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Through Shadow  by Citrine



For Hai Took, who wanted to see Merry and Pippin reunited

And because, as someone famous once said,

"Happiness, too, is inevitable."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Evening had come at last to the green woods of Ithilien. The stars were veiled and the skies threatened rain, so all who had been most badly wounded in battle at the Morannon had been gathered close together, on pallets or cots, and a great tent erected over them. The rising wind made the sides of the tent snap gently, and the guy ropes creaked, making a sound not unlike that of the sails of the ship that had brought Merry from Minas Tirith. Earlier Aragorn, Legolas, and the few nurses that had arrived with Merry had been moving among them, soothing a fever here, changing a bandage there, and now most of the wounded slept as deeply as their pain would allow. At last Aragorn had gone to his rest, leaving only an old soldier with a crippled leg on guard, and an aged Dame from the Houses of Healing as night-nurse. Legolas had also gone, saying he would return soon, but he had left Merry with a cot to rest on and a small lantern made of pierced tin, so that he would have light while he sat with Pippin.

Pippin had awakened earlier that evening and shared a simple soldier's meal with Merry: Brown bread, some dried fruit, and stewed dried meat (although Pippin was still recovering and his share consisted mostly of broth,) and he had fallen asleep again quite suddenly in the middle of conversation. Merry had pulled the blanket up to his chin and crept away, taking the debris from supper away with him. Now it was very late (or very early, depending on how one considered it, and it was difficult to tell time properly without a pocket watch or proper clock,) and Merry stood for a moment next to Pippin's bed. He opened the hinged door of the lantern a crack, hissing a little and shaking his hand as the hot metal burned his fingers, and held it high so that he could look at him. Pippin's head was turned away slightly on the pillow, so that the scratched and discolored side of his face was hidden. With the bedclothes pulled up to cover his bound ribs, he looked to Merry's eyes quite the same as he had always looked, although very much thinner and worn.

Pippin stirred and opened his eyes. "Oh, hello Merry. I must have dropped off. What were we talking about?"

"We were talking about looking in on Frodo and Sam, but that was hours and and hours ago," Merry said, closing the lantern and setting it on a low stool next to the cot. "Now it's too late for that and time to go to sleep again."

"Sleep!" Pippin grumbled. "I'm fed up to my very eyeballs with sleeping! Can't we visit a bit more instead?"

Merry gave a little laugh and ruffled Pippin's hair, as if he were nineteen instead of twenty-nine. "If you want to chat you'll have to wait till morning."

Pippin noticed the pinched marks around Merry's mouth, and the deep worry-line between his eyebrows. His face seemed gray, and thinner than a hobbit's face ought to be, and he was swaying a little on his feet as he turned toward his bed. Though he had said nothing of it, Pippin guessed he hadn't been sleeping well, if he had slept at all. That was no wonder, what with the long journey upriver from Minas Tirith, then a rough ride overland to Ithilien, only to sit with his nearest and dearest as they lay at death's doorstep. Pippin said, "You look worn out. Why don't you just lay yourself down here with me? There's plenty of room, and it would be warmer."

"Oh, that's all right, I do have a cot of my own, and I wouldn't want to roll over or something and jostle you."

"Merry," Pippin said patiently. "I've had an entire troll fall on me! I shan't fall apart now if you happen to poke me with an elbow."

Merry had to laugh at this. "Oh very well, but if you're not comfortable tell me, and I'll move off straightaway."

"Yes, yes." Pippin didn't have strength enough to move over, but he lifted the blanket a little. "Hurry up, will you? I'm getting a draft."

Merry hurriedly unbuckled his sword belt and laid it on his own cot, then removed his leather jerkin and pulled his mail-coat off over his head. He was down to his shirt and trousers now, and he shivered a little. He blew the candle out, and quickly crawled in beside Pippin and pulled the blanket over them.

Pippin sighed. He didn't feel the least bit tired at the moment, but perhaps if he pretended to sleep, Merry would let himself rest.

Merry lay still and fought off sleep, waiting for Pippin to nod off so he could creep back to his own cot-he wasn't about to take a chance and undo all the days of Pippin's healing with some clumsy kick or movement in his dreams.

