Da's Hands - A continuation of the "From Darkness into Light" story arc.

These stories fall in no particular order...sorry. The first to be published can be found here at:
http://www.theonering.com/docs/16024.html

I do not own Middle Earth, nor any of the characters or places mentioned in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien in his incredible stories. I am not making any money off of these stories, they are written purely for pleasure, and the intellectual idea of alternate endings. ,_, I promise to bring the "boys" home in time for supper, none the worse for wear after our little adventures. ,_,

This story takes place in the year 1439 S.R.

I had fled to my study shortly after luncheon, as Melilot had decided to start putting up the first of the year's preserves. The lasses and I had been very nearly chased from the kitchen. Silently, I mused to myself about how pretty my wife would look as she busied herself in the front of the smial, her creamy complexion flushed from the heat of the boiling water and hot fruit sugars. I could feel the silly smile that I wore, but was unconcerned at any impropriety. I was the next "Mad Baggins" after all.

Sighing, I sat for some time longer, vaguely concerned at my sudden apathy towards my writing, wondering if perhaps I should take myself outside into the garden and see what the lasses might be up to. It was a lovely day...but those thoughts only brought back memories of the good Mistress Rose, and her attempts to get me outside and into the sunlight in those first few years. Those dark years when Sam, Merry, Pippin and I had found ourselves at home, after the reconstruction of the Shire had begun. My thoughts began to drift into darker and more unwholesome times, but I was startled from my reverie before it could be allowed to go much further by a sudden small presence. A young hobbit lass had crept silently into the room. She stood next to me, face downcast, leaving only her dark brown curls visible to my line of sight. Slowly but surely, she reached out and took my right hand in her own, running her fingers ever so lightly along mine, until she came to my damaged appendage. To this one, she ran her own fingers down infinitely softly, causing me to imagine the feeling of butterflies and the whisper of barely felt breezes. As her fingertips neared the end of my knuckle, she stopped suddenly, as if knowing that the scar that had been left behind was more delicate, more sensitive than any other spot.

The lass then took my hand and spread it out, gently taking each finger and making it straight until all were splayed out before her. She proceeded to put her own small hand atop my larger one, aligning our wrists for measurement. She had always loved to play this game with anyone who was willing. She would often compare the hands of Dinny and Stella, now the Mistresses Took and Brandybuck. She would giggle and take the large hands of her "uncles" Pippin and Merry and compare their long fingers to her own small ones. She loved to touch her mother's hands, feeling them over and worrying with the calluses left on Meli's thumb where she often pricks herself while sewing. And now she takes her sister Dilly's hands in her own, seeming to take such pleasure in finally having the longer fingers to someone. Dilly smiles that soft infant smile and Prim giggles back at her. But the lass seems to have an affinity for my own hands, and I have often wondered why. To most children, the damaged fingers are a frightening image, and to their parents a memory of a time they would rather forget. I had been right handed...before...but in the years since I had learned to favor that hand, generally keeping it tucked away in a pocket of weskit or coat. But Prim would invariably draw the hand out, and clutch it between her own small ones. I have always wondered why exactly, but had never felt quite right about asking, afraid in some way that it would hurt my small daughter to tell me. Young as she is, she has a very adult sense of protecting those she loves from themselves if necessary. I have found that some things are better left unspoken, unquestioned, simply felt and enjoyed.

After a few moments of examination, she released my hand, and began crawling up into my lap, which I gladly accepted by moving a bit further from the desk and helping her up. Primula, or more often, Prim, still hadn't said a word, but then again, neither had I, and the silence seemed companionable rather than strange or unpleasant. When she was situated to her liking, she was the first to break the stillness of the room.

"Da?" her sweet child-voice asked, gaze now fixed somewhere over my shoulder.

"Yes Prim?" I answered, a gentle humor coloring my words. It was strange to have her so quiet, and I was eager to hear what might be on her mind.

"Why...why did you decide to stay here with us? I know that Dora and I weren't born yet...but why did you decide to stay? I know that you had a chance to go and live with the elves...and from what Mayor Sam says about elves, and from the pictures in Great Uncle Bilbo's books, I think I would like to see them someday, they seem so wonderful. Why did you choose the Shire over elves and to be with Great Uncle Bilbo?" she asked, her voice soft, with a mixture of wonder and puzzlement.

I sat there for a moment, trying to decide how best to answer her question. I took a time to breathe in her scent of warm bread, milk pudding, and late summer, to feel her steady heartbeat against my chest. I could feel the warmth of her small form in my arms, the weight of her head resting on my uninjured shoulder. It bothered me slightly that my children should cater to these scars from the past. It bothered me that my seven-year-old daughter knew somehow, seemingly unconsciously, how to stay away from that always slightly colder, sore side. How she knew that my ravaged finger was more sensitive to heat and cold...and touch. She understood why it was always important for me to have a candle burning in the room her mother and I shared, to keep the shadows at bay. She also knew why it was that her Uncles Merry and Pippin, now Thain and Master, wouldn't talk about some things, and occasionally grew quiet and distant. She also understood the times when Mayor Samwise would look concerned, a brief cloud of worry darkening his sunny face. She understood, at least on some level, what had been given by every one of us in the Fellowship to create her life, the very world she lived in.

