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Stars May Collide  by Rose Gamgee

*sigh* I simply could not resist... hobbit romances must be my fandom calling or something. Anyway, this story (previously posted and still being continued at FFN) was in my head for some time before I finally sat down and wrote a bit for it. I have many things planned for this, not all of them happy. I think if I work this right, it could be my best fan fic to date. *knock on wood*


Stars May Collide

 
Storm clouds may gather,
And stars may collide,
But I love you,
Until the end of time.


--"Come What May," Moulin Rouge


Chapter 1 - A Harmless Trip to Long Cleeve

The Great Smials, 1426 S.R.

* * *

“No.”

Paladin Took sighed deeply at his son’s firm voice.  “Peregrin, try to understand...”

“Understand what?” Pippin asked, a fire lit in his eyes.  “That you want to take me bride-hunting?”

Pursing his lips, Paladin continued in as even a voice as he could manage.  “That you have been of marrying age for three years and yet have made no effort to find yourself a wife.  Your friends are all married - why can’t you follow their example?  Even that cousin of yours has settled down and now has a family.”

Pippin crossed his arms and lifted his chin in defiance of his father’s statement.  “I remember a time when it would have grieved you to use Merry as an example of the right thing to do.”

“And that sentiment has not changed; it grieves me still, more so because you refuse to do what even he would!”

In an exasperated tone, Pippin replied, “Do you think I’m doing this out of spite?”

“It certainly appears that way!” Paladin fumed, all trace of evenness gone from his voice.

As he clenched and unclenched his fists at his side, Pippin spoke in a tone that bordered on rebellion.  “For your information, Father, the reason I have not chosen a bride is because I have yet to find one.”

Paladin spread his hands suddenly as if his son was finally agreeing with him.  “Which is exactly why I’m asking you to do this!”  When Pippin rolled his eyes, preparing to turn away, Paladin continued in a calmer voice.  “It’s just a short trip to Long Cleeve.  I have to go there on Thain business anyway - you could simply say that you are there to help me.  There are plenty of nice girls in Long Cleeve, you’re bound to find one that’s to your liking!”

His nostrils flaring, Pippin responded icily, “And if I don’t?  I suppose you shall simply have to take me somewhere else to find a wife, won’t you?”

Taking a deep breath, Paladin sat down at the table and motioned for Pippin to take a seat next to him.  When he did so, albeit reluctantly, Paladin spoke in a tired voice.  “Son, I understand how you feel, believe it or not.  I was barely a year younger than you when my father gave me a similar lecture to the one I’ve given you.  My reaction was much the same as yours.  I wasn’t going to allow anyone to have me tied down with a wife and children to support.”  A wistful smile came to his face the likes of which Pippin had never seen on his father.  “But then I met your mother.  I’d never seen a more enchanting creature in all my life.  The heart is a strange thing, Peregrin.  It’s definitely not as intelligent as your head, but I think, in a way, it’s a bit wiser.”

Pippin raised an eyebrow at this, but decided not to push the subject.  His father had grown a bit peculiar in his old age, even as Tooks go.

After a moment, Pippin sighed.  “When do we leave?”

Paladin’s face broke into a wide grin.  He clapped his son on the shoulder.  “I knew you’d come through for me!  We leave in one week.  And perk up, lad!  We’re going to Long Cleeve, not your funeral!”

Pippin gave a half-hearted attempt at a laugh, but didn’t get very far with it.

* * *

“Long Cleeve?”

“Yes, Long Cleeve,” Pippin replied dully to Merry Brandybuck’s exclamation.

“Two questions,” Merry stated.

Pippin rubbed his temples.  “One at a time, please.”

“All right, first question - what have you done with the real Peregrin Took?  The Pippin I know would never allow someone to force him into looking for a bride.”

Pippin laughed mirthlessly.  “I’m afraid he was the victim of Paladin Took’s incessant ramblings.”

“Well you know, there’s a simple solution to that.  You do have a sword, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“Perish the thought, Merry, you know I could never kill my own father.  Mum would never let me see the end of it.”

“That’s true.”

“And the second question?” Pippin prodded.

“Pardon?  Oh, right, second question - why Long Cleeve?  What’s so special about the lasses there?”

Shrugging, Pippin replied, “It’s convenient, I suppose. Father has to go there anyway on Thain business. He must have seen a brilliant opportunity to find a daughter-in-law.”

“I wonder what’s so special about the lasses there...”

Pippin shook his head. “I haven’t the faintest idea. But there had better be something spectacular about them.”

Smiling slightly, Merry responded, “I should hope so, if you’re going to marry one of them.”

Sighing, Pippin replied, “I’m not going to marry someone I meet in Long Cleeve.  I’m just doing this to humor my father.”

Merry sat back and regarded his friend with a pensive look.  “You know something, Pip?  You and I are getting very old.”

Pippin couldn’t help but laugh at this sudden change of subject.  “And what makes  you say that?”

“Well, think about it - you’re going to look for (or pretend to look for, at least) a bride to humor your father, something you would have never done ten years ago.  And I...”  Merry let out a deep sigh.  “I find myself going to all extremes to humor my darling wife.”

“Ah, Merry,” Pippin said with a grin.  “I do believe you are the one who is aging the most.  After all, you are the one with a wife and daughter to support now.”

Merry responded with an impish smile.  “Just wait awhile.  I’m sure those lovely Long Cleeve lasses will take care of that for you.”

Pippin snorted.  “I wouldn’t count on it.”

* * *

This is just a short chapter to establish (I hope) some of Diamond's character. I find it both exciting and nerve-wracking to write for her, because we know so little about her and where she comes from (I do, at least; if anyone else has any extra information about her and the North-tooks, I'd really appreciate hearing it).

* * *

Chapter 2 - The Quiet Lass

* * *

“He’ll be here soon!”

“I wonder what he looks like...”

“Do you think he’s smart?”

“Do you think he’s handsome?”

A small crowd of hobbit lasses stood in the main room of the North-tooks’ smial; all were giggling and chattering eagerly as they awaited the arrival of the Thain and - more importantly - his son, Peregrin.  All but one, that is.  A dark-haired young girl was making a desperate attempt at escaping her tittering cousins.  When she had successfully passed them by, the girl unclenched her teeth and let out a deep sigh of relief.

“Diamond?” spoke a soft voice from behind her.

“Oh, hello, Fildigrim,” Diamond said to her brother.

“I see you have successfully evaded the herd of giggling lasses that seemed to have gathered in our sitting room,” Fildigrim remarked with a smile.

Diamond returned the smile, saying, “Barely.”  Brother and sister turned to walk down the hallway towards their bedrooms.  “I don’t see why they’re all getting so worked up.  It’s not as though he’s here to find a bride, after all.”

“Not openly, no.”  When Diamond raised a quizzical eyebrow at this statement, Fildigrim went on.  “Well, think about it - Peregrin Took is probably one of the most eligible bachelors in the Shire, not to mention the richest, with an important title to uphold.  Odds are, his father is after him to get started with producing heirs for the Thainship.  I’m sure Dad sees this as an excellent opportunity to strengthen old ties by marrying one of his daughters or nieces off to the future Thain.”

“Oh,” Diamond said.  “Yes, I suppose that should’ve been obvious.”  So that was why her cousins and sisters had been so excited, spending such a long time dressing themselves up and fixing their hair.  “Well, I can’t help but feel sorry for Mister Peregrin, having to come here and face all those potential wives.”

Fildigrim had a way of seeing past his sister’s words to find what she was truly thinking and feeling.  “You’re not upset, are you?” he asked worriedly.

“Why would I be?”  Her voice was steady but rushed, and Fildigrim caught the slightest hint of a wince flash across her face.

“Because Mum and Dad won’t want you to be among the potential wives,” he replied gently, pityingly.

Diamond laughed nervously.  “Oh, don’t be silly, Fildigrim.  Why would I want to get married?  I’m not even of age yet!”

But Diamond knew she had in no way masked her disappointment.  When the pair reached the door to her bedroom, Diamond said goodbye to her brother and quickly escaped into her room, closing the door behind her.

She sat down at the vanity and stared thoughtfully into the small mirror in front of her, assessing her features as she had done so many times before.  Though Diamond did not find herself particularly attractive, she also did not believe that she was hideous, exactly.  She had to admit, though, as she carefully brushed her dark curls, that her features were not what one might call interesting.  Add to her plain face a figure that bordered on scrawny, and Diamond had to acknowledge the fact that she was mediocre at best.

Her physical appearance, however, was not the main reason that Diamond’s parents did not want the future Thain, or any lad for that matter, to consider her a prospective bride.  They had other reasons for that, reasons that Diamond had grown to accept and eventually agree with.  Unfortunately, her acceptance of the situation had not yet lead to her contentment with it.

Letting out a deep sigh, Diamond reached into a drawer and pulled out her favorite hair pin, which had a small carving of a pale violet flower on it.  She held it up to her curls for a moment, admiring the way the candlelight danced upon the little flower, and briefly considering wearing it, perhaps to catch the eye of the young visitor.

And what will you do if you do happen to catch his attention? she thought to herself suddenly.  Engage him in awkward conversation?

Diamond shuddered slightly at the thought.  Conversations had never been her strong point.  No, in the end she preferred to stay as far away from being the center of attention as possible.

Besides, she thought.  For all I know, Peregrin Took could be a conceited braggart.  In any case, he’s probably not worth getting my hopes up.

Feeling slightly better, Diamond replaced the hair pin and walked out of her room to join her family.

* * *

* * *

Chapter 3 - Stolen Glances

* * *

Pippin had been at the North-tooks’ smials for less than fifteen minutes and he was already pining for home.  He was currently sitting at the long table in the dining room, with his father on one side and Feldigram Took, master of the North-took smials, on the other.  Feldigram’s family was slowly filing into the dining area; most of the lads had already entered and given their greetings to Paladin and his son, but the girls seemed to be taking their time.  Whenever a lass would walk in, after being introduced by Feldigram, she would first give a polite “hello” to the Thain, then turn her eyes to Pippin and giggle.  When this procedure had started to become irksome (around the second time), Pippin had decided to focus on his mug of ale and hadn’t looked up since.

“Well,” Feldigram spoke up over the family’s chatter.  “I think we’re all here, shall we start?”

“We can’t start,” one of the older girls said.  “Diamond isn’t here yet.”

“Oh, she’s always late,” Feldigram’s wife, Bellamanta, said as she seated herself at the far end of the table opposite her husband.  There was an empty seat on her left, presumably the one belonging to this Diamond lass.  “And as I tell all of you if you’re late for a meal, it’s your own fault if you don’t get enough food.”

