Author's note: inspired by a recent flu which prevented me from going on a lovely trip and a friend's prom night party. But at least it served as an inspiration for this story.
Thanks to Irena for translating and to Neume Indil for betaing. *hugs*
Of course, Middle-earth does not belong to me.
Rain pattered against the Palace windows. The day was windy and gloomy; dark, heavy clouds hovered above Minas Tirith, swallowing Mindolluin and the White Mountains. Although it was midday, the lamps and candles were lit in many rooms of the Palace.
The queen's room was illuminated by her desk lamp, for the light of the rainy day which had been streaming in through the window was pale and grey. Another one was lit on the tallboy opposite the window, while the big chandelier remained dark. The wall opposite the desk accommodated shelves filled with books and scrolls, and slightly in front of it there was a large, comfortable sofa.
Sitting on a chair, Arwen stretched herself wearily. She had a headache since that morning, and during the day her bones and muscles became sore. She barely swallowed a few morsels during lunch; she had no appetite and the food was not tasty to her at all. Gazing through the window, she smiled faintly, remembering Baldor. Having heard that she barely touched any food, the cook got flustered, worried that he had done something wrong. She reassured him at once, explaining that it was nothing he had done, but rather that she didn't feel well.
Arwen stood up and walked to the window, which was facing the east. But through the streams which rolled down the glass pane she could discern only the White Tree and the large, elongated plateau of the Citadel. Anduin, Osgiliath and the faraway Ephel Duath were shrouded by grey rainy mist.
The day was not particularly cold. It was mid winter, but Minas Tirith did not turn white; the snow had fallen only in the higher regions of the White Mountains. It was her first winter in Minas Tirith... in her new life. She and Aragorn had married the previous summer. Still, although she never lived in Gondor before, Arwen doubted that there would be any snow in the city. Now she lived much further to the south than Rivendell, her birthplace; there the winters were harsher, filled with snow and icy winds blowing from the Misty Mountains. Here the climate was much milder, and the sea winds, blowing up the valley of Anduin, reached all the way to Minas Tirith, carrying with them a breath of warmth from the south.
But Arwen still felt the cold. She sneezed, and her headache grew worse. Pondering it, she blamed her condition on fatigue. During the last few days she had been very busy in the Houses of Healing. A whole new wing had been added which would serve as a renovated and expanded library, refurnished by many books and scrolls on healing bestowed from Rivendell and Lothlorien. There was also a large hall which would serve for training and practice of the future healers. Redecorations were almost done now. Arwen, who had learned a lot about healing from her father, spent most of the day at the Houses, supervising all the final construction work and preparing the future lessons with the other healers. She usually went to bed rather late.
She shivered, wrapping herself in the cloak she had previously put on a chair, and then added two more logs into the fire burning in the hearth. However, she couldn't seem to chase away the cold. She shuddered once again.
Although the sight of the unfinished papers lying on the desk reminded her that she should sort them by the end of the afternoon, the large sofa and the pillows on it suddenly looked very beguiling. I went to bed too late last night, again, she thought, yawning and stretching her sore muscles. I'll just have a quick nap, and then get back to work...
She placed a pillow under her head and covered herself with the cloak. She curled up, pulling her knees almost up to her chin. Although she couldn't warm up completely, and was occasionally shaken by the cough, the whispering of the rain eventually lulled her into an uneasy slumber.
Aragorn returned to the Palace and changed into dry clothes. Despite the weather, he found the return from Ithilien, where he had to arrange some matters with his Steward, to be pleasant. Faramir had offered him a carriage, but this time Aragorn indulged his own whim and refused it. The members of his guard exchanged "what-got-into-him" glances, but they said nothing out loud. Faramir, however, only smiled; he understood.
Riding in the rain reminded him of the days spent in the wilderness, of long wanderings through Arnor, and much further. He rode with his head lifted high; neither the raindrops sliding down his face nor the cold bothered him. The smell of the forest and the grass filled his nostrils. And so it was that for a few short hours he felt like a ranger again, free and unconstrained by royal etiquette.
Having returned, he assumed Arwen was at the Houses of Healing, just like the previous few days, all the more so because she did not come out to greet him when he arrived. However, soon he learned from the servants that she had retired into her study after lunch. He went to see her immediately; although they had been apart for only two days, he already missed her much. He walked in with a big smile on his face and saw her lying on the sofa, covered by her cloak. His heart atremble, he wanted to watch her sleep for a few moments, enchanted again and again by the elleth whom he first saw all those years ago in the north. But she raised her head as soon as he walked in and blinked confusedly.
"Oh... what... I must have dozed off," she muttered drowsily. Then she smiled faintly, still not fully awake. "You're home."
He sat next to her and bent down to kiss her. "Don't get up, relax," he said gently. "How are you? A long day?" He caressed her cheek, hot against his palm. And the first answer he got was a spell of violent coughing which shook her.
"I am a little tired," she finally said after managing to settle down, but her voice was still husky. "The last few days have been very busy."
But Aragorn was too good a healer not to notice that there was something wrong.
"Oh, you are burning up!" he exclaimed, feeling her forehead. "How long have you been coughing?"
"Um... it started today," she replied tentatively.
"Are you cold?"
"Well... a little bit, yes," she admitted. "As long as you're there, could you throw a few more logs into the fire..."
"Is your throat sore?" He paid no heed to her remark, but kept on asking questions.
"Well, maybe a little..."
"And what else?" he inquired further, with a serious expression on his face.
"My head. And my bones and muscles a bit as well." She looked at him, confused. "Why do you ask?"
