The room Frodo had taken for Sam and himself looked out over the inn's back door and the stable-yard; he'd requested a room on this side of the inn for this reason. Merry and Pippin were next door, and Milo and Lad across and farther down the hall.
Once he had blown out the candles and the room was in darkness, Frodo pulled the shutters closed, but left one hanging slightly ajar so that he could peek out. Then he settled down in the curve of the windowsill.
"Aren't you coming to bed?" asked Sam. He hadn't undressed, per Frodo's request, for they might have to get up and go out at a moment's notice, but he'd hoped that they would have a chance to lie down. "You ought to rest while you can. You've had a long day today, and might have a longer night ahead."
"I want to see if Lad leaves the inn," Frodo answered. "I'm certain he will after things quiet down."
"But you set Mr. Merry and Pippin to watch for 'm. They'll wake us if anything happens."
"They might not notice. They can be distracted so easily."
"By messing about, you mean."
Frodo glanced at him and smiled. "You know how they are."
"Don't I!" Sam agreed with a chuckle. "How many times d'you suppose we've had to listen to the two of 'em up half the night since they came to visit?" Since Frodo wasn't coming to bed, Sam decided to stay up with him. He went over to the window and sat down at Frodo's side in the circular sill.
"Lad only agreed to stay on here tonight because we insisted," Frodo explained. "He couldn't refuse without looking odd. I'm convinced he wasn't planning to go home, but he couldn't leave for wherever it is he spends his secret nights once we began to ask questions. He can't go now 'til Milo is asleep." He glanced out through the gap in the shutters; the empty stable-yard lay bright in the moonlight, and all was still and silent. As Sam's arms wrapped around his waist, Frodo sighed and nestled back against him. "When he does go, we'll follow, and I expect we'll have an answer to this puzzle before daybreak."
"Then this one'll be over near as soon as it began," said Sam. "As these investigations go, I'd say I like this one best so far. There isn't so much running about this time, and nought to upset you. No dead bodies. And no dangers 'cept that fast bit o' baggage hanging all over you." Frodo laughed at this. "And if it doesn't come out as Mayor Whitfoot'd like, it isn't so bad."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, what's the worst that'll happen if Mr. Lad doesn't marry Miss Angelica? If he's running about with this other girl, then maybe she's better off without 'm. She shouldn't break her heart over the likes of him. She most likely find somebody else who'd make her a decent husband soon enough."
"Maybe... but I've got to give it my best effort to see it does turn out right. I agreed to undertake this assignment for the mayor's sake, and I mean to see it through. Besides," Frodo teased, "if Angelica doesn't get her Lad, then she might decide to do as Aunt Dora wants. That 'somebody else' might be me, Sam." He twisted to smile up at his companion. "Do you think I'd make Angelica a decent husband?"
"You'd never do such a thing!"
"No..." Frodo answered. "I wouldn't. You'll be married long before I do."
Sam started and looked guilty. "I won't marry," he insisted. "Not ever."
Frodo had his doubts about this--he'd observed how downhearted Sam had been since he'd stopped going to the Green Dragon, where Rosie Cotton worked--but was in no mood to argue the point. Instead, he gave Sam a kiss and said, "Surely you agree that we have good reason to see that Angelica marries elsewhere?" Then he added, more seriously, "I honestly don't want to see her unhappy. If I can restore Lad to her, then I will. I think everyone ought to be in love, and be happy with their love. This feeling is too wonderful to go to waste."
He kissed Sam again, more slowly and deeply. When he felt one of Sam's hands steal up under his waistcoat to undo the lowest buttons of his shirt and slip inside, Frodo snuggled closer, wrapping both arms around his neck and wriggling up to sit on Sam's knee.
They were in the midst of a passionate embrace--and then Frodo nearly tumbled out of Sam's lap when the door to the adjoining room burst open and Merry came in. "Did you see?" he asked the startled pair. "Lad's gone out."
Frodo looked out the window: there was a lantern moving around within the stable. Lad emerged, leading the black-and-white pony out into the yard. "Find out where he's going," Frodo hissed to Merry as he fumbled to redo his shirt buttons. "Follow him!"
"Pip's already gone out," Merry reported. "We weren't distracted." And with that, he went out, leaving them to put themselves back into order.
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