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I Always Know You  by Baylor

1409 SR, Bag End

My eyelids felt so heavy, and for a moment I contemplated not bothering to open them, but the need to see what was happening in the world outside of my own personal agony won out, and I forced them apart with great effort. I seemed to be able to think more clearly . . . or was I just imagining that? But from the physical discomfort -- best be honest, terrible pain was a better description -- I knew the sickness was no better. If I needed confirmation of that, the never-ceasing struggle to catch my breath and the awful sound I made trying to do so served as such. Still, I should use this moment of seeming lucidity to look about me, so I did.

I thought it was nighttime. At least, it seemed quite dark in the room, where the light from the fire or candles did not fall. Frodo and Mr. Goodbody were not to be seen, but, oddly enough, Sam was asleep in the armchair near the fire with a blanket over him. My sight wandered to the territory nearer the bed, and I discovered my cousin in the second armchair, pulled directly alongside me, as close as it could get. He was watching me with assessing, worried eyes, and when I managed to make eye contact, he leaned closer in, brushing my damp hair off my sweat-soaked brow with tender care.

"Hullo there, sleepyhead," he whispered with a little grin. I wanted to answer, but it would have been just too much effort and strain. Instead, I tried to move my mouth in an approximation of a smile. I must have succeeded at least enough for him to know what I was aiming for, for he smiled back at me again, this time softly and sadly. He picked up my hand lying closest to him and enfolded it carefully in his own hands. A simple thing for him to do, but his hands holding mine brought such a feeling of security that I would have wept in relief had I been able. It would soon be all right, and I would not give in so long as he was there to support me in my struggle.

I closed my heavy eyelids again, feeling the cool and soothing sensation of my cousin's thumb gently stroking the back of my own hot hand, and wondered that so simple a gesture could be so comforting. Concentrating on his soft, rhythmic touch made the pain recede to an almost manageable level, and afforded me some distraction from the dreadful sounds of my gasping breaths. I wondered if he knew how much better it made me feel, and decided that he certainly must know. I wished I could comfort him somehow in return, but right now the only way to do that would be for me to get well, and I would . . . I would get well. There was no other choice, for I could not leave these beloved ones behind, the one at my bedside most of all. If I did not get well . . . No, I would not think that. But what if I didn't? What if even our combined determination was not enough this time? Would he be angry with me because I lost the battle in the end after all? No, he would be sad, I decided, a sadness that would never go away, and his sorrow would be all my own doing. Oh, just the thought of the hurt I was causing everyone now, and if the worst happened . . . I was so ashamed. What a wasted death that would be, brought about by my own stupidity, by not thinking things through. If I were to die, I wanted it to be for a greater good, like a hero in one of Cousin Bilbo's tales, or, better yet, at a ripe old age after a life well lived. Not because I had no common sense. The heroic death was out then, good judgment being pretty necessary to heroism, and heroes certainly did not wallow in sickbeds of their own making dwelling on thoughts of death and defeat.

Well, a hero I was not, and never would be, but I needed to stop thinking of death and defeat, or defeated I surely would be. I would get well, and the Winter Sickness would fail to claim another victim. Certainly I was not nearly as ill as the last time it had struck, no matter how bad I felt. No, it was not nearly as bad this time. I would never, never forget the last time.

I fought to stay awake a little longer, and managed to open my eyes again. My cousin was gazing sightlessly off toward the mantle, lost in thought. It was not difficult to guess at what his thoughts were. He and I had battled this particular demon together enough times, after all. I was so terribly sorry to be the cause of his worry, but so glad he was there with me. It would have been unbearable otherwise. It was almost as if I could feel the strength of his love as a tangible thing, to hold onto, and to keep the illness at a distance. If I concentrated on that love and nothing else, eventually the illness would pass through me and be gone.

I was getting quite poetic -- must be an effect of that last awful concoction Mr. Goodbody had poured down my throat, or rather, had gotten my favorite cousin to tease me into drinking, guessing rightly that I was not going to give him much of a fight. He had been so soothing and gentle and persuasive about it that I had finished the potion almost without realizing it. How did he do that? Too tired to smile outwardly, I did so inwardly, knowing that he would be expecting me to exact a bit of revenge when I was better. His guard would be up, but I would await the proper moment. Let's see, perhaps some red pepper instead of nutmeg atop a lovely bit of custard? Best he couldn't see me smiling, as he would have known immediately that I was plotting no good.

I knew that this was one of the things that I was really too old for now (and certainly that others thought I was too old for such nonsense), but I also knew that I would never be too old for a bit of fun, no matter what others thought. Besides, he would be expecting me to do something, and we would both be disappointed if I didn't. Growing up did not mean I had to change who I was, I told myself, and I was a hobbit who would lovingly sprinkle hot pepper onto my devoted cousin's favorite dessert, then laugh myself silly and keep well out of his reach until he started laughing even harder than me. Our growing up did not have to mean growing apart, I vowed, and this sudden reaffirmation by my mind of what I knew in my heart made me feel a little better. Being grown up would mean things would be different, but the same. . . . Now, what did that mean?

I was wandering now, my thoughts unfocussed as I drifted away. As if he could sense I was slipping away once more, my protector looked down at me, concerned, and for a brief moment our eyes met in shared pain and understanding. He had been thinking of last time, I could tell, and I wanted so much to reassure him that it wasn't really as bad as all that, but I could stay no longer and felt myself falling back into the darkness of my dreams, abandoning him to his own dark reality and painful thoughts, even as I heard him call my name in a high, frightened voice.

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