It didn’t take long after the meal to start for many of the girls to attempt conversation with Pippin.  He answered in as few words as possible, looking up as little as possible.  He was wishing - and not for the first time that day - that he had taken Merry up on his offer to accompany Pippin to Long Cleeve when Bellamanta spoke up again.

“Ah, there you are, Diamond!  We were wondering about you.”

Pippin was surprised by the voice that answered, in that it was soft, barely above a whisper, and the speaker seemingly embarrassed that she had been addressed.  “Sorry.”

Out of curiosity, Pippin glanced up ever so slightly and saw a pretty young girl seating herself beside her mother.  Her hair was black, and she had pale, milky-white skin that could have made her look almost sickly.  Instead it served to give her a sort of glow that Pippin found difficult to look away from.

“You shouldn’t go wandering off like you do, Diamond,” Feldigram said, but his voice was not stern; he did not seem the type of hobbit to often use a strict voice.  “Paladin, Peregrin, this quiet little lass is my youngest, Diamond.  She’s not quite of age yet, but that suits Bellamanta and me just fine.  I don’t think we’ll want to be rid of Diamond even when she is ready to be married.”  Feldigram laughed heartily as his daughter blushed.

Pippin got the sneaking that Feldigram was attempting to send him a hidden message with his last statement.

The dinner went by slowly; most of the girls had taken the hint and given up on conversing with their young guest, but some were being terribly persistent.  Luckily, Pippin discovered that if he simply nodded or shook his head, they would be satisfied.  He also found that his gaze often wandered over to the far end of the table, where the young girl named Diamond sat in silence, looking up only when spoken to.

Pippin was stealing another glance at Diamond when he saw her speak to Bellamanta in a tone that could not be heard over the other conversations.  Bellamanta nodded at what her daughter said, and Diamond stood and walked out of the room.  Pippin was suddenly filled with a great urge to go with her, but he settled with letting his gaze follow her towards the door.

But ten minutes later, Pippin decided he’d had enough of dinner.  “Thank you very much for the meal, Mister Feldigram, Missus Bellamanta,” he said.  “But I’m afraid I must retire.”

“Something wrong, Peregrin?” his father inquired.

“Uhh... a headache.  Yes, terrible headache.  I think I’ll go lie down for a while.”

At least five female voices spoke up, asking frantically if they could get Pippin something.  He shook his head quickly, said goodbye, and walked out, hoping he didn’t give away the fact that he was in a hurry.

Instead of going to his room, however, Pippin decided to take a walk outside.  He felt refreshed the moment his feet touched the grass outside of the front door to the smials.  Far to his left, he saw a patch of trees and decided to walk towards them.  When he reached the trees, he was surprised to find that someone else was already there, and even more surprised at who that someone was.

Diamond sat with her back against a tree, her head bowed and her knees hugged to her chest.  Her dark locks danced in the gentle breeze, making her seem to Pippin as some sort of vision.

She didn’t seem to notice his approach until he was mere footsteps away from her; she glanced up and gasped, causing Pippin to back away slightly.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said, holding up his hands.

“Oh, oh it’s all right,” she said, her pale face now tinged with pink.  It was the most words he’d ever heard her speak, and he was surprised at how soothing her soft voice was.

Pippin was about to speak again when Diamond stood suddenly.  “I- I suppose you came out here to be alone.  I’ll just--”

“No,” he interrupted quickly.  “Don’t go, please.”

When he said “please,” Diamond paused and looked up at him in surprise.  After a moment, she sat back down and gave a small smile.  “All right.  I should warn you, though, I’m not very good company.”

Pippin smiled brightly.  “Oh, that’s all right.  I haven’t been the best company lately either.”  From the way she wrung her hands and avoided his gaze, Pippin guessed that Diamond wasn’t exactly comfortable with being around him, so he decided to seat himself far enough away from her to where he couldn’t reach out and touch her.  He wasn’t sure if Diamond noticed this, but he was pleased to see that she relaxed slightly.

“Why, um... why did you come out here?” she asked timidly.

Pippin shrugged.  “Dinner was becoming rather dull.”

Diamond furrowed her brows at this.  “But everyone was so eager to talk to you.”

Wrinkling his nose, Pippin replied, “All the girls, you mean.”

“Oh.”  Diamond looked down at the ground, twirling a few blades of grass with her delicate fingers.  “All that attention... I figured you would enjoy it.”

“I probably would have a few years ago.”  He sighed, resting his chin on his hands.  “I suppose it would help if they weren’t just interested in the fact that I’m famous, or that I’m going to be the next Thain.”

Diamond had plucked a small flower and was running her fingers over its lavender petals when she spoke again.  “Well, I’m sure if they got to know you better, they would see that you’re more than just a famous name.”  She still wouldn’t meet Pippin’s gaze, but he could see her blushing furiously.

“And what about you?” Pippin asked.  “What are you doing out here all by yourself?”

Shifting slightly, Diamond replied, “Oh, I... I just don’t like crowds.”

“Even when it’s your family?” he inquired.  When she nodded slightly, Pippin commented, “You know, you don’t say very much.”

Her blush returned.  “Mum always said I was too introverted,” she responded with a sheepish smile.

“And why is that?”  Only then did Diamond meet Pippin’s gaze, and he noticed she looked almost surprised.  “What, does that question surprise you?”

She smiled and returned her gaze to the small flower in her hand.  “Well, not really, it’s just that you’re the first lad outside of my family who seems genuinely interested in what I have to say.  Actually, you’re the first lad outside of my family who has even pursued a conversation with me.”

“I find that hard to believe,” he said with a smile.

Diamond looked at him again, and her smile became a little less bashful.  Pippin gazed at her thoughtfully for a moment, admiring the delicate features of her face - her shy smile, her soft lips, her dark lashes.

“You have blue eyes,” he said suddenly, surprising even himself at this abrupt comment.

She laughed softly.  “Is that a good thing?”

Pippin’s smile widened.  “Yes, I believe it is.”

Just then, a voice was heard from the direction of the smials, calling out, “Diamond?  Diamond, are you out here?”

Diamond’s face fell at the sound of the voice.  “That’s my sister.  I had better go.”  She stood, but before turning to leave, she gave Pippin a small curtsey.  “It was nice talking with you, Mister Peregrin.”  With that, she turned and quickly walked towards the smials.

Pippin watched her go and muttered under his breath, “Goodbye, then.”  After a moment, he looked back at the spot where Diamond had been sitting and saw that she had left behind the small flower she’d been holding.  He picked it up and stared at it for a few seconds, then, standing, put it in his pocket and walked out of the grove.

* * *

* * *

Chapter 4 - A Fresh Start

* * *

“What were you doing out there, Diamond?”

Diamond avoided her sister’s eyes as she replied, “Oh, you know, just going for a walk.”

After a moment, her sister spoke again.  “Father’s right, you know.  You shouldn’t go wandering off like you do.  What if you catch something?”

Diamond gave a soft sigh.  “Opal, it’s the middle of July; I’m not going to catch a cold.”

“Perhaps not,” Opal yielded.  “We can’t help but worry about you, though, what with...”  She trailed off awkwardly.

“I know,” Diamond said with another sigh.  “And it’s not that I don’t appreciate your concern, it’s just that it... it can get a bit frustrating.”

Opal smiled.  “Come now, Diamond, it’s my job to worry about my little sister.”

Diamond gave her a half-hearted attempt at a smile.  “Yes, I know.  Well, I think I’ll go ahead and turn in.”

“Goodnight, Diamond,” Opal said, pecking her sister on the cheek.

“Goodnight.”

As Diamond walked down the corridor towards her bedroom, she passed by another bedroom that was filled with many giggles and whispers.  Pure curiosity made Diamond pause just before that particular room; the door was ajar, and she could hear the voices of the girls inside fairly well.

“He is quite handsome, isn’t he?”  Diamond recognized the voice of her sister, Amethyst, Diamond’s elder by only a year.

An arrogant snort followed this comment.  “I’ve seen much better in my time.”  Diamond couldn’t help but cringe at this voice; it belonged to her cousin, Petunia, who shared a mutual dislike with Diamond.  “But of course, physical appearance isn’t everything in a husband.”  Before Diamond had much time to be surprised at what could have been a thoughtful statement, Petunia continued, “You must also take into account economics and social status.”  Through the crack in the door, Diamond could just make out Petunia’s upturned nose and overall haughty expression.

Magnolia, a cousin only a few months older than Diamond, spoke up.  “But Petunia, surely you wouldn’t want to marry someone simply for their money!  What if you didn’t like the person?”

Petunia smiled in a condescending manner.  “Dear Magnolia, you’re such a simple girl.  I suppose you’re going to wait and marry your ‘true love’ or some such nonsense.  If you do that, you’ll end up marrying a poor farmer!  You have to marry well, and if that means being the wife of a dull, boring hobbit, so be it.  That dull, boring hobbit will allow you to live in the lap of luxury, and who knows - maybe you’ll meet a less-boring friend of his to soothe any loneliness you may encounter during your marriage.”  Seeing the smirk on Petunia’s face as she said that last statement made Diamond want to be sick.

“Take Peregrin Took for example - he may not be the best-looking hobbit in the Shire, but he isn’t entirely unpleasant to look at.  But that hardly matters when you look at what you would be inheriting should you get to wed him - you would be the Mistress of the Great Smials and later on, the mother of the future Thain.  There’s a chance you would even meet this king someday!  Now the downside would be actually being Peregrin Took’s wife; as we all know from his behavior at dinner, he certainly isn’t anything spectacular personality-wise...”

Diamond could bear no more.  She stepped inside the room and spoke in as firm a voice as she could manage, saying, “You shouldn’t talk about him like that, Petunia.  You don’t even know him.”

Petunia wrinkled her nose, and she looked as though a slug had just wormed its way into the room.  “Oh, and I suppose you do, Diamond?”  She laughed.  “Not that it would matter, seeing as how your parents certainly don’t want you getting married.”

Doing her best to ignore her reddening cheeks, Diamond spoke again, her voice trembling slightly.  “No, it doesn’t matter if I know him.  I know that it’s wrong to judge people when you’ve barely spoken to them.”

Rolling her eyes, Petunia replied, “When did you become such an authority on people?  It’s not as though you ever speak to anyone yourself, being the introverted little snail that you are.”  She snickered at her own analogy.