Aragorn sighed and caressed her face, and then kissed her gently on the forehead. Her skin was burning.
"My love, you got the flu as well," he said, his forehead wrinkled with worry. As the winter arrived, the flu had spread among the inhabitants of Gondor. Aragorn was not too surprised. During winter, the flu, laryngitis and viral infections were rife; he spent many long days and nights with numerous patients. But this time the reality hit him right in the face. This time it was different. This time it was her who was ill. For the first time in her long life.
Because of him. Because her life had changed because of him.
A sharp pang of guilt pierced his heart. It was hard enough for him that she had given up immortality; he had hoped it wouldn't also mean that she'd become susceptible to all the human hardships. And yet, she was lying down with high temperature; her body was fragile and she could fall ill just like any other human being.
He would give anything if only he could change that fact, if by some magic trick he could make the life of the Eldar flow within her as it used to.
Aragorn looked at her with guilt in his eyes. He was taken aback by the amused, almost cheerful expression on her face.
"A flu?" she repeated after him before he could say anything. Then she stretched a little and turned on her back, pulling the cloak a little bit tighter around her. "I never even thought of that. I thought I was just overtired and that was why I felt sore all over."
For a few moments she kept quiet. And then she started to laugh.
"Arwen?" he stammered out confusedly, and then added desperately, apologizing, "I am so sorry that this has befallen you, my love."
"First of all, I do not want to see that serious and worried face," she replied cheerfully. "None of it is your fault and I do not want you to reproach yourself for it. It was my choice, and mine alone," she reminded him gently.
Of course, she guessed what was tearing him apart; she knew him much too well.
"And second..." she went on, but couldn't finish the sentence due to a new surge of laughter. Her laughter then turned into cough, but although in the end her eyes were completely red and teary from the violent coughing spells, her expression remained amused and cheerful.
"Arwen?" he asked tentatively. He knew her well, too; she was his other half, her fëa was joined and intertwined with his, regardless of how different it was. But this time he was completely taken aback by her reaction. This was one of the rare occasions in all the long years of their love on which he couldn't even surmise what was on her mind.
"You know, I have lost count of all the times I had helped my father with healing. It was usually the elves, the wounded – those who were injured in a battle," she begun to explain, finally sounding a bit more serious. "But on a number of occasions I was with him while he was treating humans, when we were helping your people because they were affected by various illnesses, when your healers could not cope with the hardships on their own. And so, sometimes I thought..." She paused.
"Yes?" he urged her with anticipation. He still couldn't infer what was about to follow.
"You will laugh," she replied and blushed.
"I will not," he promised.
"Well, now... don't get me wrong... of course I am not pleased about getting a flu, it would be better if I didn't, but now that it's here..." She smiled, almost bashfully. "This cloud has a silver lining. You know, long before you were born, when I did not know what my fate would be and did not know that I would love you, I used to think that I would never ever have the chance to be pampered while I'm ill. Simply because I could not be ill. And do not laugh," she repeated with her cheeks flushed, "but sometimes I thought I would like to have at least the most common cold, if only for a day, so that someone could spoil and pamper me and wait on me the whole day, while I just lie and do nothing. There."
He stared at her with his eyes wide open. This was the last thing he expected to hear and at first he did not know how to respond. Still, after all these years, she was able to surprise him. Her wish might have sounded unusual, especially to a human – someone who had experienced the hardships that come with illness. But on the other hand, she was not human, she was different, and Aragorn could understand her wish.
She was an inexhaustible source of surprise. She was wonderful. And she was his, he reminded himself. His lips quivered, spreading into a mild smile.
"You said you wouldn't laugh," she said, sounding like an offended child.
"I am not laughing at what you said, silly little one." He bent down towards her and kissed her, and then pulled back, but only for a few centimetres. Her face was right next to his. "I am smiling because I love you. And I think I understand what you mean... although, I wish this never had to happen. I'd rather not see your wish come true," he concluded seriously.
"As I said, do not tax yourself with such ideas," she said mildly. "And since I am ill... you should start fulfilling my wishes," she added, with playful sparks in her eyes. "I want you to tuck me in and cover me. And to get me some fruit. And later on, some tea. And later still, a lemonade will do. And then all over again."
Despite the feeling of guilt which could not go away so easily, her cheerfulness and her wish list made him smile again. "As you wish, my lady."
Arwen's temperature rose a little bit by the evening and her headache grew worse, but she did not allow the sniffling, the coughing and the soreness ruin her mood. Although her whole body was in even greater pain and each movement caused fatigue, she was smiling and enjoying Aragorn's attention. He had cancelled all the commitments he had for the day and devoted himself to her alone, pampering her and fulfilling her every wish. And her wishes were numerous.
I really am terrible, she thought while she was waiting for him to bring her supper in bed. For the whole afternoon and evening she had exploited him utterly: tea, fruit, lemonade, tea again, then books to help her kill some time, then fruit again, and so on and so forth... He kept running around her all the time, and she was lying down, enjoying the role of a spoiled child and thinking that the flu was not such a bad thing at all. Only occasionally she felt guilt, although only a small pang, for she knew that her wishes were not a burden for Aragorn. But I won't give him this much trouble tomorrow, she promised herself. One such day is enough.
When Aragorn took the tray away after supper, she asked for another lemonade. He kissed her forehead and went out, and a few moments later came back with the beverage. Sipping it, she wondered what she could ask for next.
And then she remembered. She smiled at him sweetly and gave him the most endearing look.
"Yes, my love?"
"Tell me a story."