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Fate and the High King's Falcon  by Baylor

Day Eight of the New Year (April 2 SR)

Aragorn had wanted to examine Pippin's injured leg for several days, but the swelling around the joints had not abated enough to allow it. This day, he found Pippin sleeping and was loath to wake the hobbit for the exam, especially after Merry informed him that Pippin had been running a low fever that left him tired and aching. Merry was full of questions and concerns and thinly veiled suspicions about the slow pace of Pippin's recovery that led to a lengthy discussion with the king, and resulted in Pippin waking and Merry being quite put out, summing up his list of grievances with, "Well, now you've woke him."

"You woke me, Merry," Pippin said somewhat crossly. "What is going on?"

"I wanted to examine your leg, Pippin," Aragorn answered, moving to sit on the cot beside the hobbit. "But first, Merry tells me you have had a fever." He stroked Pippin's sweaty curls back from his forehead, checking his temperature at the same time. "How do you feel? Do you have any more pain in your stomach?"

Pippin lifted his good hand to rub fretfully at the tip of his nose. "No, it just still aches like yesterday, but you said that was normal."

"Yes, it will be somewhat tender," Aragorn answered, adjusting blankets and the altered man's undergarment that served as the hobbit's nightshirt to expose Pippin's stomach. "Just let me check," he murmured, using gentle hands to assess the affected area. Pippin winced and shifted a bit on the cot, trying to ease his discomfort. Merry, still at the foot of the bed where he and Aragorn had been talking, scowled his displeasure and moved to sit on the bed by Pippin's head and take Pippin's good hand in his own.

Satisfied that the internal injuries were healing, Aragorn again moved blankets around until the left leg was uncovered. Prodding at the joints, he determined that the swelling had finally reduced enough to allow for a proper exam. Standing, he raised the leg with one hand, supporting it with his other hand under the upper calf.

Aragorn started with the injured ankle, carefully rotating it while still supporting the leg with his hand. After moving the ankle gently, he had Pippin do so himself, and was pleased when the joint performed as it ought with but a little tenderness. When he went to manipulate the knee, however, Pippin drew in his breath sharply and his face pinched with pain. Merry flinched in empathy, and Aragorn stopped immediately.

"Where did that hurt, Pippin?" he asked, gently fingering the knee.

"In my leg," Pippin said. "Up the thigh."

Aragorn frowned and moved his fingers along the thigh muscle. Merry leaned in closer to watch him, earning him a warning glance from the king. Merry held his ground and merely returned Aragorn's look steadily, surreptitiously scooting down a bit on the cot to obtain a better vantage point for supervising.

Pippin's breath caught again as Aragorn's fingers found the source of the pain. Lowering the leg to the bed, Aragorn bent to explore it with his fingers. "I am sorry, Pippin," he murmured when the hobbit made a small, involuntary squeaking noise.

Pippin swallowed with visible effort. "I know, Strider," he whispered, groping about for Merry's hand. His cousin immediately returned to his perch near Pippin's head and began stroking the palm of Pippin's good hand reassuringly with his thumb.

After a long silence, Aragorn sighed and straightened. "Let's finish looking at your knee," he said, rising and raising the leg again.

"What's wrong with his leg?" Merry asked sharply.

"I need to see how his knee is before I can say for certain," Aragorn answered patiently. "Tell me if any of this causes pain in your knee, Pippin."

"All right," Pippin said tiredly, giving Merry's hand a little squeeze. "It's all right, Mer."

The knee also proved to be in working order, though many of the movements Aragorn required of Pippin proved painful for the leg itself. Once he was satisfied on account of the joint, Aragorn lowered the leg back to the bed and cautiously felt the thigh muscle again.

"Pippin, I am afraid the muscle has been torn here," he said at length, running his fingers up from the side of the knee toward the front of the leg. "There is not much I can do to heal this injury, though I think it will likely mend itself, given time. I want you to stay off it for a bit longer, though, so no sneaking out of bed." This last was in a teasing tone, and Pippin gave Aragorn a half-hearted smile of acknowledgment.

"I was planning on dancing some jigs at the local inn tonight, but I suppose I will get over the disappointment," he said.

Merry's eyebrows were drawn together in consternation, and he frowned disapprovingly at Aragorn. "But isn't there anything you can do to help it heal?" he asked. "And how long will it be before it is completely better?" The question, "Will it get better?" he left unvoiced.

Aragorn stood up from the cot. "Actually, Merry, there is something you can do to help it heal. Come over here, please," and he gestured beside him. Merry rose and pulled over the nearby chair and climbed onto it in response to Aragorn's prompts.