Diamond wanted nothing more than to turn around and run to her bedroom at that statement; but after having spoken with Pippin and knowing what a good hobbit he was, she felt the need to set her family members - especially Petunia - straight on the matter.  “Petunia, I’m sure if you attempted to get to know Peregrin Took as a person, not just his name and estate, then you would understand what I’m trying to tell you.  But if you would prefer to stay ignorant and shallow, then there’s nothing I can do to stop you.”  With that, she turned on her heel and walked out of the room.

After she had closed the door behind her, Diamond leaned against the wall and took several deep breaths.  She had never stood up to Petunia before in her life, and the experience was strangely overwhelming.  Diamond was wondering what had caused her to become so defensive when she heard a soft voice speak from a few feet away.

“Thank you, Diamond.”

She turned and was shocked to find Pippin leaning against the opposite wall, smiling at her.

“Oh!  Er... you- you’re welcome,” she responded shakily.  “Um... may I ask how long you were listening?”

Pippin folded his arms across his chest, his smile widening.  “Long enough to know that I’m not anything spectacular personality-wise.”

Diamond chuckled softly, glad to know that he didn’t seem to take Petunia’s words to heart.  “So you aren’t upset about... about what she said?”

He shook his head.  “No.  And besides, I think you did a fine job in defending me.”

A blush rising in her cheeks, Diamond merely shrugged, keeping her gaze fixed on her feet.

After a moment, Pippin spoke again.  “Diamond?”  She looked up to find that he now stood in front of her.  “Do you think we can start things over again?”

“You think things started out badly between us?” she asked meekly.

Pippin smiled.  “I think you’re far too nervous around me, and I’m hoping that fresh introductions will help prevent that.”  He held out his hand to her.  “Hello.  I’m Pippin.”

She returned the smile and took his hand.  “I’m Diamond.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Diamond.  I hope we’ll be able to see more of each other in the next few days.”

Diamond’s smile widened.  “I’d like that.”

Pippin nodded with satisfaction.  “Much better, wouldn’t you agree?  Well, I’d best be getting to bed.  Goodnight, and sweet dreams to you.”

“Sweet dreams,” said Diamond as he turned and walked away.

That night, the appearance of butterflies in her stomach prevented Diamond from going to sleep easily.

* * *

* * *

Chapter 5 - Talk of Sketches and Song

* * *

The following morning, Diamond awoke with a smile.  She eagerly got out of bed and dressed herself for the day, hoping to get to first breakfast as soon as possible, for it was there that she was likely to see Pippin again.

Before Diamond left her bedroom, she took a moment to regard herself in the mirror.  She stood there for several minutes, experimenting different styles with her hair, wondering which style would be the most flattering on her.  But suddenly her heart became heavy, and with a sigh she took her hands out of her hair, letting her dark tresses settle limply on her shoulders.

No, she thought.  This is silly.  There’s no point in letting vanity take hold just because someone was being friendly towards me.

But as she walked out into the hallway, she could not help but smile with excitement at the thought of seeing Pippin again.

It was still rather early in the morning, so not many people were at the table when Diamond arrived.  She was happy to note that Pippin was among them, sitting next to his father and eating silently.  When he saw Diamond enter, he grinned and gave her a small wave.  Diamond smiled and waved back as she took her seat at the opposite end of the table.

“Good morning, Diamond!” her father said in his loud, merry voice.  “I trust you slept well?”

“Very well, Father,” she replied, smiling at him.

“Ahh, you’ve got yourself a pretty one there, Feldigram,” Paladin remarked, causing Diamond to blush.  “Now how old are you, Diamond?”

“She’ll be turning thirty-one this December,” Feldigram answered for her.  “Though being the tiny thing that she is, many don’t believe us when we say that she’s been a tween for quite some time.”

“Thirty-one, eh?  Well, I can see how some would mistake her for being younger.  I certainly did not think her to be in her thirties, and she definitely could pass for a pre-tween.”

“Indeed she could,” said Feldigram.  “Especially with that tiny figure of hers.  Most unnatural, her appetite.  Why, we’ve even caught her skipping meals!  Very un-hobbit-like behavior, that.  We keep telling her, if she’d only adopt a better diet, she wouldn’t be so small!”

Diamond could not help but fidget in her seat.  Change the subject, Daddy, please change the subject...  It made her extremely uncomfortable to be the topic of conversation, especially when the conversers spoke of her as though she wasn’t there (as her family members were wont to do).

Her spirits considerably lowered, Diamond finished her meal as quickly as possible, excusing herself from the table no more than five minutes later.  She went outside and began walking towards the little grove where she so often sought solitude.  It wasn’t until she heard a voice calling her name that she realized she’d been followed.

“Diamond!”  She turned to find Pippin jogging up to her.  When he reached her, he smiled and said, “It was getting rather stuffy inside, so I thought I’d come out here.”

But Diamond could tell what he was really saying with those words:  “Those other lasses started coming in and I had to escape as soon as possible.”

Fighting a laugh, she said, “Well, I am glad you came out here before it got too stuffy.”

Pippin’s smile widened into a grin.  “As am I.”  He paused for a moment, gazing at her with a look that made Diamond blush and smile at the same time.  “May I walk with you, Miss Diamond?”

“Yes, I’d like that,” she replied.

He held out his elbow for her, and she slipped her arm through it shyly.  They walked in comfortable silence for a minute or so before Pippin spoke up.  “Does your father talk about you like that often?  As though you aren’t there?”

Diamond kept her gaze fixed on her feet as she walked.  “Not all the time.”

“Doesn’t it bother you?”  After several seconds, she nodded.  “Why don’t you ever say anything about it?”

“Well, I...”  She lowered her voice to a near-whisper.  “I don’t know.”

Pippin could tell he had made her uncomfortable, and he wanted to slap himself for doing so.  Instead, he decided to change the subject.  “So, what sort of things do you enjoy doing?”

Giggling at this rather abrupt subject change, Diamond replied, “Let’s see - I’m rather fond of sewing and knitting and such, but what I really enjoy is... well...”  Here she muttered something inaudible.

“I’m sorry?”

Diamond sighed, wearing an embarrassed smile.  “Drawing.  I know, it’s silly...”

“How so?” said Pippin with a grin.  “There’s nothing wrong with being artistic.”

Wrinkling her nose slightly, Diamond said, “Mum says I should use my time more wisely than to sit around sketching things all day.”

“In that case, I am forced to disagree with your mother.”

Diamond found that he had led them into the grove where she had originally been heading towards, the place where she and Pippin had first met.  She was surprised - but not unpleasantly so - that he remembered where it was.  They sat down on the long grass and were silent for some time, content to simply watch the rustling of the leaves and the passing of the clouds overhead.

After several minutes, Diamond realized that Pippin was humming softly.

“What song is that?” she asked.

“Hm?  Oh, it’s something I learned several years ago, from a very old creature of the forest.”

Diamond’s eyes widened.  “The Old Forest?”

“No, much farther away than that.  It was in Fangorn Forest, which I don’t think you’ve ever heard of.”

She shook her head.  “What is the song about?”

Pippin lay down on the grass, stretching out his long legs.  “Lost love.  It’s a very sad tale told by the folk of Fangorn Forest, though the song itself is an Elvish one.  Whenever I sit and watch the trees, I think of that song.”

Diamond lay on her side next to him, propping her head up on her hand.  Running her free hand through the grass, she said, “Will you... will you sing the song for me?  Or just tell me the tale as it was told to you?”

Pippin looked up at her for a moment, then smiled.  “I shall gladly do both.”

* * *

* * *

Chapter 6 - Drawing Letters

* * *

Bit of shade here... a line there...

For reasons beyond her comprehension, Diamond couldn’t help but giggle slightly as she sat there next to Pippin, eyeing him closely, tracing her pencil carefully in the book that sat in her lap.  Pippin opened his eyes and cocked a brow, looking up at Diamond from where he lay on the grass.

“What are you laughing about?” he inquired suspiciously, but with a smile fighting its way onto his lips.

“Nothing,” replied Diamond innocently, continuing with her drawing.

Pippin glanced at the book resting in her lap.  “Oh, I see.  Now Diamond, I was under the impression that when you brought that book out here, you wouldn’t be using it to draw me.”

Diamond hesitated for a moment, a small knot of tension twisting in her stomach.  She hadn’t though he would be upset about it...

When Pippin saw the anxious look she wore, he allowed the smile to break onto his face.  The knot in Diamond’s stomach slowly dissipated as she let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

“Diamond, you really must learn to recognize when someone is teasing you,” said Pippin as he sat up.  He leaned forward in an attempt to see the image on the paper, but Diamond, as a reflex, immediately pulled the book to her chest.  Pippin raised his eyebrows.

“Oh, I’m sorry, it’s just that I don’t like for people to see my work,” she explained, her face reddening.

“Not even your models?” Pippin exclaimed, looking aghast.  Diamond shook her head sheepishly.  “That simply isn’t fair.”

Diamond fidgeted.  “Well, they aren’t very good...”

“Why don’t you let me be the judge of that?” Pippin asked, giving her a rather enticing grin.

“I don’t know...”

“Please?  I shall never leave you in peace if you do not.”

The smile that Pippin was giving her was too much for Diamond to refuse.  She handed him the book, then hugged her knees to her chest, keeping her gaze fixed on her toes.

“Thank you,” said Pippin with immense satisfaction, opening the book.  Every time Diamond heard him turn a page, her cheeks grew a bit redder, until she felt that her face must have been on fire.

“Well,” said Pippin finally.  “If you don’t consider these good, then I would love to see what you do think is good.”  When she still would not meet his gaze, he reached out and gently tilted her chin up.  “You shouldn’t underestimate yourself so much, Diamond.”

She held his gentle gaze for a long, breathless moment, her heart fluttering inexplicably.  Forcing herself out of her slight reverie, she said diffidently, “So you actually liked them?  My sketches?”

“Of course!  I’m no expert, obviously, but even I can see that you’ve got some talent.”  Pippin grinned at her, sending her heart into that same exhilarated flurry as before.

“Thank you,” she said, smiling, putting as much affection into those two words as her voice could contain.  “These past few days have been so wonderful,” she continued softly.  “I don’t know what I shall do when you have to leave...”

“Don’t look so glum, Diamond,” Pippin said cheerily, hoping to bring back that smile that he had grown so fond of.  “When I return to Crickhollow, I shall write to you every day ‘til I can come here and see you again.”

But this did not produce Pippin’s desired effect.  Diamond looked down at her hands and said, “That wouldn’t work out well.  I... I can’t read.”

Pippin raised his eyebrows.  How could a daughter of such a prominent family not have been taught her letters?

“Why not?” he asked.  “Didn’t your family hire a teacher for you and your siblings?”

“For my older siblings, yes,” she answered.  “But at the time, I was a bit too young for that sort of thing.”

