Complete!  If you read the previous chapters carefully, you'll see that a full year has gone by since the night of the Party when Bilbo and Gandalf left.  I wanted to end this story with the same line that began it, and it almost worked out that way.

Thank you so much, everyone, for enjoying this fun tale with me.

Movie-verse, except for the bits of book-canon sneaking in here and there.

DISCLAIMER:  Of course.  The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.



Chapter 8 --- Sweet is the Sound of the Falling Rain

"Cheers, Gaffer!"

Flushed with good ale and a bit of singing and dancing, Frodo looked around, then stood up from the table and held his mug high for one last toast.

"To Bilbo!"

"To Bilbo!"  "To Mad Baggins!"  "What's young Frodo on about?"  "If he's buyin, I'm drinkin'!"  The crowd's reaction to Frodo's toast was mixed, but any reason to enjoy a free mug of the Green Dragon's finest ale wasn't something any self-respecting hobbit questioned too deeply.

"To the Shire!" shouted Pippin, sitting on a nearby table with Merry and giggling uncontrollably.

"The Shire!" the crowd roared as one.

"The Shire," Frodo murmured to himself.  "Oh, Bilbo, wherever you are, I hope you're surrounded by friends."  He drained his mug and sat down again.  "It was a good party, eh Sam?" he asked, his eyes dancing.  "Bilbo would have loved it."

"Aye, sir, he certainly would," Sam agreed.

"Sam…" Frodo whispered urgently.  His friend leaned over to hear better.  "Sam…"

"Mr. Frodo?"

"Before we leave…"

"Yes, sir?"

"Are you ever going to talk to her?"

Sam had spent most of the evening staring at Rose Cotton, and drinking far more ale than was good for him.

"Well, it's getting late, and she's been busy, and---"

"Rosie!" Frodo cried, "come over here, if you please, lass!"

"Mr. Frodo!" Sam hissed.  "What're you doin'?"

"Now this is a lively lot," came an amused, feminine voice to Sam's right.  "May I bring you something else?  Hello, Sam."

"Rosie…" Sam murmured.  He looked up into laughing, sparkling eyes, and suddenly, there was nothing else in the room… in the world.  He watched with interest as his hand reached out all by itself to grasp one of Rose Cotton's small, soft ones.

Rose smiled encouragingly at the gentle gardener.

"Yes, Sam?"

"Rosie, I…"

"More ale over here, Rosie-lass!" boomed a voice from across the room.  Rose started to pull away, but Sam, in a fit of ale-induced courage, swiftly stood up, raised her hand to his lips, and kissed it.  For the rest of his life, Samwise Gamgee would never forget the look on Rose Cotton's face at that moment -- her joyous, radiant smile… just for him.

Frodo's mouth dropped open, and there was a sound, from somewhere behind him, of Merry gasping and Pippin falling off the table in amazement.  A hush fell over the room, broken suddenly by the same voice as before.

"Leave that youngster your hand, Rosie, and serve me some ale with the other 'un!"  There was uproarious laughter, and a blushing Rose gently (and with obvious reluctance) disengaged her hand from Sam's and went back to her duties.  Sam slowly sat back down, a look of wonder and awe on his face.

"Here, young master, close that mouth before the flies get in!"  A grinning Hamfast Gamgee reached out a finger and gently pushed Frodo's lower jaw back up.  "Didn't think 'e had it in 'im, did you?"  He clapped his son on the back.  "About time, I'd say."

Sam looked at Frodo, still entranced.  "Shall we be goin', then, sir?"

"I suppose we shall," Frodo murmured.


Walking back to The Hill, Frodo put an arm around his friend, both still somewhat in a daze from the evening.  He stopped and leaned his head back.  Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath of the sweet evening air.

"You love it here, don't you, sir?"

Frodo opened his eyes and smiled.  "I can't imagine living anywhere else, Sam.  Can you?"

"That I can't."  Sam looked up the lane and frowned.  "Didn't you leave any lights burnin', Mr. Frodo?"

Frodo followed Sam's gaze to where Bag End stood, its windows dark.

"I thought I did," Frodo said, trying to remember through the fog of ale.  "We were in such a hurry to leave, maybe I forgot."  He smiled.  "I don't need lights to see the way in my own home, Sam.  You don't have to worry about me."

"I may not have to, sir, but I think I always will, just the same."

"Thank you, Sam.  At least I don't have to worry about you anymore!" Frodo grinned.

"Good night, Mr. Frodo.  I'll be by bright and early to do that trimmin' under your window.  And maybe…"  Sam continued softly, "maybe I'll ask Rosie out for a walk tomorrow evenin'."

"It was a good party, Sam, wasn't it?" Frodo repeated softly.

"It was that, Mr. Frodo."

"She likes you."

"I hope so," Sam sighed, "since I'm as purely in love as anyone can be."

"Good night, Sam."  Frodo watched as Sam walked away, a bit unsteadily, then leaned his head back once again to drink in the thousands of glittering stars overhead.  A gentle rain earlier in the day had washed the skies clean.

"Happy birthday, Bilbo," Frodo whispered.

Frodo put his key to the door of Bag End and was startled when the door swung open on its own.  He had left lamps lit, and a fire in the parlor's hearth, hadn't he?  He took a few hesitant steps into the dark, cold room.  There was something odd… something…  Suddenly a large, shaking hand grabbed his shoulder, and even as his heart leaped in terror, he was spun sharply around to find himself face to face with Gandalf.  Frodo's eyes grew wide; Gandalf looked… frightened?

"Is it secret?  Is it safe?"

** END **