I'd like to thank all my wonderful reviewers out there. You've all been incredibly supportive, and I'm so glad you've enjoyed this story. This epilogue is dedicated to each of you. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for all your kind words.
I'm sure most of you know that this story has been posted at StoriesOfArda.com, and has been rewritten a bit there. But it still has a long way to go, and so my dear friend Melyanna will be beta reading the entire story for me sometime in the near future. When it's finally completed, it will be posted at her website, Valinor, which is linked to in my profile. If anyone is interested in reading the final, revised version of this story, just let me know and I'll be glad to email you when it's ready.
Enough of my blatherings. Here it is, the final addition to Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady. I hope you enjoy it, and thanks again for reading! :)
Epilogue - Gifts
November, 1423 S.R.
Rain pattered against the window of Merry and Estella's bedroom in Crickhollow, but that was not the cause of Merry awakening in the middle of the night.
He craned his neck, looking over his shoulder. "Estella?"
His wife was hitting her pillow rather hard in attempt to fix it in some way. "What?" she asked, her voice very close to a growl.
"Are you quite all right?" Merry inquired with raised brows.
"Fine," replied Estella through gritted teeth as she rammed her elbow into the pillow.
Merry, wondering why he felt so warm, glanced down and saw that all of the bed's blankets had been shoved over on top of him. "You must have been feeling particularly generous when you decided to give me all of the blankets."
As Estella lay down on her back, she turned her head to glare at Merry. "If you must know, I am extremely warm right now, and have been for several weeks."
Merry rolled over onto his side so that he faced Estella, and he brought a hand up to caress her cheek. "How are you feeling?" he asked gently.
"I'm all right." But her quavering voice clearly indicated that her words were untrue.
Guilt piercing his heart, Merry moved his hand to rest on top of her swollen abdomen. He began to rub the large bulge of her stomach, but stopped when she inhaled sharply.
"What?" he asked worriedly.
"It hurts," she whispered, tears welling up in her eyes.
Merry pulled his hand away immediately and sat up. "Is it... is it supposed to?"
Scowling slightly, Estella responded, "You try having your skin stretched over such a wide area and see if it doesn't hurt."
Merry lay back down beside of her, putting his arm across her chest and hugging her gently. "I'm sorry, love."
Estella closed her eyes and shook her head. "It's not your fault," she replied softly. "Wait, yes it is, you got me into this situation."
He laughed and kissed her cheek. "I'm afraid you can't pin the blame entirely on me. I don't recall you protesting all those months ago when this thing was started."
"Don't remind me," she muttered in response.
After a moment, Estella once again began to shift uncomfortably, pulling her knees up and tugging at the fabric of her nightgown that lay over her stomach. Merry's heart wrenched when he heard her give a soft whimper of frustration.
"I wish there was something I could do to help you," he said, rubbing her arm.
"Can you negotiate with this child and convince him or her to leave my stomach a month early?" she asked hopefully.
Merry smiled, brushing a light kiss against her neck. "I'm afraid not. I suppose I shall have to find some other way to assist you."
Estella rested her head against Merry's, closing her eyes again. "Just tell me again why this will all be worth the trouble."
"Very well." Merry pressed his lips against her cheek as he thought for a moment; he then pulled away and said, "This will be well worth all the suffering you are experiencing right now for one of two reasons. Reason number one: You are carrying a boy who has your wit and my dashing good looks." Estella snorted at the last part, but was also smiling good-naturedly. "Reason number two: You are carrying a girl with your surpassing beauty and my astounding wisdom."
She let out a deep sigh. "You're right, of course. It will be worth it. I just wish I didn't have to go through this irksome pregnancy part. I've never been more uncomfortable in my entire life!" Merry hugged her a bit tighter, and she spoke wistfully, "It was nice in the beginning, when I first began to grow and you could stroke my stomach without it hurting. But now that I'm swollen to the size of Bag End and can't move without some sort of discomfort, it's all become one long nightmare."
Merry smiled, stroking her arm. "I don't care if you swell to the size of Brandy Hall, I shall still think you are the most beautiful hobbit in all the Shire."
Estella smirked. "It's comments like that that make me keep you around these days, otherwise I might get frustrated with you and ask you to leave and never touch me again."
"I shall bear that in mind."
The next few moments passed in comfortable silence, with Merry holding Estella gently (and rather loosely, considering her tendency to shift every few minutes). At one point, Merry lifted his head to look at the clock on the mantlepiece above the fireplace. He grinned suddenly, let go of Estella, and climbed out of bed. He opened a drawer of the bedside table and began to search through it.
"Hang on," he said as he rummaged about in the drawer. "I think I have just the thing that might cheer you up a bit. Ah, here it is!"
He pulled out a small box and closed the drawer, returning to bed. He handed the box to Estella and kissed her briefly but tenderly on the lips. "Happy anniversary, Estella."
She looked up at him with shining eyes and smiled. "You don't have to give me this now - our anniversary isn't until tomorrow!"
Merry shook his head, still grinning. "Incorrect, my dear. It is currently an hour and twenty minutes past midnight - our anniversary is today." He then helped her into a sitting postion, and she opened the box.
Looking at the box's contents, Estella gasped, her eyes wide. "Merry..."
In the box was a shining, silver-white pendant in the shape of a flower attatched to a delicate silver chain. Estella picked it up reverently and whispered, "A star-gazer lily... this is my favorite kind of flower." She looked up at Merry, astounded. "But I never told you that, how did you...?"
Merry smiled sheepishly. "Do you remember all those years ago when I returned from the Quest? Back when you still despised me?" Estella laughed softly, nodding. "Well, it wasn't long after the Occupation was over that I... well, that I decided I wanted to get to know you better. So I was at the Cotton farm one day, checking up on Frodo, and I thought I'd ask Rosie a few things. She told me what sort of things you liked, and at one point she mentioned that your favorite flower was a star-gazer lily." Estella was gazing at him with wonder, and he looked away, a blush rising in his cheeks. "It was just one of those bits of information that I filed away, in case I might've needed it later on. So earlier this year I decided to put that information to good use. I wrote to my friend Gimli, who is rather skilled with jewels, and asked him if something like this would be possible. This necklace arrived about a month ago."
Estella let out a soft sob, and she brought a hand to her mouth, squeezing her eyes shut as Merry slowly rubbed her back. After a moment, he asked timidly, "Do you like it, then?"
"Oh, Merry, it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen!" she replied, bringing a hand up to his cheek. "I can't believe you went through all that trouble..."
"It was no trouble," he insisted, kissing her temple. "After all, you've given me this..." He placed a hand lightly on her stomach.
She smiled at him lovingly. "You forget, Merry, that you also had a part in this. You helped to create this child as well."
"A mutual gift, then," he said with a grin. "One we can share for the rest of our days."
Estella nodded, resting her hand over Merry's. "For the rest of our days."
She carefully set the box and the necklace on her bedside table. She yawned a moment later, and he helped her to lay back down. Merry kissed her softly, brushing a few stray curls out of her face as he rested his head on his own pillow. And while Estella was asleep only a few seconds later, Merry stayed awake long after, watching his wife as she slept, her face aglow with beautiful tranquility. Even after a year of marriage, he still did not tire of watching Estella at night, marveling at the fact that she had let him into her life, that she had surrendered to her heart and accepted his. Merry never ceased to be filled with blissful amazement at the knowledge that Estella had allowed him show her that she could be happy with him. For Merry knew that without Estella, his own happiness would never have been so complete.