“And later on?”

Diamond sighed deeply.  “And later on was when our family started having financial troubles; Father decided that spending money on teaching me to read wasn’t a wise idea.”

Pippin thought about this for a moment; he hadn’t known that the North-tooks had ever had any sort of financial problems.  When he voiced this thought to Diamond, she shrugged.

“Dad and Mum have hidden it well, but we all know what’s going on.  And I think that’s why Dad is so eager to have some of his daughters and nieces married off as soon as possible...”

“Perhaps I’ve been misinformed,” Pippin said, his brows furrowed.  “But I was under the impression that a lass’s parents were suppose to provide a dowry when she gets married.”

“Oh no, you’re right about that,” Diamond replied with a small smile.  “But Dad is hoping that the girls in our family will be so irresistible that lads will convince their families to go against that sort of tradition.”  She wrinkled her nose slightly.

Pippin smiled suddenly.  “You look positively adorable when you do that.”

Diamond’s eyes widened.  “When I do what?”

“Wrinkle your nose like that.”

“Like this?”  She repeated the action, causing Pippin to burst into laughter.  Diamond attempted to scowl, but found herself grinning instead.  “What are you laughing at?”

Pippin could only shake his head in response.  Diamond plucked up a flower and threw it as his face, hitting him in the nose; but instead of ending his laughter, the action only served to heighten his mirth, and he lay back on the grass, practically in hysterics.

“Stop laughing at me, Peregrin Took!”  But by now Diamond was also laughing, and her words held little anger.

Wiping tears from his eyes, Pippin sat up.  “I wasn’t laughing at you, I was just laughing at...”  He chuckled.  “I was laughing at how adorable you are.”

“I didn’t think that sort of thing would be something to laugh at,” she said as defensively as she could manage.

“I suppose not,” he replied, eyes and voice full of mirth.  “It was just one of those moments where you were more adorable than beautiful.  See, right now you’ve gone back to being beautiful.  But I enjoy both.”

Blushing, Diamond lowered her head, hoping to hide her smile.

“Now then,” said Pippin, assuming an almost business-like manner.  “About this reading issue - there’s no reason for a smart lass like yourself to not know her letters.  And though I may not be the best choice for a tutor, I’m sure I could teach you a thing or two about reading.”

Diamond’s eyes lit up.  “Really?” she breathed.  “You wouldn’t mind?”

“Of course not!  It’s a rather good excuse to spend time with you, is it not?” Pippin responded with a grin.

“But do you think it will be too hard for me to learn?” she asked nervously.

“I don’t believe so.  After all, you’re so good at drawing, and when you think about it, writing is only drawing letters.”

Diamond returned his grin, but she became serious for a moment.  “Thank you, Pippin,” she said softly.  “For everything.”

Pippin looked into her eyes with a gentle gaze.  “Think nothing of it.”

* * *

This is my first offically beta-read chapter for this story.  Big thanks to Melyanna, my wonderful beta!

* * *

Chapter 7 - From Afar

* * *

Diamond furrowed her brows as she stared hard at the page before her.

He walked stra... stra...  She bit her lip fretfully.  What sort of word was that?

Pippin set aside Diamond’s sketchbook, which he had been leafing through, and peered over her shoulder to look at the page she was struggling with.

“This word?” he inquired, pointing.  Diamond nodded with embarrassment, and he smiled.  “Oh, that is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.  I’ve never understood that word anyway.  Why, there’s a ‘g’ and an ‘h’ just randomly placed in it for no apparent reason!”  He then proceeded to help her sound out the offending word.

Moments later, as Diamond was continuing with her reading, part of her mind was busy thinking about Pippin.  It was a little over a week since he had begun teaching her all he could about reading, and according to Pippin, she was making excellent progress.  Though Diamond couldn’t help but wonder if he was merely saying that to encourage her, she appreciated it nonetheless.

Diamond allowed a tiny smile to creep onto her face, and bowed her head to hide the smile from Pippin.  Such smiles were appearing more and more since Pippin had so boldly entered her life.  Never before had someone shown such determination in getting through the timid shell that Diamond presented to the outside world.  And yet there was nothing overbearing about Pippin; he was cheerful, patient, encouraging, gentle...

With a barely perceptible intake of breath, Diamond felt Pippin bring his hand up to the back of her neck, where he began to gently knead her skin.  Diamond fought to keep her smile from widening.

“You are far too tense, m’dear,” he commented with a smile as he slowly massaged her neck.  “I thought we had agreed you would try to be less so, at least when you are around me.”

“I shall have to try harder, I suppose,” said Diamond, still looking down at the book but absorbing none of the words on its pages.

“This isn’t making you uncomfortable, is it?” Pippin inquired, pausing his fingers.  Diamond shook her head quickly.

“It’s rather nice, actually,” she said softly.

“I find it quite enjoyable myself,” said Pippin cheerfully.  Diamond blushed, but this time she decided not to hide her smile.

* * *

As Pippin rubbed his fingers against Diamond’s neck, he found himself wishing the girl would speak again, if only so he could hear her voice.  But he was content to simply watch her smile that beautiful smile that he had grown so attached to.  And it wasn’t just her smile - it was her eyes, her hands, her laugh, her heart...

Pippin looked on as Diamond concentrated on the book in her lap.  A particularly strong breeze blew the book forward several pages, and both hobbits reached out in unison to turn the pages back.  Their hands brushed against each other, and they slowly met each other’s gazes.  Pippin’s heart swelled when he saw how vulnerable Diamond looked at that moment.  So timid, so delicate... he was overcome with the desire to hold her, to protect her, to shield her from those who might seek to bring harm to that tender soul she possessed.

Or, at the very least, to just hold her.

It took all of Pippin’s willpower not to reach forward and take her gently into his arms, maybe even to brush a kiss against her lips.  To minimize the risk, he reluctantly removed his hand from her neck.  His fingertips suddenly seemed much colder.

Judging by the look on her face, Diamond seemed to interpret his actions as being a result of some mistake she had made.  It pained him to see her such.

“Are you having any troubles with the book?” he asked, somewhat awkwardly.  Diamond shook her head and did not meet his gaze.  “Oh.  Well, if you need help, just let me know.”  She nodded.

I wish she would smile... she has the most wonderful smile... I wonder if there’s a way I can get her to smile...

Eventually, Pippin’s desire to see her smile and his longing to reach out and touch her became too great to ignore.  “Diamond?”

She glanced up at him timidly.  “Hm?”

He pointed at her hand that was nearest to him.  “Is that hand busy, perchance?”

Her eyes wide, she replied, “I... er... I don’t believe so.  Why?”

Pippin gave her what he hoped was a winning smile.  “Well, I was wondering if I might hold it.”

Diamond’s mouth dropped open slightly, but she quickly closed it, her cheeks a bright red.  Quite flustered, she answered:  “Oh, I-- yes, of course you may.”

Grinning broadly, Pippin took her hand in his; he wasn’t surprised to feel her trembling.  His grin faded slightly at this, but he soon shook that feeling off.

Well, if I want to get her to be more comfortable around me, I shall just have to work harder at it.

Pippin then proceeded to gently rub Diamond’s hand until the shaking slowly ceased, but even then he could not bring himself to remove both of his hands from the softness of hers.

I love her hands...

I love her face...

Her mind...

Her heart...

Everything about her...

I love her.

Pippin tightened his grip on her hand ever so slightly.  Yes, he loved her.  He finally managed to form that thought, and it was firm, fearless, and leaving no doubt in its wake.

He loved Diamond.

But I can’t tell her, he thought disconcertedly.  No, she’s nervous enough around me as it is.  It would be wrong of me to throw this at her so quickly.

One day, though.

Pippin knew he would have to be content with loving her from afar.

For a while, at least.  I hope.

* * *

Thanks for the feedback, everyone! :-)

My beta gave me a sort of "It's great, but it could be BRILLIANT!" thing with this chapter, so hopefully her beta notes helped me acomplish that. ;-)

* * *

Chapter 8 - Confessions

* * *

A small bounce in her step, Diamond walked briskly towards Pippin’s bedroom.  She held a book tightly against her chest; it was a small book, but a bit more complex than what she had been reading.  Pippin had selected it from the North-tooks’ small library as a sort of reading assignment for her, and she was on her way to show her progress to him.

She reached Pippin’s door and was getting ready to knock when she heard Paladin Took’s voice coming from inside.

“--nearly two weeks longer than planned!”

It only took Diamond a moment to realize what the topic of this conversation was, and she bit her lip.

“If you wanted to leave, why didn’t you ever say so?” came Pippin’s reply.  Diamond thought she sensed some anxiety in his voice.

Paladin sighed deeply.  “I suppose I was hanging on to some shreds of hope about this trip’s other purpose, if you’ll recall.”

Pippin echoed his father’s sigh.  “Yes, I recall.”

“You have seemed a bit... distracted lately.  I don’t suppose there is any one person who is responsible for this, is there?”

Diamond was only slightly aware of the fact that she was holding her breath.

“Well?” Paladin prompted after a moment of silence.

“Are you wanting to arrange a wedding within the month?” asked Pippin in a rather impertinent tone.

“Are you dodging my previous question?” Paladin shot back angrily.

“If you absolutely must know, Dad - yes, I have been spending time with one of the girls here.”

Diamond’s heart gave an inexplicable leap--

“And no, a marriage does not seem imminent.”

--and fell just as quickly as it had risen.

Diamond pulled at a lock of hair that fell over her shoulder, wondering why Pippin’s words had triggered such a response from her.  There was something about Pippin that had Diamond terribly confused - it was the way she felt when she was in his presence.  Some change would come over her, a change that was somewhat frightening, and at the same time had a rather calming, soothing effect on her.  It would feel right somehow, if it didn’t scare her so much.

Paladin’s voice pulled Diamond out of her daze.  “So who is this girl?”

“Her name is Diamond.  She’s the youngest one - dark hair, small, pale, do you remember her?”

“Ah, yes...”  Something about Paladin’s tone made Diamond slightly nervous.  “Well then, I suppose it’s good that you aren’t seeking a courtship with her.”

Diamond froze.

“Who says I’m not-- wait, what do you mean?”

“I’ve heard some things about her,” said Paladin awkwardly.  “Feldigram doesn’t speak of it much, but he said enough.  Why, it was her condition all those years ago that started the North-tooks’ financial troubles.”

Diamond’s breath came out in ragged gasps, and her heart began beating at an alarming rate.

“What condition?”  Pippin’s voice then changed, holding an underlying fierceness.  “And how is Diamond responsible for these people’s monetary issues?”