"Now," Aragorn lifted Pippin's leg aloft again, "hold the leg like this," and here he cupped the heel in his left palm and held the calf in his right hand, "and now you, Pippin, just push your leg out against my hand." Merry saw the muscle in his cousin's leg contract with the effort and Pippin tightened his jaw. "All right, that's enough," Aragorn said after a moment, and carefully lowered the leg.

"What did that do?" Merry asked.

"It strengthens the muscle without the strain of actually carrying Pippin's weight," Aragorn said. "Pippin, you should push hard enough that you can feel the exertion, but not so hard that it causes great pain. And keep increasing the length of time as the leg strengthens. Merry, you should make certain that you are providing enough resistance by holding the leg still and pushing back slightly, but be careful not to push so hard you move the knee. Let's see," the king finished with a nod to Merry to pick up Pippin's leg.

This second effort left sweat beaded on Pippin's forehead, and Merry looking remorseful. Aragorn, however, was clearly pleased as he crossed to the other side of the bed and sat down beside his patient to unwrap the broken sword hand.

"That was good," he told the cousins. "Do that at least four or five times a day, about half a dozen exercises at a time. It will make a big difference when Pippin is ready to start walking around again."

Merry hopped off of the chair and leaned over Pippin to watch the battered hand emerge. Pippin, sensing the movement, sighed impatiently. "Merry," he said in exasperation.

"Sorry," Merry whispered, standing up straight. He decided instead to sit on the bed near Pippin's head again and hold the good hand while he studied the injured one, yet swollen and black and blue. Pippin scrunched up his face in pain during the exam, and still could not move the fingers at all. Aragorn did not push him to try, but simply bound the hand back up firmly after a few moments of examination.

"How is it today?" Pippin asked.

"It is still difficult to tell because of the swelling," Aragorn replied. "But for now, it looks as well as can be expected. There is no sign of infection, and there is blood flowing through it." He stood and gently patted Pippin's good knee. "You did very well, Pippin. I know you are tired, so rest now. I will come back to see you later tonight if I can. If I cannot, then I will come to see you by elevenses tomorrow, all right?"

"Thank you, Strider," Pippin mumbled, clearly at the end of his strength now that he had been given permission to sleep.

Aragorn smiled gently, and reached over to squeeze Merry's shoulder before leaving. Merry gave Aragorn a lopsided half-smile in return, then leaned back against the pillows and absently stroked Pippin's curls. He startled a bit moments later when Pippin spoke, for he'd thought the younger hobbit was already asleep.

"You shouldn't give poor old Strider such a hard time, Merry," Pippin reprimanded. "He is only trying to help me get better."

Merry scowled. "I am not giving him a hard time. I just want to know what is happening."

"It sounds to me like you are giving him a hard time, and you should stop it," came the counter. "You ought to know by now that he'd never do anything that's not good for me. Merry, I had a troll the size of Farmer Maggot's goat barn fall on me. There's bound to be a tiny problem or two when that happens to a person."

Merry grimaced at the blunt analogy and gave a small "Hmm," not ready to abandon his self-defense, but not really able to truthfully state that he had not been rather critical with Aragorn, and undeservedly so. He buried his nose in Pippin's curls and inhaled that unique Pippin smell of fruit and leaves and baking spices and shut his eyes against the relief and pleasure of it. "I have never been on my own when you were sick before," he said after letting out the breath in a long exhale.

Pippin, who had begun to doze, twitched a bit in surprise. "What?" he asked.

"I said," Merry pulled his face away from the top of Pippin's head, "that I have never been on my own when you were sick before. There were always adults and healers -- hobbit healers, I mean -- people who knew better than I what to do in charge of everything. I never had to worry about any of it. I just did whatever they said, and the only thing I had to do was comfort you or entertain you or just be there with you."

"But that is all you have to do now, Merry," Pippin said sleepily. "Aragorn and the healers know everything else to do."

"I don't always feel like they do," Merry admitted in a low voice. "I mean, I know that they do, and I certainly trust Aragorn and know what a great healer he is, but still -- they are Big People, Pippin. You are still hurt, and Frodo and Sam are not even awake, and I am the only hobbit here to make sure all of you get taken care of properly."

Pippin laughed a little, affectionately and drowsily. "Oh, my silly Merry," he said, unclasping their fingers and blindly reaching up to unerringly find his cousin's face. "Why are you worrying so? Don't you know that everything is all better now?"

Merry opened his mouth to reply that everything was most certainly not better, what with three of the four of them still in healing tents, and then realized that was not what Pippin meant. "I haven't thought about . . ." he answered slowly, trailing off to think furiously. A moment later, he let out a gust of air and laughed softly. "Everything is all better, isn't it, Pippin?"

But Pippin was sound asleep, nestled contentedly into Merry's chest and unconcerned with the world outside the safety of his cousin's arms.

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