On the morrow, Meriadoc Brandybuck's world was coming to an end. On the morrow, his life would be over as well, for he could not imagine living on if his world ended.

He stood, toes curled against the icy chill of the floor. If his mother or aunts or older female cousins should see him, there would be shrieks of dismay and scolding and warnings that he should "catch his death".

He wondered idly what death felt like. Did it hurt? When he'd seen death, when he'd been to a burying, death had looked just like sleep... he'd not gone to sleep, the first time he'd seen death. He'd stayed up the whole night, terrified... death looked so much like sleep.

A tear trickled down to the tip of his nose, and he sniffed.

Even at that tiny sound, the figure in the bed stirred and sat up. 'Merry?' said the beloved voice. 'Merry, whatever are you doing out of bed? You'll catch your death!'

Merry felt more tears trickle down his face, and he wiped his sleeve across his face. The shadowy figure threw off the covers and swept him up, carrying him to the bed, laying him down and covering him up and climbing in to circle him with warmth. 'Your feet are like ice!' his cousin's voice said accusingly.

'Don't go away,' he begged again. 'Please don't go away and leave me.'

Frodo sighed. He had tried to explain, over and over, in a way that his little cousin could understand, but Merry was just too little. He thought he'd done something wrong and Frodo was being taken away, to punish him. Then he thought Frodo'd done something wrong and was being sent away. Then when they had straightened everything out, Frodo thought, and made it clear that *no one* was in trouble, Merry had asked why he didn't just stay, then? Didn't he love his cousin anymore?

'I have a home, now, Merry.'

'But you already have a home!' Merry protested.

'Bilbo's offered me a family.'

'I'm your family!' Merry said stubbornly.

'Merry, he's giving me a place to belong.'

'You belong to me!' Merry sobbed, and buried his face in the pillow, refusing to be comforted.

Frodo sat up and looked down at the miserable ball of weeping young hobbit. He had to do something or Merry would be making himself sick.

'Merry,' he said softly, in the most persuasive tone he could manage.

The soft sobs stopped, and a hiccup was heard... then another, though the face remained determinedly buried in the pillow.

'What?' came a muffled voice.

'You can come see me at Bag End, you know.'

Merry abruptly popped up into a sitting position. 'Can I come live with you?' he demanded.

Frodo took a deep breath. This was going to be more difficult that he'd thought.

'If cousin Bilbo could come and take you away to live with him, why can't you come and take me away to live with you?' Merry said, starting to sound more hopeful.

'No, Merry,' Frodo said as gently as he could. 'You've got parents, and they'd miss you.'

Merry threw his arms about his beloved cousin, who for some reason he could not quite comprehend, was leaving him tomorrow, going away forever, and never coming back again. 'But *I'll* miss you!'

Frodo returned the hug, resting his chin on his little cousin's sleep- tousled curls. 'Merry...' he said, feeling his way carefully.

'Merry, we have always been bestest friends, from the day you were born, and they said you were too little to live, and I sneaked in to see you and to tell you that you *had* to live because Auntie Esme would die if you did, and I could not lose her too. And you stayed, and you saved her, because you were so stubborn and brave.'

Merry held him tighter.

Frodo went on, feeling more confident as the words flowed from somewhere deep inside. 'And you know, bestest friends are forever friends, because... well, because they just *are*.'

He put his finger under Merry's chin and tilted the little face up towards his own. 'And you know, Merry...'

The eyes looked up at him, wide and trusting.

'Someday, maybe someday soon, there'll be a little cousin born, and you'll be his bestest friend, because you'll be older and stronger and wiser in years, and the two of you will be forever friends...'

'Truly, Frodo?' Merry said, eyes wider with wonder.

'Really and truly, Merry,' Frodo said, putting both arms around his little cousin to hold him tight. 'Just like we're bestest friends, and we always will be bestest friends, no matter where we are... forever.'

'Forever,' little Merry breathed, and rested his head against his cousin's chest. Soon, Frodo felt him relax, and his breathing became deep and even, and Frodo carefully laid him down and curled around him, pulling the covers up to keep them warm against the icy chill of the night.