“I never said she was solely responsible, but from what I understand, she did have... complications that needed to be taken care of.”

Diamond was torn between rushing into the room and running as far away from it as possible.

“If you’ve got something to say about Diamond, why not just come out and say it?”

Please no, please...

“I... oh, it doesn’t matter, does it?  You said so yourself, you aren’t seeking a marriage with her!”

“But I care about her!”

“Well then, ask her about it yourself!”

Diamond took another gasping breath as the voices began to fade away.  She swooned and fell forward, hitting the door before slumping onto the ground.

* * *

Pippin’s response was cut short by the loud thud from the hallway.  He dashed out of his room; what he saw made his heart turn to ice.

He rushed over to where Diamond lay and gently turned her over onto her back, stroking her cheek as he tightly clasped her cold hand.  “Diamond?” he whispered frantically, pressing his hand to her forehead.

He barely noticed that his father knelt beside him.  “Lay her on the bed,” Paladin commanded as he stood.  “I’ll go for help.”

As Paladin quickly walked away, Pippin carefully gathered Diamond into his arms and carried her into his room.  He laid her onto his bed and sat down beside of her.

“Diamond,” he said softly, bringing his face close to hers as his hand caressed her cheek.  “Diamond, come back to me...”

A strange curiosity overtook Pippin; he recalled an old tale he had heard as a child about a hero who awoke his sleeping damsel by laying a gentle kiss on her lips.  Though Pippin still considered Diamond’s lips to be sacred territory that was not his right to claim, he wondered if perhaps some sort of kiss would be in order in his attempts to wake this damsel...

Pippin leaned forward until his lips brushed against Diamond’s brow.  He kept them there for a moment, unwilling to separate himself from the feel of her soft skin, and hoping that his lips might somehow hold the power to pull her back into consciousness.  He pulled away only when he felt Diamond shift slightly, and he still kept his face close to hers as he let out a deep sigh of relief.

“Are you all right?” he whispered.

Diamond groaned softly.  “I... what... Pippin?”

He took one of her hands and massaged it.  “You fainted.”

Memory seemed to return to Diamond; she bit her lip and turned her head away from Pippin.

“Diamond?” he prodded.  “Are you all right?”

She rubbed her chest with her free hand and nodded wordlessly.  Tears sparkled in her eyes, making them turn an even brighter shade of blue.  Pippin’s chest tightened at the heartbreaking image.

“I’m sorry, Pippin,” she said softly.  “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, I just...”

Pippin squeezed her hand comfortingly.  “Shh, don’t worry about that.  I understand.”

A faint smile flashed across Diamond’s face.  “You always understand.  Sometimes I feel like you’re the only one who understands.”

Pippin stared down at her hand, his brow furrowed.  “Diamond, I--”

He stopped short when he heard several other hobbits entering the room.  He turned to see Paladin, Feldigram, Bellamanta, and a few others crowded in the doorway.

Bellamanta was the first to approach the bed.  “Oh Diamond, if you weren’t feeling well, you should have said something!”  Pippin saw that Diamond avoided her mother’s gaze.

Another hobbit, whom Pippin assumed was the healer, sat down on the other side of the bed next to Diamond.  As he put his hand to her forehead, he asked, “Have you been having any problems recently, Diamond?”

Diamond muttered something about a few small headaches, and how they weren’t anything important.

The old healer sighed.  “Now, Diamond, you know that you are to report any sort of problems.”

“I didn’t think it was important,” she mumbled.

“Well, it obviously was,” Feldigram put in, “since you fainted just now.”

“She only fainted because she was feeling stressed!” Pippin snapped.

“Stressed?”  Bellamanta looked at her daughter with furrowed brows.  “About what, dear?”

“It’s nothing,” Diamond said meekly.  Pippin could see that tears were threatening to escape her eyes.

“Would you like to rest, Diamond?” he asked her gently.  She looked up at him and nodded gratefully.

“Now see here, young lad--” Feldigram began.

Practically fuming, Pippin turned his head to glare at him.  “Diamond would like to rest.  Do you understand?”

Bellamanta touched the healer’s shoulder, gesturing for him to stand.  She then turned to her husband.  “Come along, Feldigram.  Don’t get yourself worked up.”  He tried to protest, but Bellamanta managed to herd him out into the hallway, the healer following them.

But Paladin lingered in the doorway for a moment.  “Remember what I said, Peregrin.”

Pippin kept his eyes fixed on Diamond.  “I remember.”

When Paladin had left, closing the door behind him, Pippin asked Diamond, “Would you like me to leave?”

Diamond shook her head, tightening her grip on his hand.  “Please stay, Pippin.”

They sat in silence for a moment; Pippin lovingly stroked her palm, causing Diamond’s fingers to reflexively close around his.  Finally, she said, “I was sick.”

Pippin looked down at her with surprise.  “What?”

She met his gaze steadily, her eyes wide and mournful.  “When I was nine years old, I was sick with a fever.  I was coughing up blood for two months, and I couldn’t tell where I was half the time.  The healers said that there was no cure, and the most they could do for me was give me herbs to make me sleep so that I did not feel so much pain.”

“Diamond...” Pippin reached out to touch her cheek, and she closed her eyes.

“They don’t know how I ever survived it, but I did eventually recover.  For the most part.”  Her brows knitted together with the pain of the memories she was reliving.  “I’ve always been rather weak because of it, I suppose.  My lungs especially, because of all the coughing, and...”  She trailed off as tears escaped from behind her eyelids.  She tried to speak again, but no words came, and her free hand moved slowly to rest on her abdomen.

Comprehension dawned on Pippin.  “You’re barren?” he whispered.

“That’s what the healers said.  And that’s... that’s why my parents don’t want me to get married.  They don’t think I’ll make a suitable bride because of it.”

Pippin tilted her chin up, and she opened her eyes to look at him.

“I think that they are very foolish to believe such a thing,” he said.

Diamond’s eyes widened slightly, and her lips parted as she took a deep, shuddering breath.  Pippin slowly reached out and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her up into a gentle embrace.  She buried her face in his chest and wept as he held her close, wishing he would never have to let go.

* * *


I'm afraid individual replies will have to wait; I'm beat right now. :-P But thank you all so much for reading!

Also, big thanks to my beta, Melyanna (who, by the way, has recently posted her wonderful Faramir/Éowyn story here and at FFN *hint hint, nudge nudge*) for helping me make this chapter much better than what I'd originally written.

* * *

Chapter 9 - Realizations

* * *

When Diamond awoke the next morning, the first thing she felt was a hand gently stroking hers.  She opened her eyes and smiled when she saw Pippin sitting in a chair beside her.

“Good morning,” he said, returning her smile.

“Good morning.”  Noticing just how tired Pippin looked, Diamond furrowed her brows.  “What time is it?”

“About five thirty in the morning.”

Diamond sat up quickly.  “Oh, Pippin, you didn’t stay here all night, did you?”

He shrugged.  “I wanted to make sure you were all right.”  His smile faded, and he looked down at her worriedly.  “Are you?”

Diamond nodded.  “I’m sorry I caused such a fuss yesterday.  I really never meant to be such a burden to you.”

Pippin squeezed her hand.  “Burden?  Diamond, I will never consider you a burden, even if a time came when I had to carry you across the Shire on my back.”

She smiled and said softly:  “You’ve done so much for me.  I only wish I could give you something in return.”

“You’ve given me your company, and that’s all I need,” he said.

But as Pippin spoke this, Diamond thought she saw something flash across his face, some sort of hidden message that he longed to put into words.  It was nothing hostile or hateful, but it was something that Diamond simply could not recognize.  She had seen Pippin look at her in such a way before, but he was the first person to ever do so.  No one had ever looked at her the way Pippin did...

Diamond had a strange feeling that she looked at Pippin in the exact same way.

“Diamond?  Are you all right?”

Realizing suddenly that she had been gazing at Pippin for several seconds, Diamond blushed and looked away.

But Pippin smiled at her, setting his elbow on the bed and resting his chin in his hand.  “Have I told you how much I love your blush?”

“Once or twice,” she replied, blushing even more.

She wanted nothing more than to stay there with Pippin for as long as possible, but she felt far too guilty when she remembered how tired he must be.  She reluctantly got out of bed.

“You need to get some rest, Pippin,” she said.

Pippin sighed and nodded, and Diamond thought that he looked just as reluctant as she was.  “All right,” he responded, climbing into the bed.

Diamond pulled the blankets up to his chest.  “Sweet dreams.”

Before she could walk away, Pippin caught her hand and held it tightly.  “Sweet dreams will not be a problem,” he said, giving her a small smile.

Diamond was very reluctant indeed to let go of Pippin’s hand and walk out of the room.

* * *

Diamond sat at her vanity table, an object that, other than allow her to brush her hair in the mornings, usually did little more than accumulate dust in her room.  But she had been sitting there at the table for several hours, staring at her reflection and drumming her fingers on the dust-covered wood.

What does it all mean?

Diamond loved spending time with Pippin; he made her happier than she had ever been.  And yet she feared whatever it was that caused her heart to leap when she met his gaze, or when he spoke her name, or when he held her hand...

A knock at the door pulled Diamond away from those thoughts.  “Come in,” she called, turning to see who entered.  It was her sister, Opal.

“Hello, Diamond,” greeted Opal, a bit awkwardly.  “How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” she replied, her face reddening.  She wondered if the entire household knew about her fainting spell the previous evening.

Opal’s awkward manner dissipated suddenly, and she looked as though she was fighting an impish smile.  “By the way... I heard that Master Peregrin was rather nice about that whole thing.  Carried you into his room and everything.”

Diamond’s face reddened even more.  “You know about that?”

“Oh, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,” she said, sitting on the bed.  “I think it’s adorable, your feelings.”

“My feelings?” Diamond inquired curiously.

Opal raised her eyebrows.  “About Pippin.”

“What do you mean?” asked Diamond, her brows knitted in confusion.

Opal smiled.  “You don’t have to play games with me, Diamond.  Besides, there’s nothing wrong with an innocent infatuation!”

Diamond’s eyes widened.  “Yes,” she said slowly and distractedly.  “Just an infatuation.”

Of course.  How could it have taken her so long to realize the truth?  All those weeks spent with Pippin, gazing up at him when he wasn’t looking, waiting eagerly for him to say something, it all meant so much more than what Diamond’s naïve mind had at first thought.  It was not friendship that made her heart swell whenever she was with Pippin.

“Diamond?” Opal prodded gently.  She knelt beside of her sister, placing a hand on Diamond’s knee.  When Opal saw the look on the younger hobbit’s face, she inhaled sharply and said:  “Oh my... it is more than just an infatuation, isn’t it?”

