Written for the "Moveable Feast" Fic Exchange Challenge for the Livejournal Waymeet community.
DISCLAIMER: Professor Tolkien's wonderful characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.
AUNT AMARANTH'S REVENGE
Merry had just woken from a nap, and he and Frodo sat talking quietly in the cool, dark room.
"Bilbo should arrive from Hobbiton today for his visit," Frodo reminded Merry. "We're going to celebrate our birthdays together."
"How old is Cousin Bilbo?" Merry asked. He left his own bed and climbed up onto Frodo's.
"He's… I believe he turns 99 this year."
"That's a lot." Merry started to count that up, but ran out of fingers and toes. "Won't he get the squeezles, I mean, the measles too? Mum and dad haven't let too many people come see us."
"It's all right," Frodo said gently. "Bilbo wrote that he's already had the 'squeezles'." Merry giggled. "Apparently, once you have it, you can't catch it again." He reached over to the bedside table and poured Merry a small cup of juice. "Is your throat better? Mine is."
"Yes," Merry said, between gulps. "But don't tell mum just yet. I really like the licorice syrup we get to drink."
"You rascal," Frodo said lightly. How he loved his young cousin. He felt a thrill of excitement when he thought of the wonderful secret he and Bilbo shared. His life would change forever in a few weeks, but leaving Merry would be dreadfully hard.
Merry suddenly grew very solemn. "Frodo, I'm sorry for giving you the measles. I didn't mean to."
"Oh Merry, it wasn't your fault. Measles is very contagious; that means it's easy to catch. You didn't give it to me; it was just floating around in the air somewhere, and it 'caught' us both."
"You getting sick wasn't my fault?" Merry asked, brightening.
"No," Frodo assured him. "In fact, it may have been mine. Perhaps this is my punishment at last, for…" He started to laugh.
"What are you talking about?" Merry leaned against Frodo and closed his eyes, which were still a bit sore.
"Let me tell you a story," Frodo said. "When you were just a tiny baby, Merry, I'm afraid I tried to… to sell you."
"What?" Merry's eyes flew open in alarm. "Like a basket of eggs?"
"Exactly like that. In fact, there was even a basket involved, as I recall."
"Tell me," Merry demanded.
"Let me see," Frodo said, thinking back. "You were less than a year old, and so adorable in your wee basket." Merry squirmed in embarrassment, but stayed quiet. He loved to hear about when he was a tiny baby.
"While your mum was sleeping one afternoon, I got the idea to carry you around the Hall, offering you for sale."
"What for?" Merry demanded.
"It was all a joke, but I tried to be very serious, and told everyone I needed money to buy presents for my birthday that was coming up."
"Did anyone buy me?" Merry asked, starting to giggle.
"Everyone was very amused, and I got a few coins," Frodo said. "But it's what you got that I'm thinking about. By the time your mum found us, your face was covered with lip rouge from all the matrons kissing your sweet little face."
"Aunt Esme thought you had broken out in spots. She was horrified, and it was only after I insisted she take a cloth to your face that she realized you weren't sick. Then she was upset with me, and then she started to laugh, and everything was all right again." Frodo grinned. "It was just after that, actually, that your parents decided I needed more spending money. I don't think they wanted to risk me trying to sell you again."
"But what about--"
Frodo chuckled. "When Aunt Amaranth heard about what I had done, she called me to her and announced that someday I would reap the reward for my wayward deed."
Merry thought about that. "She meant that someday you'd get all spotted, like I was all spotted?"
"Yes, you clever lad." Frodo hugged Merry close. "What do you think?"
"I think Aunt Amaranth has funny-colored hair," Merry proclaimed.
"It is a rather vivid shade, isn't it?" Frodo mused. "But don't ever say that to her face, Merry. Promise."
"Promise." Merry looked up as someone knocked softly on the bedroom door. "Cousin Bilbo!" he said excitedly. "Frodo tried to sell me!"
"Did he?" Bilbo inquired thoughtfully. He came to sit on the bed, and hugged them both. "I'm sorry I missed that, Merry; I would have bought you myself, had I the chance."
"He didn't, though," Merry said confidently. "But I got all kissed so he got the squeezles with me, because Aunt Amaranth said so."
"My goodness, how about that." Bilbo hadn't a clue what Merry was talking about, but the boys were obviously nearly well again, and Frodo was smiling at him, and that was all that mattered.
"I didn't really try to sell Merry," Frodo said hastily. "It was just a joke, when he was a baby."
"And Aunt Amaranth has funny hair," Merry whispered.
"I quite agree," Bilbo murmured, casting a wary eye toward the open door. "But I wouldn't say that to her face."
"Thank you so much for coming, Bilbo," Frodo said, his eyes shining with joy.
"I wouldn't have missed this for anything, Frodo lad," Bilbo said. "We're going to have a birthday celebration to remember."
"Can you tell us a story?" Merry asked. "About when you had the squeezles?"
"Oh my, that was a very long time ago indeed," Bilbo chuckled. "Back when the world was younger, and dragons flew the skies."
"Merry, Bilbo's just arrived," Frodo said. "He'll want to wash and have some tea, and then get unpacked--"
"There's plenty of time for all that." Bilbo settled himself into a comfortable chair next to the bed. "I'm sure I can manage a tale, especially for young lads who've been sick with squeezles." He looked closely at both boys. "Why don't you close your eyes, lads. I'm sure they're still bothering you a bit."
"They are," Frodo admitted, and Merry nodded. They both lay down and closed their eyes, and listened happily as Bilbo's voice wove a tale just for them. Frodo's thoughts drifted to Bag End, and how lovely it was going to be, reading aloud with Bilbo in the evenings by the fire. But Merry fell fast asleep, and dreamed about spotted dragons carrying baskets containing lovely things to eat and drink. And all the dragons had blue hair.