow and stay at one of the inns for a while. I don't want to be in your way, that would be the worst thing. We can visit each other and get to know each other better without you tripping over me. And I'll get to meet your other friends without looking as if I'm taking over your life. This is so exciting! I'm so happy I can hardly speak!"
Frodo blinked at her. "I think you're speaking quite well enough!" he said, wondering what he had got himself into.
Frodo tried to gather his thoughts before Lily came up with more plans. This was not quite what he had been expecting. Her face was so happy and eager however, that he didn't want to discourage her entirely. "Lily, you can't simply leave your home and your work and go live somewhere else at a moment's notice. I never intended to disrupt your life that way. I only meant that I wanted to see you a little more often."
"I know! But, Frodo– you left me once. I couldn't bear to watch you go away again. In fact you left the Shire entirely once and then left me. Please, don't tell me you want to see me and then leave again." She clutched his hands. "Please, don't do that. If there is the weakest chance that we could be together I will do absolutely anything for it. If I stay nearby Bag End you can see me whenever you want, without having to travel so far. I won't become a clinging vine. This means that much to me."
He found it difficult to meet her gaze. He hadn't expected her to be so intense. He was touched that she was so serious, but he had not planned on returning to Bag End with her! How could she simply uproot herself for something so tenuous? "I can't promise you anything. I have no idea what may happen, Lily. The problems I talked about last year are still here. My shoulder will never heal, its pain is physical and otherwise. You must understand that. Maybe I'm expecting too much... I suppose I should have thought this through more...." he realised, shaking his head. "This is asking too much of you."
"No!" She refused to release his hands. "Nothing you could say would be asking too much! You're offering me a chance to be with you and I won't let you take it back! I know you're still hurt. I know you're being cautious. I accept that. I accept every risk. There is absolutely nothing that will keep me from trying."
"But, Lily! You have no idea what it may be like. Do you remember the Winter Solstice celebration you and I went to in Oakleaf? When we were making the decorations by the fire? Do you remember how I reacted? I have no way of knowing when that may happen again, only that it will– something, sometime, will make it happen again. It may be when we are in a crowd or when we are alone. There is no way to prepare you for it."
She looked away then faced him again. Her eyes were resolute. "Frodo, I've been warned now. You are not going to scare me away. Whatever phantoms still plague you have yet to meet me. I will *not* let you be destroyed." The teapot whistling broke the strain between them. Lily got up to move the teapot off the fire and Frodo leaned back in his seat, shaking his head at the floor.
‘This is too much for her.... she has no idea what she is trying to do. Why did I ever think this was a good idea? There is no way this could work.'
Lily set two mugs on the table and poured water into them. After returning the teapot to the stove she sat again. "And don't think that telling me was a bad idea," she said.
Frodo looked up. "It's true. You could never be prepared to heal these injuries. Elrond couldn't."
"I don't care! I *refuse* to give you up to Shadows! I know you've been terribly hurt, but that's why you need someone! You can't do this alone, you must realise that! This is beyond one person, yes.... but two can triumph. I believe that more strongly than anything. And furthermore, Elrond is a man."
"He is a High Elf, Lily. He brought me back from Darkness at great expense to himself. Whatever healing could be done, has been."
"It most certainly has not." Lily went round the table, took Frodo's hand, pulled him to his feet and kissed him soundly. She let him draw back a little.
He looked at her with wide eyes. "Oh!"
"Now," said Lily quietly, "Isn't that better than Elrond's healing?"
"It's different," Frodo admitted.
Beneath his surprise he felt rather flattered, which surprised him further. He'd been expecting that he'd be the one to kiss her, if it happened at all. Her bright smile left him feeling disarmed.
"I shocked you, I know. You need to be shocked to understand that there are possibilities beyond what you can see. I know that you may decide, in time, that you are not feeling better after spending time with me. I know that I may even decide it's better if we separate. But please, don't let that be decided until we've tried. This is worth far too much to stop before trying." She stepped back and continued to smile at him.
Frodo looked away. "I.... don't know, now. I want a friend, Lily, I don't plan to go back to Bag End with a wife."
She laughed. "I don't want you to either! But honestly, you want more than merely a friend, you made that plain to me. Just let me come with you, as a friend. Let's drink our tea and you can decide tomorrow. If your other friends are saying you should do this, I think you should listen to them. But the tea will be cooling.... come, sit, relax."
Frodo took his seat again. "Relaxing is probably impossible, but the tea will be welcome."
She stirred some honey into their steaming mugs. "Tea is always welcome. It warms the heart."
He took a sip. "You can't move up north tomorrow, what about the people you sew for?"
"I can send clothing anywhere. I have the measurements of my most frequent buyers. They will probably travel to where ever I am. And I will find new buyers. I have an answer for everything, Frodo!" She winked at him and sipped slowly at her tea.
"Then is nothing to be left to me?"
"That is not at all what I mean. You can still say no tomorrow. I will be dreadfully disappointed but I will listen to you. I just want you to realise that I am in control of my life enough to know that I can move up north tomorrow without ruining myself. How often we see each other, then, will be for you to choose. I will have much to do when we are not together so I will not be feeling lonely. And, you will never lack for clothing, if you like the way I make them!"
"How do you know you will not be lonely, so far from your home and friends?"
"Because I know myself. I have work in many stages of completion that must be finished and sent to buyers. I need to test that silk and see what more I can do with it. I can write to my friends; some of them will probably visit me, someday." She twisted strands of hair around a finger. "Frodo, I'll admit that since you left Oakleaf, I've been hoping you would come back, but never really thought you would. You are so.... You make me feel happy. Somewhere inside you, I sensed a certain.... lightheartedness that was hidden but not completely gone. I would love to see the gardens at Bag End that you speak so highly of. I would like to meet Sam, who you speak even more highly of. So I very much hope that you will agree, but I promise to listen to you. I was not named after a vine that climbs and clings, I was named after a flower that gladdens the heart when one takes time to notice it. I hope to be like that for you."
"I am fond of you, but...." This was hard to put into words, even to himself. He didn't want to completely turn her away but she was like a wave of the Sea in old stories, suddenly turning ships upside down. How to stand upright in such a storm? "I do want to see you sometimes, but I didn't expect you to want to *move* right away."
"Well expectations are not always met the way we think they should be. My friends will tell you that I spare nothing for them, if it is in my power to give or to do. Being with you is worth leaving everything."
That was far beyond anything he had expected from her now. He studied her face and found only frankness. He could sense nothing hidden. Sam had gone far beyond Frodo's understanding of their friendship; Sam believed in Frodo in ways he himself could not. Lily was showing much the same inclination. If he could accept it from Sam, why not from her?
He drank some tea. It spread a pleasant warm feeling throughout him. He glanced at Lily. She was twining her hair about her finger and looking into her cup. It was not polite to suggest continuing their friendship and then change his mind, it could be argued. He emptied the cup. "I will have an answer tomorrow, then."
"Good! I've forgotten all about Rufus, my poor pony, and yours as well. They shouldn't be left with saddles on!" She smiled at him once more before going out the back way.