For the second night in a row, I woke knowing that something had disturbed my sleep but ignorant of what it was. After a moment, I identified the sound as someone knocking -- rather frantically -- at the front door. I stumbled out of bed and into some clothing, but by the time I had lit a candle and fumbled into the hallway, Sam, staying over in case Pippin took worse and we needed Ponto, had the door open and was pulling in a shivering figure in a cloak. It was Merry.

"Is he here?" he asked in a shaking voice. Even in the warm light of the candles, his face was ashen.

"Pippin?" I asked. "Yes, he is. But, Merry, what are YOU doing here? And at this hour in this condition?" Merry was more soaked to the skin than Pippin had been the day before, but did not seem to notice that he was dripping water on my rug and shivering, so I reached out and began to remove his cloak.

Sam was wrapping himself in his own cloak. "I'll just run Mr. Merry's pony down to the stables, sir," he said. Then he looked Merry up and down critically, trying to asses his condition. "Unless you think I should go out for the healer again."

Merry went even paler, and his shaking increased. He opened his mouth, but no words came out. He was not helping me remove his cloak, but he was not stopping me either, so I forcibly maneuvered him out of it.

"No," I said to Sam, "let me see what is the matter first. Just run the pony down and hurry back. And be careful coming back up the Hill."

Sam darted out the door into the wet night and I took Merry by the shoulders. "Now what are you about, Meriadoc?" I asked in a firm voice, trying to get him focused on me.

"I-I, I didn't know he had left," Merry stammered. "I never would have let him go in this weather, and I didn't know he was getting sick, and I came as quick as I could from the Smials, but, I just, they said -- Where is he, Frodo?" Merry was holding onto my forearms tightly, and his voice was high and tight with strain and exhaustion.

"Merry, it's all right," I said softly, still confused but getting the idea that he had learned Pippin was ill and had worried himself into a state over it. "He's asleep in his room."

Merry shook his head vigorously and clenched his eyes shut at my words. "No, Frodo, no, you shouldn't have him in his room, you should have put him in my room, on the hill side. His room has the window and can get a draft when it's windy like this, and then you have to stoke the fire up too much and it might get smoky, and you know that's not good for him, even when he's not ill...."

During this jumbled recitation, Pippin's bedroom door had opened and the cousin in question had shuffled out, wrapped in a blanket, rubbing his eyes, curls sticking nearly straight up from his head. Merry's back was to the hallway, and he didn't notice even when Pippin was nearly right behind him.

"I can't believe -- I just -- he said he was leaving but it never occurred to me that he would do so alone, and I can't believe he came all the way here by himself, and when he didn't show up at supper I thought he was just sulking somewhere alone. But then I noticed his cloak was missing, and no one had seen him and finally Berilac said he had gone, actually left Buckland alone, and he thought I knew. I could just pull my hair out for taking so long to get here, but no one sent word that he was ill, or that he was here, so I went to the Smials first but he wasn't there --"

I was beginning to understand. Pippin was watching me with worried, questioning eyes over Merry's shoulder, but didn't say anything. I wondered if the poor lad thought this was an extremely odd dream brought about by Ponto's herbal tea.

"Merry, listen to me, lad," I said gently, but Merry was shaking his head in what seemed a combination of self-recrimination, disbelief and fear.

"Frodo, you don't understand, I was so horribly harsh with him, and when I finally went to apologize, to find out he had left, alone and in this weather, and the last words I said to him -- Frodo, I have never spoken to Pippin thus, and now he is ill again and if this time --"

"Merry," Pippin said quietly from behind him, and Merry spun 'round as quick as a hobbit can.

"Oh, Pip. Oh," Merry gasped, and then sat right down on the hallway floor and buried his face in his hands, trembling from the shock and relief.

"Merry, it's all right. I'm all right," Pippin said, and then knelt down beside our cousin and wrapped his arms around him. Merry clung onto him as though Pippin's small body were the only thing keeping him afloat in a treacherous current, burying his face in Pippin's shoulder.

"I'm so sorry, Pippin, I'm so sorry," Merry said several times, and Pippin responded by kissing Merry's honey-brown curls and rocking him slightly. "I am too, Merry," he said. "But it's all right now, and I'm not bad sick." I watched in wonderment as the sick, cranky child in need of comfort effortlessly became the comforter.

Merry took several great, heaving breaths, and the shaking in his body began to subside. "I thought you were," he said, his voice still trembling. "I thought you were bad sick and I had let you run off in the cold and the rain, and the last thing I had said to you was that sometimes I didn't want you around anymore, and I didn't mean it truly, Pip, and I thought it would like to kill me if anything happened to you after that, I really did."

