Title: Midnight Snacks: Merry's Tale
Author: Frodo Baggins of Bag End (FrodoAtBagEnd - FBoBE/"Febobe")

E-mail: febobe at yahoo dot com
Characters: Merry, Frodo
Rating: PG for mild thematic darkness. No slash, sex, or profanity included or intended.

Feedback: Welcomed. Constructive only, please. . .no flaming.

Summary: While the hobbits hide in the woods from the Black Riders, Merry remembers...

Story Notes/Announcements: This story was originally written for Marigold's Challenge #3. For permission to reproduce or archive this work in whole or in part, please contact febobe at yahoo dot com.

DISCLAIMER: The characters, places, and story of The Lord of the Rings are the property of J.R.R. Tolkien and consequently of the Tolkien Estate, with select rights by Tolkien Enterprises. This piece appears purely as fanfiction and is not intended to claim ownership of Tolkien's work in any way. Please e-mail me if you have concerns. Original characters are my own work; please do not use my creations in your work. Please respect my original contributions. Furthermore, please do NOT consider any treatments or remedies within this story safe or effective for use: these are included as fictitious hobbit care, not real human medical practice, and while some can indeed be traced to actual therapeutic practices, could be dangerous. Please consult your health care professional before treating yourself or others for any condition or symptom.

MIDNIGHT SNACKS: MERRY'S TALE

There isn't even any wind, but Frodo shivers, pulling his cloak about him tightly, as if he were cold, stooping so that his tall frame is less prominent in the brush: not that hobbits are large to Big Folk, especially folk as big as that shadow-thing, but Frodo has always been taller than some, enough that he might stand out if not careful. Not a good thing just now, I don't suppose, from what I know, and somehow I wish that I could exchange places with him. He deserves peace. Life should have left him alone already.

He looks so pale. Maybe it's the moonlight, or lack of it, but he looks all pale and earnest the way he did when he was twenty-one and I was seven and he'd slipped into the kitchen for a midnight snack. Normally children at the Hall weren't allowed to do that. There were snacks kept in your room in case you got hungry during the night. But Frodo had just gotten back from Bilbo's, and no one dared cross him. He'd gone there after getting terribly ill, so awfully sick. . .and when they came back, Bilbo had unpacked Frodo and made him lie down for a nap, then been in the study with my parents for a long time.

I'd not gotten to play with him since he got back, so I snuck out all excited. As I neared the kitchen, I could hear Frodo humming a little now and then. . .some song I didn't know. He was cutting slices of bread and pouring milk and spreading butter and spooning and sprinkling sugar and a dusting of cinnamon. I hadn't seen him that calm in a long time, but even to me he didn't look healthy yet. There were dark shadows beneath his eyes, and in what light the fire cast his thin frame looked even painfully slimmer. As I slipped 'round the corner, he looked up - of course; he always seemed to catch me - and smiled.

A faint, haunted smile.

"Hullo, Mer. Sorry if I startled you. Want me to make you some toast? Or an applesauce sandwich - like me?" He demonstrated: an already-finished concoction lay completed and warmed on the side-board on a plate even as the milk heated for the other. But my appetite was gone for the moment, and I shook my head.

"Fro. . .did I do something bad?"

He frowned, dropping at once to meet my gaze, pulling out a chair and coaxing me into it, pulling out its mate to sit facing me, only turning the chair wrong-way so that he could lean upon the back. "Wrong? Whatever makes you think that, Mer? You've not been up to my tricks, have you?"

I shook my head, biting my lip. "N-No, but. . .Uncle Bilbo came and took you away, and then I've hardly been allowed to see you. . . ."

He sighed, and in that instead his face looked so white and so open. . .leaning aside, he opened his arms, inviting me to climb up into the chair and cry there, bawling on his shoulder.

"You've not done anything wrong, Mer, not about that at all. . . ." He took a deep breath. "Do you remember that afternoon weeks and weeks ago when I didn't want my tea, or my supper, and went to my room, and your mamma thought that was odd?" I nodded, remembering that well enough. "Mer, when your mamma came up to my room to see if I wanted something to eat after all, I was so sick I barely understood anything. I recognised her, but I couldn't remember why my own mamma and papa weren't there, and I was awfully confused. She had to try and get me to stay in bed, which wasn't easy, while someone went for the doctor. They had to wrap me in cool wet sheets over and over because my fever was so high. When I started getting better, the doctor said it was a wonder, and said I ought to go and stay with Uncle Bilbo for a little while, since I could. . .there aren't stairs all over Bag End, even though it's big, and the living-space is a relatively small area, so it's better for me with my being so tired. . .and with the strain on my heart. And the doctor said I needed one person with nothing to do but look after me, and. . .well, Uncle Bilbo has lots to do, but. . ." He blushed, and rose to get the kettle, pouring the hot milk over the buttered, sugared toast. "He hasn't any children, and he said he'd be happy for time with me there to look after. He said I could help him with his book. And the doctor said books were all right - anything I could do in bed or on the sofa - "

He hesitated, and I thought I saw tears in his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Mer. I should have thought to tell you. I wish I had, only I was still feeling so ill when I left, and I was so tired today from the journey coming back. And now I have something even harder to tell you, but putting it off won't make it any better."

No.

He steadied himself against the counter, and I realised just then how weak he really looked, how fragile he seemed in the firelight. . .like old people looked before they died. I didn't want to think about that.

"Bilbo has asked me to come and live with him at Bag End, Merry. He laughs about it - says I should come and live with him, and we can celebrate our birthdays comfortably together. But I know the truth is that he's never realised what it's been like for me since Mamma and Papa died. Not until now. And - Mer, he wants to adopt me, and I think he'd have done it sooner had he realised." Swallowing, Frodo tightened his grasp on the counter-edge. "He's talking to your parents about it, to make the arrangements, and then we'll stay a bit longer, so you and I can have a bit more time."

I tried to speak, but only one word would leave my open mouth. "Soon?"

Frodo nodded. "Very soon."

I began to cry. A moment later I felt his arms close around me, heard soft shushing, reassuring me that it would be all right, that Bilbo had promised visits and parties and tramping up this way when he was better.

That's what I want now.

But it's my turn to tell Frodo it'll be all right. That's what he needs. Arms close around him, reassuring him that it will be all right, that he has his family, that we won't leave him. Family doesn't do that.

I can't bring back the milk-toast and the applesauce sandwiches in a nice big kitchen with a warm fire, Fro. But see if I can't keep you safe. The way you did me.

- the end -