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I Always Know You  by Baylor

In which Merry is comforted by his mum

1409 SR, Bag End

Something was different when I woke again, and I lay with my eyes closed for several minutes, trying to put my finger on it. Finally, I realized: I was not struggling to breathe and my throat did not hurt as much. As I inhaled, I could still feel the extra effort it took, and something in me rattled a little, but I was drawing breath naturally, without having it take over every thought and mite of energy in my body. I vowed I would never take such a simple thing as breathing for granted ever again.

I left my eyes shut for a while and lay still, savoring this most basic of necessities. Slowly, I became aware of other things: fresh-smelling linens on the bed, the warmth and crackle of a fire in the hearth, the aroma of herbal tea nearby. Then, the familiar rustle of skirts and the well-known combination of lavender and rosemary and clover that is my mother.

I opened my eyes and found her looking down at me. Her eyes were crinkled a bit in concern, but her face was tender, and when I looked at her, she laid her hand on my cheek. "Oh, Merry," she said, and looked at me with such love that I wanted nothing more than her arms around me and I reached out.

We held each other tight for a bit, and I breathed in deeply, absorbing the smell of home and love, and choked out several times, "Mum," in a raspy voice, but could find no other words. Finally, it felt safe to let go, and she adjusted and fluffed pillows in the comfortable way only a mother can until I was propped upright. I ran a hand over my eyes, tired even from this small effort.

"What time is it?" I asked, and then half-chuckled. "What day is it, for that matter?"

Mum smiled and clucked my chin with her fingers. "It is Thursday and nearly tea time, love, and high time that you woke up and greeted your mother. How do you feel?"

I listened to my body for a moment before answering. "Much better. Mostly just tired and a little out of breath. Mum, how can it be tea time Thursday? It was Thursday when I got here. When did you leave for Hobbiton, and why were you coming here?"

Mum stroked my hair gently. "It's Thursday because you've lost a week, Merry. You came to Bag End late on Wednesday, or early on Thursday, whichever you prefer, and have been sick all week. I just got here yesterday evening. Your father will be along shortly, I am certain, but he was down to Rushy and I had to send for him."

I was stunned. Had it been a week? How could it have been a week? I could remember bits of time passing, certainly -- Ponto Goodbody plying me with draughts, Frodo changing my nightshirt, Pippin softly telling me a story that I could not follow, the comfort I felt when he curled up beside me that first time I had awakened. But I could not remember my mother arriving, nor piece together an entire week passing. There wasn't a moment of my life past very early childhood I could not remember in vivid detail if I reached hard enough into my memory, and I was disoriented to think I had somehow misplaced seven days.

Mum got up and began fussing with things in the room while I pondered. I remembered that wretched fight with Pippin, when I lost my temper and started all of this, and then dashing off across the Shire after him, both worried and angry, my foolish terror after hearing he was ill, and waking all of Frodo's household in the middle of the night. Everything was dim after that -- Pippin's voice, high and frightened, calling my name; aching so much it felt the pain was coming from my very bones; putting every bit of energy I had into drawing one more arduous breath, then another, then another. I remembered, too, how awful Pippin had looked when I woke up after the illness had started to pass. By the time Mum came back to my bedside with a mug of tea, I was feeling quite ashamed -- how I must have frightened everyone, and the trouble I had put them all through.

"Here, drink this," she said, placing the mug in my hands and then steadying it. "Little sips now, Merry."

I managed a few swallows. It was lemony and soothing to my abused throat. I forced myself to raise my eyes from the mug to my mother's steady gaze.

"I'm so sorry, Mum," I said, and was going to continue, but she stopped me.

"Of course you are," she said. "So that's all of that I'll hear from you, thank you, Meriadoc. You behaved foolishly and have paid dearly for it, and I've no doubt the lesson is well-learned. I cannot find it in me to chastise you after all you've been through, and certainly not when I consider that all of this foolhardy running about was out of love for our Pippin. So, what's done is done, and all's well that ends well, and I am out of sayings so we'll be done with it."

I smiled at her, affection and love warming me from head to toe. I drank some more of my tea, and then asked, "He's all right, then?" I could tell from her tone that he was, but I needed to hear her say it.

Mum touched my hand so that I looked back up at her. "He has been frightened out of his wits, and has scarcely slept or eaten for a week, and Frodo too, so do not let either of them tell you differently. But he doesn't have the least bit of a sniffle, at least not since I have been here, and anything else that is wrong with him will be fixed the moment he sees you really awake and healing."

I swallowed hard. "I thought he was -- Mum, I thought it was -- It just made me panic. I could think of nothing but that last time, when he . . . he . . . I just had to get here to him."

Mum touched my hair with her fingers and stroked my brow with her thumb, something I had found soothing since I was just a wee lad, and she looked at me with her thinking-hard face. "Do you remember when Pippin was born?" she asked.

"Of course, Mum," I said, rather puzzled at this turn in the conversation.

"Do you remember what you said when I put him in your arms for the first time?" she continued.

I reached back in my mind and felt that squirming bundle again, and looked back down at that displeased face that seemed to be saying, "Merry, whatever have all of these people been doing to me, and where have you been?" and the memory made me smile.

"I remember," I said quietly.

Mum nodded. "I saw that very moment what the two of you would be to each other. Sometimes that much love can feel like it will break you in half, but never forget that it is worth every pain that comes with it."

I forget, sometimes, that my mother is brilliant, and that she sees all of life as clear as a summer day in the Shire.

I opened my mouth to say -- something -- to her, but instead, to my surprise, I yawned enormously, and she laughed and pinched my cheek.

"Enough serious talk for you!" she said, taking the tea mug from my hands. "Go on, now, back to sleep." And she tucked the blankets up around me.

I didn't resist (not that there would have been any use of it) and let her settle me, just like she had when I was a small lad and some terror had woken me from sleep. She stayed perched on the edge of the bed and gently stroked my hair. I sneaked a hand out from under the blankets, and she caught it and clasped her fingers about it.

"I love you, Mum," I said sleepily.

"I love you too, my Merry," she answered softly. As I drifted off, she began to softly hum the lullaby of my childhood.

(Note: The name of the chapter is from a traditional Welsh lullaby, which I had intended for Merry's mum to actually sing to him. I ended up ditching the verses and keeping the name, since I was listening to this song when I wrote this segment. For some reason, it just feels "hobbity" to me.)

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