Pippin kissed his hair again. "Silly hobbit. Why would you think I was bad sick?"

Merry pulled his face from the security of Pippin's shoulder to look up at us. "When I went to the Smials, they said Pippin was here and that he was ill."

Pippin scowled at me. "Frodo, what did you write in that letter? I told you to be careful."

I held up my hands in self-defense. "I told them you had a cold! I said they shouldn't worry, and I would send word if it turned into anything worse, but the healer said you would be fine! Merry, whoever did you talk to?"

Merry face was bewildered, but slowing turning to embarrassed. "Hazel," he said.

"Hazel?" Pippin and I chorused. Pippin groaned. "Merry, you know she always thinks the worst. Don't you remember when there was that tiny little fire in the kitchen that got put out in less than a minute, and from what she said, the whole Smials was very nearly aflame and she and the rest of the kitchen staff were lucky to be alive."

Now Merry looked both defensive and embarrassed. "But no one was there!" he cried. "I mean, none of your folk or even your sisters, Pippin. All I could find were servants and children, and Hazel stopped to ask if I was looking for you, and then she said you had gone to Bag End in this weather, and your father had received word just hours before that you had fallen ill, and she didn't know what my folks had been thinking in the first place to let you go about in this freezing rain and whatever would become of the Tookland if it lost the only heir to the Thainship, so I thought your parents must have come here to be with you, and, Pip, all I could think was of those words I hurled at you and I was so afraid I wouldn't get here in, in time, and I am so, so sorry."

And then I had the second hobbit lad in two days burst into tears in my home. "Oh, Merry," Pippin said, and he was half-laughing, but I could see tears in his eyes. "Don't you know it's Wednesday? It's Tuckborough Quilting Circle for Mamma and the lasses, and every other female in Tuckborough, and you know that as soon as they're gone Father and his mates sneak out to the inn."

Merry's mouth worked soundlessly for a second and then, still sobbing, he said, "Wednesday? Is it? I didn't, I mean --" He suddenly began to laugh through his tears. "Well, of course it is, if I would stop to think about it. And I know full well where your father and his company go on Wednesdays, of course, Pippin, but I had no idea you knew where they went. Uncle Paladin thinks he's very clever and secretive." He pried his face from Pippin's shoulder, and from his expression I could tell he had suddenly realized that Pippin was kneeling on the cold floor and that Merry himself was dripping cold water all over Pip.

"Oh, look at you," he said. "Get up! What am I doing? You are a little sick, at least, and I won't have it become bad sick because you were kneeling in a puddle of ice in the middle of the night."

Pippin laughed, but he stood up and offered Merry his hand, which the older hobbit used to pull himself up. Merry looked greatly improved, but I noticed a little shiver as he stood, and his cheeks were rosy.

"Go on, then, lads, get yourselves into Pippin's room. Sam and I have been keeping the fire warm in there," I directed. "Master Meriadoc, go get out of those wet things and into a nightshirt, and Peregrin, make sure he's wrapped up in blankets. Then you," I tapped the end of Pippin's nose, "get back into bed. Merry can wait in the chair until his room is ready. I'm going to make tea for the lot of us, and that means poor old Samwise, too." I began pushing them both by their shoulders down the hallway.

"Don't bother Sam with making up my room, Frodo," Merry said. "I would rather stay with Pippin tonight, if he'll have me."

Pippin's face was beaming as he put his arm around Merry. "When would I ever not have you, Merry?" he asked, and Merry hugged him back, kissing his tousled curls.

As I put the kettle on, I heard Merry give a tremendous sneeze.

"Frodo," Pippin called, "I don't suppose you have some more handkerchiefs, do you?"

I groaned, leaning against the mantle, and decided that both lads were getting full boxes of handkerchiefs for my birthday, if I could get Sam to tell me where they were hidden away. "I'll find some," I called back to Pippin.

"Really, Merry, running off from the Smials at nightfall in this weather." Pippin's voice, still a little hoarse, carried to me. "You should think these things over before you just do them, or who knows what kind of trouble they will lead to."

"I know, Pippin, I know," Merry answered, and then Sam came in the back with a great gust of wind that drowned out the rest of what they said.

As the kettle began to whistle, Sam sneezed, just as Merry began to cough. I sighed, thinking there had better be an entire room filled with handkerchiefs somewhere at Bag End.

"Pippin," I heard Merry say as I searched for lemon and honey for the tea, "why do you smell like lavender?"