It pained me sometimes to think my sweet lass, my daughter, should know things of this nature. But she had always been an intelligent child, and no amount of sugar coating would ever work for her stories. She wanted them true, and would accept no less. I had never told her the complete story of what was contained in the Red Book, or why I had turned away from the Gray Havens on that now-distant day. But in her own way, Prim understood that the past was a dark and dangerous time, and that those she loved most in the world had lost their innocence in the defeat of the terrible darkness.

And so it was with some trepidation that I wondered how to answer her question, knowing that my half truths would be easily seen through, and that any frills would be quickly stripped away with determined questions.

"Da?"

"Yes, love, I'm sorry. I, I really am not sure what to tell you, or of where to start..." I trailed off, hoping against hope that she might drop the question and move on to something more easily managed.

Sighing herself this time, she shifted slightly, and I could feel her relax against me as she pressed on. "Elanor always says that the best place to start is at the beginning. At least that's what she told Daisy and I when she caught us stealing jam from the pantry."

Smiling to myself, thinking not for the first time how much she sounded like Pippin at that age, so far a time ago; I asked the first question that came into my head. "And why were you stealing jam from the Gardner's pantry? You know we have plenty for you and for Daisy at Bag End, and I'm certain that if you were to ask Mistress Rose, she would have given you some jam and bread if you were hungry."

"I know Da, but food is always better if you have had an adventure to get it! That's what Uncle Pippin told me. And Daisy said that Frodo-lad had told her the same thing when she was younger. But that's not what I asked. Will you not tell me? If it will make you sad, then don't tell me...but I would like to know..." Prim trailed off, sleep just beginning to create a lisp in her voice.

With a determined grimace, I realized I would be given no more time to stall, and though I had been given a way out of the conversation, I did agree that my oldest daughter had a right to know about her father's past, and the decisions he made therein.

"Well, there are many reasons I decided to stay in the Shire, Lass. For one thing, I had only just seen your mother once since I came home, but I was quite certain that I wanted to marry her. We had known each other as children many years before, but until the Mistress Rose brought her up for afternoon tea one day, I had not seen Melilot in many years. And by the end of that afternoon, I began to realize why Mayor Samwise had been so determined to come home after the War. He had his Rose waiting for him...and suddenly I had found my Meli.

It was a few months later that we were to take Great Uncle Bilbo to the Gray Havens, and I had some idea that I might go along with them. I had been told long before that I might have Queen Arwen's place in the elven ship, so I knew I had the option of leaving Middle-earth forever. Even on the ride to the harbor, I was unsure of what to do...but when we arrived, and Bilbo boarded the ship with Galadriel, Elrond, and the others, I happened to reach into my pocket, and there was a handkerchief your mother had embroidered and given me as a gift only a short time before. It was then that I knew. I realized that to leave Middle-earth meant to leave my one, final chance to have the life I had always planned upon.

I realized, suddenly, I would never again know the joy of a spring in the Shire, never again hear the cicadas in the grass in the garden. Never again would I greet Mayor Samwise and hold baby Eleanor. And I would never know what could have become of the life I might have with Melilot. She had become what I had set out to save. A creature of the Shire, a lass made up of all the sweet things, all the wonderful purity of this good Middle-Earth. Just as the Mistress Rose had been for Sam. And I couldn't leave that chance behind. And so I stayed, and with your uncles and dear Sam, we watched as the last Elven Ship bore away our dear friends forever. And I knew I had made the right choice. There was no regret in that decision, as there had been with so many others. I knew what I had to do, and I knew that my future, whatever it might be, lay in the Shire, with all that I had once loved around me. And for a time the darkness was still there, the deep, menacing blackness threatened to take hold over the bright and shining parts of my soul...but in the end it lost, just as the Ring had been destroyed forever. The dark emptiness was vanquished, and I found that I could feel and love and live once more.

Then you were born, my sweet Prim, and I thought my world would flow over with happiness. And then again with your sister Dilly, I thought I could never love anyone as much as you and your mother, but I was wrong. Unlike the dark blackness, the coldness that eats away and destroys the good; love stretches and expands and encompasses as much as you want it to. It took very much for me to learn those things again, but I had just begun to realize that afternoon at the Gray Havens. And that is why I stayed behind. Because there were things I still needed to do...and Hobbits I still needed to meet. Do you understand a little better now my lass?" I asked, wondering if her deep and even breathing meant she had fallen asleep.

But no, because a moment later she answered me, voice thick and tired, but not asleep, yet. "Mmhmm. I see Da. You needed to know Dilly and I...you needed to be there for the end of the story. The happily ever after, and then what happened next. Just like I always asked what happened next when you and Mum tell me stories. I see Da...I'm glad you stayed to see the ever after with all of us."

"I am too, sweet one, I am too," I murmured quietly into her dark brown curls so like my own. Closing my eyes as I smiled with a happiness I had once lost, but had found in such great measure once again.

The End. For now at least.

"And what happened *then*?"

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