The linens of the cot were coarse, but clean and well padded, and having Pippin breathing next to him was lulling him into a doze in spite of himself. Merry's eyelids drooped and his mind began to wander. He thought about all the times over the years when he had been awakened by Pippin crawling into his bed because he was chilled, or had had a dream, or just because he was lonely in the night and wanted the comfort of another warm body. No matter where Pippin's family had been placed when they had visited Brandy Hall, Pippin always seemed to find his way. Merry had never had the heart to send him back down the darkened halls to his own room, even though Pippin surely had the boniest knees and the coldest feet in all of hobbit-history. All along the road during the quest, right up until their parting in Rohan, they had slept side by side on the same patch of hard ground, or in whatever sort of rough bed was provided. And now here they were side by side again, having gone through Shadow and siege and battle, after adventures they never could have dreamed of while tucked into a warm featherbed in Buckland-and Pippin's feet were still like ice.

Pippin heard Merry chuckle and turned his head on the pillow. "What?"

"I was just thinking," Merry said, feeling quite drowsy, and a bit woolly-headed. "I was just thinking, isn't it funny how we always seem to wind up sleeping together?"

There was a long silence as the cruder implications of this innocent statement struck them. Merry started to laugh and he fought to hold it in. Pippin wasn't the only wounded soldier in the tent who needed rest.

Pippin raised an eyebrow. "And to think you've never once asked me to marry you." The corners of his bruised mouth twitched. "You cad."

With this the battle was lost, and they burst into nearly silent guffaws, the laughter coming out in little barks and breathy squeaks as they tried desperately to be quiet. The wooden cot creaked as they shook with suppressed laughter, which made them laugh even harder, until Merry thought he would burst with it. He began to wonder if they weren't both a little mad, to be acting so after all they had seen and done and been through.

After several minutes of this, Pippin started to gasp and pressed a hand to his ribs. Merry rose up on one elbow and looked down at him with alarm. "Oh Pippin, I'm sorry! What have I done to you? I can fetch Aragorn-"

"I'm all right!" Pippin said breathlessly. His face was pale but he was still chuckling, and tears of mingled pain and mirth had run from the corners of his eyes. It wasn't so long ago that he had thought everything good was ending, and there wouldn't be any more laughter ever. "I haven't hurt myself, and it feels good to laugh."

"Very well," Merry said, only a little mollified, but he lay down again on his side facing Pippin. "If you say so. But I suppose we mustn't laugh so hard again, at least not until you're better."

Though he could barely see it, Pippin knew Merry had his worried-face on, and the little frown line between his eyebrows had reappeared. Pippin was sorry it had come back and wished he could smooth it away again. Unconsciously, Merry had put his hand on Pippin's chest over his heart, a habit from long ago when they had both been very little lads together, in a time that now seemed very far away. It lay there lightly, warm but barely felt, as if Merry feared Pippin might break from the weight of it. Pippin took hold of Merry's arm with a small tug and tucked it firmly around him, then put his own bandaged hand over it there and held it in place. He smiled in satisfaction. Merry couldn't very well sneak off to his own cot now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Merry!" Pippin cried softly.

Merry had been sound asleep, but now he snapped awake. The pale, gray light of very early morning was drifting into the tent and the wind had stilled, although he could hear raindrops pattering on the canvas overhead. Legolas had returned once when it was still dark and had seen Pippin awake and thoughtful. Merry had been snoring gently, his chin on Pippin's shoulder. Legolas and Pippin had smiled at each other, and he had gone quietly away again. "What is it? Are you having a pain?"

"No, no, it's just..."

Merry breathed a sigh of relief and flopped back down on the pillow. "Then what are you going on about?" The words came out a bit harsher than intended, but Pippin's whisper had given him a fright.

"I've been thinking, too," Pippin said, and the words tumbled out in a rush. "About how I broke my promise to you. I thought it was all over, and Frodo was doomed to torment in the Dark Tower forever and ever, and poor Sam must have come to some terrible end, and for all I knew Minas Tirith had fallen to ruin behind me, and you were...were...and the Darkness would cover everything. I swore to you before I left Minas Tirith that I would fight as hard as I could for as long as I could no matter what, and I didn't. The troll fell on me, and I couldn't get my breath, and it hurt so much and I-" Pippin's breathing had quickened, and Merry could feel his body jump and twitch under his arm, as if he wished to rise up and run away from the memory of battle, and grief, and the dark, smothering agony of entrapment beneath the troll.

"Shh, Pippin, Pippin," Merry soothed. "That's over, and well over, my lad. You're safe." But Merry's mouth tasted of dust. It had been a near thing, such a near thing all around. If Gandalf and the eagles had not found Frodo and Sam, if Pippin had lain undiscovered only a little longer...If. He had come so close to losing everything he cared for most in the world.