But Diamond shook her head quickly.  “No, you’re right, it’s only an infatuation.  Nothing...”  She lowered her head and closed her eyes.  “Nothing will come of it.”

Opal seized her sister’s hands and held them tightly.  “I’m sorry, Diamond, I didn’t mean to bring you down like that!  I didn’t think...”

“It’s all right,” said Diamond softly, standing up.  “I’m going to take a walk outside.”

Opal stood as well, wringing her hands.  “Do you want me to come with you?”

“No,” she replied dazedly as she turned away.  “I’d like to be alone for a while.”  Without waiting for a response, Diamond walked out the door and into the hallway.  Her pace quickened significantly as she neared the main door.

Diamond’s swift walk turned into a run as soon as she was outside, and she dashed towards the little grove where she and Pippin had spent so much time together.  Her raging emotions seemed to power her legs, moving her faster than she had ever gone.  Her thoughts blurred along with the trees and shrubs she was passing, bringing a blissful moment where she did not have to think about her newfound clarity.

When she reached the grove, Diamond dropped onto her side and curled up at the base of a tree; she pulled her legs up and buried her face in her knees, weeping onto her dress.

She had never expected love to be like this.  She had always thought it to be something grand and beautiful, not something to cry over.  But a terrible guilt had enveloped her; she felt as though she had betrayed Pippin by falling in love with him.

And besides, she thought bitterly.  Nothing will ever come from it.  He’s the son of the Thain, and a hero of the Shire.  I don’t deserve him anyway.

Several minutes passed, and a miserable Diamond still lay on the ground.  She did not notice that she had been joined until she heard Pippin’s voice from above, saying her name.  She gasped and looked up; when she saw Pippin standing there, his face filled with worry and pity, she could only cry harder.

Pippin knelt beside of Diamond as she buried her face in her hands.  He reached out and brushed a few strands of hair out of her face, then laid his hand against her cheek.  He didn’t say anything, and Diamond guess that he was waiting for her to start.

“I’m sorry, Pippin,” she said through her tears as she pulled her hands away from her face.  “I’m so sorry.”

Pippin lay down facing Diamond on the ground.  He smiled slightly, taking her hand.  “What hideous act have you committed lately that requires an apology?”

She squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head.  “I can’t... I can’t tell you.  I’m sorry, Pippin.”

“You can tell me anything, Diamond,” he replied earnestly.  “Please, if something is bothering you, I want to know about it.  I want to help you.”

But Diamond only cried harder, and when Pippin reached out to wipe away some of her tears, she recoiled as though he was about to strike her.

Pippin drew his hand back immediately.  After watching her sadly for a moment he nodded.  “All right, Diamond.  I won’t force you.”  Sighing deeply, he released her limp hand and stood.  “I’ll leave you alone.”  There was a sense of reluctant finality in his voice.

It was only when Pippin began to walk away that Diamond could bring herself to look at him.  His shoulders were slumped as though in defeat.  More guilt swept over her when she recalled the pain that had been evident in his voice.

It may be wrong to be in love with him, but it is even more wrong to hide it from him.

The words fell from her lips before she had the chance to stop them, and her voice was desperate and sorrowful as she spoke: “I love you, Pippin!”

At her statement, Pippin came to a sudden halt.  Diamond clamped her hands to her mouth, horrified.  As Pippin slowly turned to look at her, she closed her eyes and leaned against the tree, her emotions overwhelming her to the point where she could barely breathe.

Only the touch of a hand on her hair caused Diamond to open her eyes.  She saw that Pippin had sat down in front of her and was gazing at her with wonder.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered mournfully, finally able to meet his gaze.

Much to her surprise, Pippin’s face broke into a delighted grin.  “My dearest Diamond, whatever for?”

Her eyes wide, Diamond stammered, “Wh- what do you mean?”

Pippin sat back for a moment, looking pensive.  “Now what would Faramir say at a time like this?  He was always good with this sort of thing...”  Pippin thought on this vague subject as Diamond wondered idly who Faramir was.  After a few seconds, he smiled and leaned closer to Diamond; he brought both of his hands up to cup her face gently as he gazed into her eyes.  “I have loved you, Diamond North-took, perhaps ever since I first saw you.  Every moment with you is a paradise.”  He frowned suddenly.  “Wait... except when you’re crying, like you were before.  That I could do without.  Ah, where was I...?”

Diamond laughed through her tears.  “Paradise,” she said.

“Yes, paradise!  Allow me to rephrase:  Every moment with you when you’re happy is a paradise.”

“Oh, Pippin,” said Diamond, still weeping but this time not with sadness.

Pippin put a finger to her lips, silencing her.  “I wasn’t finished!  If I am going to do this properly, as my friend Faramir would have done, then it needs to be grand and elaborate.”  He cleared his throat, and then lowered his voice to a tone that neared reverence.  “Diamond, I deem you to be the most lovely creature in all the Shire.  I treasure every smile you give to me, every moment you allow me to spend with you.  How you can manage to take my breath away with the slightest of glances I will never know.  But I do know that you are tender beyond words, patient beyond reason, beautiful beyond compare, and many other things that I cannot now describe, and that I love you with all my heart.”  He paused suddenly and whispered, “Have I swept you off your feet yet?”

Diamond laughed again, feeling as though she would burst with a joy she had never before known.  She threw her arms around his neck and replied, “Yes, Pippin, you have!”

Pippin smiled softly, wrapping his arms around her waist.  “I love you, Diamond,” he murmured, staring deep into her eyes, his gaze repeating without words what he had already spoken and leaving no room for doubt in Diamond’s heart.

“I love you, too, Pippin,” she whispered in response, nuzzling her face into his neck, reveling in how the saying of those words made her heart soar.

* * *

Pippin and his father had decided to set out for Tuckborough the next day.  It pained Pippin to leave Diamond so soon after they had both confessed their love, but he found it difficult to be sad when he had that love to think about.

Pippin already had his things packed onto his pony, and his father was outside saying goodbye to the North-tooks.  But Pippin tarried inside the smials for a moment, in a deserted corridor, to say his own special goodbye to one hobbit in particular.

Diamond looked up at him, smiling sadly.  Their hands were clasped together tightly, and both were reluctant to let go.

“Will you write to me when you reach Buckland?” Diamond asked hopefully.

“I’m afraid not,” Pippin replied.  When he saw the disappointment in her face, he smiled and continued, “I won’t be able to wait that long.  I shall write to you as soon as I reach the Great Smials.”

Diamond returned the smile even as a single tear rolled down her face.  Pippin brought a hand up to gently wipe it away, allowing his fingertips to linger on her soft skin.  He looked troubled.

“I don’t think writing will suffice for me, though,” he said.  “Would it be all right if... if I came here from time to time and visited you?”

“Oh, Pippin, that would be wonderful,” said Diamond sadly, “but I don’t think our parents would approve.”

“Yes, I thought about that,” he said, his brows furrowed.  “But they wouldn’t have to know.”  He gazed at her intently and lowered his voice.  “We could meet in secret.  The grove - no one else goes there but us - we could meet there.  No one would have to know but us.”

Diamond returned his gaze steadily and nodded.  “All right.  I would like that.”  She rushed forward suddenly and embraced him, breathing deeply in hopes of gathering as much of his scent as she could into her memory.  “I’ll miss you,” she whispered.

Pippin rested his chin on top of her curls as he stroked her back.  “I’ll miss you, too.”  He pulled away from her and tilted her chin up.  He leaned in slowly, hesitating a moment before kissing her cheek.

“But I will come back,” he said softly.

She smiled at him.  “I know.  I shall just have to be patient.”

Pippin returned her smile.  “Farewell, Diamond.”

He gave her hand one last squeeze before turning away and walking down the hallway.  When he had rounded a corner and disappeared from her sight, Diamond leaned against the wall, wiping away fresh tears that had spilled down her face as soon as Pippin had released her hand.  She waited a few minutes before following him outside, and saw that he and his father had already mounted their ponies.

Pippin gave a small, polite wave to the other North-tooks who were gathered outside.  His gaze passed over the group of hobbits, lingering for a moment on Diamond.  He gave the faintest of smiles that only she could see, a smile meant only for her.

As he turned and rode away, Diamond whispered, “Farewell, Pippin.”

* * *

And here we see more of the Faramir influence on young Master Took. ;-)

* * *

Chapter 10 - Love Letters in the Gondorian Style

* * *

The first thing Pippin did when he returned to the Great Smials was tear around the many rooms in search of a good bottle of ink.  Upon achieving this task, he quickly retreated to his bedroom, heading directly towards the small desk in the corner.  The drawers was not lacking in parchment, as Pippin had rarely written anything when he had permanently resided in that room.  He grabbed several sheets and a quill, dipped the quill in the nearby ink bottle, and let it hover above the paper as he thought of where to begin in his first letter to Diamond.

Dear Diamond, he began, pausing for a moment before scratching out what he had written.

“Too average,” he muttered.

He started again.  My fairest Diamond...

“Ugh.”  He made another scratch-out.

Dearest darling Diamond...

Pippin squinted at what he had just written.  “Why, that borders on mockery.”

This time, after he had marked out the words, he crumpled the paper up and tossed it over his shoulder.  He sat back with a deep sigh, pressing the nib of the quill between his lips and staring at the fresh paper in front of him.

“I wonder how Faramir would have done this...”

Pippin knew that his Gondorian friend would frequently write to his wife whenever duties sent him away from home.  When Pippin, Merry, and Estella had traveled to Gondor on one occasion, they had convinced the lady Éowyn to show them some of those letters; the two hobbits had not been surprised to find that the letters were often filled with long, eloquent declarations of love.  Pippin had asked Faramir how he managed to come up with so many complex ways of saying “I love you” to his wife, to which the Steward had replied:  “When a man is in love, he finds that he will never tire of praising his lady in some way.”  Having been then been married for nearly two years, Merry had cast a glance at Estella and smiled knowingly at this; but Pippin, though he had been willing to take Faramir’s word on the matter, had not entirely understood that concept.  Now, however, he understood it all too clearly.  There were countless things he could say about Diamond, about how much he loved her and how lucky he was to have her love him in return.

If only he could find a starting point.

Pippin conjured up the memory of those few letters Éowyn had been willing to shown him, recalling the lines that Faramir had used as openings.  These salutations had varied slightly, but most of them had simply read:  “My dearest Éowyn.”

Smiling with satisfaction, Pippin once again set quill to parchment, carefully penning the words “My dearest Diamond...”

