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Bilbo kept a gentle hold on the cold white hand as he sat next to Frodo, leaning in exhaustion against the pillows. He glanced at the foot of the large bed, where an exhausted Samwise had fallen asleep at his Master's feet, and then turned to look at Frodo's face, as pale and still as if carved of marble. He felt a wave of fear and grief well up, and forced it down-- he'd not give up hope yet. But he could not tamp down the guilt. What a sorry inheritance he had left to the best hobbit in the Shire! That wretched Ring!
He could no longer hold back his tears. "Oh, my Frodo!" he sobbed.
A large and gentle hand descended on his shoulder. "Be of hope, my friend. We shall do our best for your child."
It was only his long-ingrained habit, that of hobbits to be precise about relationships, that led him to protest. "He's not..."
"He is. He is not the son of your body, but he is your child. By blood and by love, he is your son."
Bilbo looked up at Elrond, and suddenly realised that he of all people, would understand.
Bilbo nearly tripped over Meriadoc as he left the room. Merry sprang up instantly.
"Is there news?" His voice was steady, but Bilbo saw panic in the grey eyes, red-rimmed and shadowed.
"No, Merry-lad. I'm sorry; nothing's changed; Elrond sent me to rest."
Merry took in a deep breath, and heaved it out, shuddering. "I'm sorry, Bilbo. I don't know what to do-- I sent Pippin to rest also, but I..." He leaned against the wall, shaking his head in confusion. "I'm sorry Bilbo. I couldn't keep him safe." His voice fell to a whisper.
Bilbo drew him into an embrace. "Ah, Merry!" He didn't say more than that, but remembered the last time he'd seen Merry-- a lanky teen on the cusp of tweenhood, filled with Tookish mischief and Brandybuck determination and utter devotion to Frodo.
He knew, though he was sure Merry did not realise he knew, how hurt he had been when Bilbo had taken Frodo away to Hobbiton to live. Bilbo had not been surprised by Merry's presence in Rivendell. He remembered a letter in a childish scrawl. "Take good care of my Frodo, or give him back to me."
"Ah, Merry, it's not your fault."
What a difference a day makes! They woke to news that Frodo was out of danger, that dreadful shard removed. They'd been allowed to see him briefly: his face faintly flushed with color, his breathing steady. He would wake sometime this day.
The other hobbits, Bilbo included, had been ordered to their own rest. Bilbo was restless, and made his way to the dining hall, looking for food and company.
He heard the merry sound of Elven laughter, and a familiar Tookish voice. "and we could still hear Lotho's shouting as he banged and kicked the door to the privy. He never did find out who'd jammed the door."
Clearly Pippin had been unable to sleep as well. He sat amid a group of Elves, who were plying him with food and drink, regaling them with tales of childhood mischief. Bilbo chuckled. Pippin had been so young when he left, it seemed strange to see him now, a tween on the cusp of adulthood. He was as full of joy and energy as ever. Yet he had managed to bear his part in getting here, through fear and danger.
Bilbo felt a swell of Tookish pride in his young cousin.
Now the Council had ended. Bilbo watched as Elrond, Aragorn and Gandalf led Frodo off. It was clear that this time, Sam wouldn't be able to slip along unobserved. He studied Sam's face, noted the anxiety there as Frodo went out of his sight. Bilbo nodded. It was only right and fair that Sam be included in this mission of Frodo's. Bilbo trusted Aragorn and Gandalf to care for Frodo, and not just because he was carrying-- It. But they weren't hobbits.
Bilbo remembered the little lad with sandy curls, who listened with rapt attention to tales of Elves. In this young hobbit, he could still see traces of that child. He remembered Sam's determination and intelligence in learning, once Bilbo had persuaded the Gaffer to allow it. He had grown up as sturdy and reliable as Bilbo had always suspected, but that spark of interest in things beyond the common hobbit's ken still glittered in the brown eyes.
He stood and put a hand on Sam's shoulder.
Sam gave a start. "Mr. Bilbo, sir! I hope you don't think I overstepped my place, listening in on all this?"
"Your place? Your place, as ever, is at Frodo's side, Sam."
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