Merry felt the rapid beat of Pippin's heart, slowing now, but when he swallowed Merry could still hear the dry click of remembered fear in his throat. "I stopped trying to fight and I...I think I might have died for a while, at least until Gimli found me. I broke my promise, Merry. Forgive me."

"My dear ass-of-a-cousin, what a ridiculous thing to say!" Merry's words were fierce but his tone was gentle. "A hobbit doesn’t die for a while, he dies entirely or not at all. And it's not as though you could have done much more with a troll sitting on you!" He held Pippin as tightly as he dared. His voice dropped. "Besides, if anyone needs to be forgiven for giving up, it would be me."

Pippin looked at Merry in surprise. "You!"

"Yes, me. You kept hope for me when I was so ill after the siege, but I couldn't do the same for you when you went away again: I hadn't a hope left in me, Pippin. I never thought to see you, or Frodo, or Sam, or anyone else I cared about ever again."

"Poor Merry!" Pippin said, his voice thick with sympathy. "You've had a dreadful time of it."

Merry thought of Frodo and Sam as he had first seen them, so thin and starved and swathed in bandages and salves, that if not for Frodo's poor maimed hand he would scarcely have been able to tell them apart. His dear Pippin, too, squashed so flat under that troll that Gimli had thought him dead, and even now every breath began and ended with the faintest creak and whistle of bruised lungs and broken ribs. Of them all, he felt that he had had the least dreadful time. Merry managed a small laugh. "Well, trust a Took to go off with an army of Men to battle unconquerable darkness, and not only does he come through in one piece, but proves himself a hero in the bargain! I should have had more faith in you, and in Frodo and Sam, too, and for that I'm sorry. So I forgive you, and you forgive me, and Frodo and Sam can forgive me when they wake up, and now will you go to sleep?"

"Yes dear." Pippin closed his eyes. "If we're going to be betrothed you should try to be a little less sharp with me, you know. What will the neighbors say?"

"They'll say you're a cheeky Took who deserves a good thrashing," Merry muttered. He leaned up and gave Pippin a good, sound kiss right on his hairline. He could feel his pulse beating there beneath the press of his lips, strong and steady, and his skin was warm. How quiet and still Pippin had been only days ago: Propped up on pillows, his eyes closed and sunken in his white face, and his arms folded on his breast over the coverlet, as if he were laid out for a burial. His left hand, bruised but unbroken, had felt as cool and lifeless as a lump of wax when Merry held it between his own, and there had been no answering press of fingers when he called to him. Despite all of Aragorn's assurances, an unspoken fear had sprung up in Merry's heart that what he looked on was only an empty shell, and Pippin would never open his eyes on the green world again. It was a fear that had never come to pass, but Merry felt his eyes sting at the thought of what might have been, and he put his chin on Pippin's shoulder again. He smelled strongly of healing salves and athelas, and under that the fainter smell of soap and linen, and fresh air, and even after all the time that had passed, still the merest hint of clean Shire earth. Pippin smelled like home.

They lay quiet for a bit, then Pippin felt a trace of dampness on his skin. "You're crying."

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are."

"I'm just having a bit of a slobber in anticipation of stealing your breakfast when you fall asleep in the middle of it: Legolas says all the invalids will get an egg. Go to sleep."

"You can't fool me, Meriadoc. I can tell by your voice."

Merry pressed his cheek more firmly into Pippin's shoulder. He was a hobbit, and he had no great words to describe the fierce and sudden rush of joy he felt, sharp as a sword under his heart. It was a welcome pain, and perhaps this was what Pippin had meant. It felt good to laugh again even if it hurt, and good to weep, and to argue, and wake, and sleep. "I suppose I'm happy, that's all."

Pippin stroked Merry's arm, a clumsy gesture hampered by his bound fingers. "I am, too."

The end.

***********

My apologies to Tolkien’s ghost for the humor, mild as it is: I imagine He Is Not Amused, and he's probably pacing back and forth somewhere, slapping a ruler against his palm and wishing he was incarnate for two seconds so he could rap my knuckles.

LookLookLook, everyone! *Hugs self* Shirebound recced me on her live journal! Thanks, Shirebound!:o)

And sincere thanks to Lindelea, whose stories inspired me (‘Lifewatch’ and ‘There and Back’ in particular,) and whose on-the-money dialogue, encyclopedic knowledge of Middle Earth geography, and seemingly never-ending supply of great plot ideas makes me envious beyond belief.

Whee! At long, long, (really long) last, I have made an illustration for this story. Find it here:

http://s705.photobucket.com/albums/ww51/Citrinea/?action=view¤t=MerryandPippininIthilien.jpg






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