* * *

Diamond didn’t usually get excited when the post arrived in the afternoon, but over the past few days, she could often be found lurking in the doorway as letters were handed out.  She was rewarded on one particular day when her father called out her name.

After he had pulled her aside, Feldigram waved the enveloped at her awkwardly.  “Ah... this came in from the Great Smials, Diamond, and it’s addressed to you.”

Diamond hurried forward, but before she could take the envelope, Feldigram pulled it away, staring at it with furrowed brows.

“This is from Peregrin Took.”  Diamond nodded, and she was reaching out for the envelope when Feldigram continued gently, “He does know that you can’t read, doesn’t he?”

A blush rising in her cheeks, Diamond replied, “Well, actually, Dad...  You- you remember all that time that Pippin and I spent together while he was here?  Well see, when he found out that I couldn’t read, he decided to... well...”

Feldigram raised his eyebrows.  “He taught you how to read?”

“As much as he was able; he only had a few weeks, after all,” she replied, her voice shaky.  “I’ve still got a ways to go, but he says I made excellent progress in that short time.”  She grinned at her father suddenly before taking the envelope from his hands and quickly retreating down the hallway to her room.

She closed her bedroom door and locked it, then sat down on the bed and regarded the envelope with trembling fingers.  Her eyes were immediately drawn to the seal on the back - it was the image of a flowering tree.  Making a mental note to inquire about that tree, she carefully opened the envelope and pulled out the sheet of parchment that was inside.

My dearest Diamond,

I know it has only been one week since I saw you last, but those days have passed like an eternity.  I miss seeing your smile and hearing your laugh.  I feel strangely colder without being in your presence, and I wish more than anything to be able to hold your hand again.

I miss your blue eyes, your dark hair, your fair skin.  I miss seeing you blush every time I tried to compliment you.  In fact, I can almost see you blushing now as you read this letter.  I know you think I exaggerate whenever I praise you in some way, but believe me when I say that in my eyes you are the most radiant thing this side of the Sea.

Not that I am only interested in your beauty, of course.  You are talented, smart, kind, and patient - actually, my cousin Merry once said that any girl who fell for me would have to have a great amount of patience, so I am very glad that you are possessed of this.

Forgive me, I seem to be rambling now. I find it difficult to put down on paper what it is that I feel about you, and it took me some time just to figure out where to begin.  But there is one thing that I can say and write with absolute certainty--

I love you, Diamond.  I love you, and I miss you terribly.  I am eagerly awaiting the day when I can see your beautiful face again, but until that time, I shall have to be content with a letter correspondence.

I know that this letter probably bored you somewhat, but please forgive me.  It is only my first attempt at a love letter, after all.

Ever yours,

Pippin

P.S.  I will be leaving the Smials in a few days, so if you want to write me back, then send the letter to my address at Crickhollow in Buckland.

P.P.S.  I love you.

Diamond wiped away a stray tear that had escaped her eye while reading Pippin’s letter.  His eloquence had surprised her, and she had indeed been blushing through most of the reading.

A strange giddiness filled Diamond as she read the letter again.  She hadn’t expected reading the words “I love you” to be quite as incredible as when she actually heard them; but just the knowledge that Pippin had written it exhilarated her.  It also heightened her longing to see him again, and to hear his gentle voice.

But like him, she would have to be content with merely a letter correspondence.

Smiling, Diamond moved to the floor and reached under her bed, where she kept spare parchment and pencils for her artwork.  She pulled out a paper and quill and set about writing a letter of her own.

* * *

* * *

Chapter 11 - Miscreants

* * *

“Uncle Pip!”

Pippin grinned as two-and-a-half-year-old Lily Brandybuck rushed towards him; he scooped the little hobbit girl up and tossed her into the air, and she squealed in delight.

As Pippin closed the front door of Crickhollow, he heard Estella Brandybuck’s voice coming from the kitchen.  “I hope you aren’t damaging my daughter, Pippin.”

“Not at all, Estella!” he replied, holding Lily by the wrists and swinging her far out in front of him.  He then took her by the waist and carried her under his arm as he walked towards the kitchen, the little girl giggling as her legs dangled behind him.

When he entered the kitchen, he found Estella standing over the beginnings of a pie; Pippin also noticed that her stomach had grown considerably since last he’d seen her.

She kissed him on the cheek and asked, “How was Long Cleeve?”

Pippin didn’t respond right away, and Estella looked at him curiously.  Finally, he replied, his tone thoughtful, “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

Estella raised her eyebrows at this, but before she could respond, they heard someone else enter the kitchen.

“Daddy, Daddy!” cried Lily with a grin.  “Uncle Pip’s back!”

“So I see!” said Merry, grabbing his daughter’s feet before moving to embrace his cousin.  “So you survived, did you?”

“I did,” said Pippin, setting Lily on the ground.  He then turned to Estella and said, “And how are you faring, Estella?”

“Oh, I’m all right.  This child seems to be a bit more complacent than that little miscreant was when I was carrying her.”  She nodded at Lily, who furrowed her brows at her mother.

“Mama, what’s miscarant?”

Merry grinned and picked the girl up, holding her in one arm.  “A miscreant is someone who is wild and evil and doesn’t listen to her parents as much as she should.”

“I listen!” Lily protested.  She looked at Pippin for support.  “Don’t I?”

Pippin tickled her under her chin.  “Of course you do!  These parents of yours just don’t understand, do they?”  Lily shook her head firmly in response.

“Well, when you have children, perhaps you’ll do a better job, Pippin,” said Estella, rubbing her swollen stomach.

Estella then returned her attention to the pie she was fixing, causing her to miss the way Pippin squeezed his eyes shut for a particularly long time at her words.  But his slight unease did not go unnoticed.

“Pip?” Merry prodded softly.

Pippin glanced at him, looking uncertain.  “Merry, can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Of course.”  Merry set his daughter down, and he and Pippin walked across the hall and into the sitting room.

After the two hobbits had seated themselves in chairs by the fireside, Merry said, “What’s on your mind, then?”

Pippin squirmed in his chair for a moment before responding, “I... met someone.  In Long Cleeve.”

Merry raised his eyebrows, a smile attempting to fight its way onto his lips.  “Is that so?”  Pippin nodded, but did not speak again, looking even more uncomfortable.  Finally, Merry said, “Well, aren’t you going to tell me about her?  What’s her name, what does she look like?”

Pippin smiled suddenly, and his voice took on an almost dreamy tone.  “Her name is Diamond, and she’s gorgeous.”

“Really?”  Merry’s voice was filled with mirth.

“Mmhm.  Dark hair, beautiful blue eyes, white skin.  She’s so...”  Pippin’s voice lowered to a point of thoughtful reverence.  “Delicate.”  When he glanced up and saw the amused look on Merry’s face, he blushed and muttered, “Well, it’s the truth.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt you, Pippin,” he replied with a grin.  “So did you tell her how you felt?”

Pippin nodded, a small, sheepish smile coming to his face.

Merry’s grin became mischievous.  “Did you kiss her?”

“Well... on the cheek.”

“On the cheek?” Merry repeated incredulously.

“I didn’t want to rush things!” exclaimed Pippin.

Merry sighed dramatically and shook his head.  “Well, you said you told her how you felt - did she return the favor?”

Pippin’s small smile returned.  “She feels the same way.”

“Which is?”  Pippin shifted several times, avoiding his cousin’s gaze.  “Pippin?”  When Pippin still didn’t reply, Merry’s eyes widened.  “Why, Peregrin Took, I never would have believed it!  Do you mean to say you’re in love with this girl?”

Grinning helplessly, Pippin said, “I’ve never met anyone like her, Merry.  She has the most incredible effect on me... it’s all very bewildering, and yet... not.”

“Oh, you’re definitely in love, Pippin.  I recognize that star-struck look from when I realized I was in love with Estella.”

“Is that really what I look like now?” asked Pippin with mock-distaste.

“The likeness is eerie.”

The two hobbits laughed, and Merry then leaned forward eagerly.  “So when will you see her again?”

“Soon, I hope.”  But Pippin’s face was clouded.

Merry frowned.  “What’s wrong?”

Sighing, Pippin replied simply, “Things are complicated.”

Raising his eyebrows, Merry inquired, “Would you care to elaborate?”

Pippin’s brows knitted together as he thought on how much he should reveal about Diamond.  Finally he decided that the entire truth would be best.  He told Merry everything that Diamond had told him - about her illness, her family’s financial troubles, her infertility, and all other details he could recall.

At last, Pippin leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and setting his chin in his hands.  “It’s not fair,” he said softly.  “She doesn’t deserve anything like that.  She doesn’t deserve to have been sick.  She doesn’t deserve a family that won’t understand her.”

Merry regarded his friend thoughtfully.  “You’re certainly in quite a predicament, Pippin.  I’m not sure what to tell you.”

Pippin looked up at him solemnly.  “As long as you don’t tell me to give up on her.”

Merry reached out and took Pippin’s hands, gazing at him intently.  “I would never tell you to give up on something you love so much.”

Pippin smiled softly.  “Thank you, Merry.”

Returning the smile, Merry patted his cousin’s hands gently.  “Think nothing of it, Pippin.”  He stood and began to walk towards the hallway, but turned back to look at Pippin.  “The best advice I can give you is to do what you feel is right.  If you truly love her, and it sounds like you do, then--”  He shrugged and concluded with simply:  “You’ll find a way.”

Pippin nodded slowly as Merry turned to leave.  When he was alone in the room, he let out a deep sigh, staring straight ahead at nothing.  He thought about those last, blessed minutes he’d had alone with Diamond.  He recalled the longing and euphoria that had swept through him as he had leaned forward to kiss her.  How he had yearned to take her in his arms and kiss her until all breath had departed...  But the last thing Pippin wanted to do was press Diamond too quickly, and so he had forced himself to avert his lips away from hers in favor of a caress on that soft cheek.

Sighing again, Pippin closed his eyes in hopes of conjuring a clearer image of Diamond.  He wished he could hear her voice other than in memory, he wished he could see her face other than in his imagination.

A determined look coming to his face, Pippin sprang up from his seat and walked out of the room, with the intention of finding more ink and parchment.

* * * 

* * *

Chapter 12 - Lovesick Tweenagers

September, 1426 S.R.

* * *

Heart fluttering wildly in her chest, Diamond eagerly tore open the envelope and pulled out the parchment that was inside.

Dearest Diamond,

Sometimes it feels like my entire life has become centered on waiting for more letters from you.  I miss you so much.  Thankfully, my memory of you hasn’t faded in the least.  If I close my eyes, I can imagine that we’re together in that same grove.  You would be sitting there with your sketchbook in your lap, using your incredible talents to create something beautiful.  And I would simply be watching you, trying to think of ways to describe how much I love you without sounding ridiculous - which is something I probably haven’t done a very good job of so far.  I must sound like a lovesick tweenager.

Diamond laughed softly as she read that last sentence.  In her last letter to Pippin, she had described herself as sounding like a lovesick tweenager; apparently, he had found that description amusing.

In your last letter, you asked about the seal I use on my envelopes, and if that tree had any sort of significance for me.  A simple answer would be, yes, that tree is important to me.  But a complex answer - which is the type I would rather give you - is not the kind of tale that can be told in a letter.  I would much rather tell it in person, and as soon as possible.  I don’t suppose this could be arranged somehow?  I mean, if it’s too sudden, I can wait.  But I do want to see you again, and I thought that a storytelling was as good an excuse as any.  If you do want us to meet, then just give me a date, and I shall meet you in our grove at the appointed time.

If not, I still love you, and I hope we can see each other again soon.

Ever yours,

Pippin

Diamond reread the letter several times to make sure her eyes had not deceived her.  But there it was, in plain ink - Pippin was asking to visit her.

Oh, Pippin, she thought with a smile.  How could you think I wouldn’t want to see you again?

She sat down on the floor and reached under her bed, pulling out a sheet of paper, a quill, and a bottle of ink.  As she pondered how best to put into sensible words her eager acceptance of Pippin’s request, she felt a strange tingling sensation on her right cheek.  Smiling, she brought her fingertips up to lightly caress the spot where Pippin had planted that gentle kiss all those weeks ago. 

Her heartbeat quickened as the memory of that sweet moment came rushing back to her, just as vivid and enthralling as when it had first occurred.  She clearly remembered the love that had shone in Pippin’s eyes as he’d brought his lips closer and closer to hers before finally, with a slight turn of his head, placing a soft, chaste kiss on her cheek.

Diamond had been kissed on the cheek before, by various family members; but there had been something different about the feel of Pippin’s lips on her skin.  It had felt sweeter, more intimate, and she had wished for it to last much longer.  It had almost hurt to feel him break that loving contact.

Although a small part of her could not help but feel slightly pained at the fact that Pippin had settled for her cheek as opposed to her lips, the greater part of her had been overwhelmed upon seeing him bring his face so close to hers.  She had been both excited and frightened at the feel of his breath brushing so lightly against her lips for those briefest of seconds.  Yet that small part of her could not help but wonder, fantasize about what it would be like to feel his gentle kiss against her lips...

She shook her head slightly, hoping to force the thought away.  Blushing, she wondered if Pippin would have been horrified to know that she had been thinking such thoughts.

But he very nearly initiated it, she reminded herself.

“Oh, what does it matter?” she proclaimed in exasperation.  She leaned against the bed with a sigh, staring at the blank parchment that lay on the floor in front of her.

Diamond’s life had become awfully confusing of late, but there were still a few things she knew without a doubt:  that she loved Pippin, that he loved her, and that she badly needed to see him again.

A tired smile coming to her face, Diamond began to write her response.

* * *

The door creaked open, and out of the corner of his eye Pippin could see a small head of light brown curls peering inside at him.

Without turning, he said, “You are supposed to knock before entering, Miss Brandybuck.”  But he was grinning, and Lily knew that her older cousin would never really be strict with her.  She bounded into the room and climbed onto the bed where Pippin had laid out some clothes and a traveling satchel.

“Uncle Pip?”

“Yes, Liliadoc?”

“Where’re you going?”

As Pippin haphazardly rolled up one of his shirts to stuff into the satchel, he turned to smile at the little girl.  “I’m going to visit a very dear friend of mine.”

“Lady friend?”

Pippin raised his eyebrows.  “What has your old Da been telling you about me?”

“Heard him talk to Mama ‘bout you.”  Lily shrugged, grinning innocently, and Pippin shook his head and sighed.  But a few seconds later he leapt forward and tackled the girl, tickling her mercilessly.  She squealed, swatting lightly at his attacking hands.

“This will teach you not to spread nasty rumors about your cousin!” he said, running his fingers up and down her sides, which he knew to be extremely ticklish.

Lily’s shrieks apparently attracted the attention of her father; Merry soon entered the room and rushed to the aid of his daughter.

Snatching her off the bed and out of Pippin’s reach, Merry held the girl over her attacker so that she could tickle his stomach with her feet.

“Mercy!” cried Pippin.

Laughing, Merry gathered Lily up, ceasing the onslaught.  “I thought you would’ve learned by now, Pip, never to threaten a Brandybuck.”

Pippin nodded at his little cousin.  “Especially one so well-guarded as that scamp.”

“Exactly,” said Merry with a grin, pressing the tip of his nose against Lily’s.

Pippin chuckled softly as he watched his friend kiss the little hobbit girl gently.  Lily was very much her father’s daughter, with the same blue-grey eyes, rounded nose, and strong jaw.  And Merry would dote on her whenever possible, buying her only the finest clothes and bragging on her to no one less than the King of Gondor.  Though Estella loved her daughter no less than her husband did, she hoped that the addition of a new child to Crickhollow would prevent Lily from becoming irredeemably spoiled by him.  But Pippin had a feeling that Merry would find a way to sufficiently spoil both of his children.

Merry pulled his eyes away from Lily long enough to notice his cousin’s gaze.  And while his daughter busied herself by playing with his hair, Merry asked in as light a tone as possible, “When are you leaving, then?”

Returning to his packing, Pippin replied, “A few hours.  I want to cover most of the distance to Long Cleeve during the night.  I’ll find a nice spot to sleep for most of tomorrow, and I should be outside of Long Cleeve by sundown.”

A grin pulling at his lips, Merry inquired, “Are you excited about seeing your lady-fair again?”

His eyes wide and bright, Pippin responded, “Are you mad?  It’s a miracle I’m not dancing all over this room right now!”

“Perhaps when you meet her this time you’ll be able to progress past the cheek-kissing,” Merry remarked impishly.

Pippin attempted to toss an icy glare at Merry, but a grin escaped him instead.  “For your information, my dear cousin, I do not wish to pressure her.”

“Why Pippin, that is surprisingly considerate of you.”

“I’m glad you approve.”

“But you want to kiss her.”

“I’d be a fool not to.”

Merry laughed and shook his head.  “I can hardly believe my little cousin has fallen in love.  And fallen particularly hard, it seems.”  He regarded Pippin thoughtfully as he rested his head against Lily’s.  “Something tells me that you’re going to make that lass very happy, Pip.”

Pippin looked at his cousin, his eyes bright with the eagerness he’d retained through everything, including “growing up.”  “Really?”

Grinning, Merry replied, “Really.”

Pippin nodded resolutely, clasping his traveling pack.  “That’s just what I intend to do.”

Merry jerked his head towards the door.  “Come on, then.  Estella will want to get another meal in you before you leave.”

* * *

Many thanks and a shirtless Faramir go to Melyanna for her incredibly helpful suggestions, and for reminding me yet again that Pippin really needs to land one on the lips. ;)


* * *

Chapter 13 - Dusk to Dawn

* * *

The sun had set long before Pippin reached the North-took smials and came to the small grove on the outskirts of their property.  He tethered his pony to a tree and hurried towards the clearing where he and Diamond had spent so much time together.

She was already there waiting for him, her face glowing in the light of the full, bright moon.

All pretenses forgotten, Pippin ran forward and embraced her before she had even seen him.  She gave a small yelp of surprise that quickly turned to a delighted laugh as she eagerly returned his embrace.  He lifted her up and twirled her about, laughing merrily.

“Oh, Pippin, I’m so glad you’ve come, I’ve missed you so much...”

“Here.”  He pulled away and brought his hands to her face, stroking her cheeks gently.  “Here, let me look at you...”  He grinned and whispered reverently, “Still a vision.”

She blushed and rested her head on his shoulder.  “As are you.”

He held her close, running his fingers through her curls.  After a few minutes, Diamond pulled away slightly; she reached up timidly to run her fingers lightly across his chest, tracing the silver tree that was emblazoned on it.

“I’ve never seen you wear this before,” she remarked softly, looking up to meet his gaze.  “It’s the same tree that’s on your seal, isn’t it?”

Pippin nodded, pulling his cloak back so that she could better see what he wore.  He had decided not to wear his mail, as it was rather heavy and would have been somewhat superfluous, but he was wearing the rest of his Gondorian garb.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said quickly, “I didn’t wear this just to show off.”

“I know,” she said softly, regarding his attire with a small smile.  “I like it.  Silver on black is a beautiful combination.”  When she realized that she was still stroking the tree on his chest, she blushed and pulled away from him slightly.  “In my opinion, at least.”

He smiled and took her hands.  “And your opinion is important.”

Her blush deepened, but she drew closer to him, and he wrapped his arms around her again.  She pressed her forehead against his chest and sighed contentedly.

“Are you going to tell me about it, then?” she asked softly.

“Hm?  About what?”

She giggled, looking up at him.  “About your tree, Pippin.”

“Oh, right!”  He grinned sheepishly, and Diamond seated herself on the ground; as he joined her on the grass, he noticed that her sketchbook was laying beside her.  Nodding at it, he said, “Have you been drawing more, then?”

“A little,” she replied, picking the book up and setting it in her lap.

Pippin scooted closer to her, smiling enticingly.  “May I see?”

Diamond gazed at him with the shy smile that he found so lovely.  “Well, certainly, but... I was sort of hoping that I could hear your story first, if that’s all right.”

He grinned in response.  “I could never refuse you when you smile at me like that, love.”

She blushed again and looked down, and Pippin’s grin widened.  “Now then,” he said, appearing quite cheerful.  “It all started with this old ring that belonged to my cousin Bilbo...”

At first, Diamond wondered what on earth this complex tale he wove had to do with the silver tree on his chest; but she was soon so immersed in the story that all thoughts of the tree fled her mind.  It was around the time that Strider and the four hobbits arrived in Rivendell, and Pippin began to describe the beauty of the Elf haven, that Diamond found herself opening her sketchbook.  Her charcoal pencil flew across the page as he told her of tall trees and grand halls in a land of eternal autumn.  She turned to a fresh page when the Fellowship entered Moria, and she sketched the columns of the city that the Dwarves had built long ago.  But as Pippin spoke of Gandalf’s fall, his voice faltered, and he paused.

“Pippin?” she prompted, frightened at seeing him in such a state.

He sniffed and let out a shaky breath.  “I’m sorry, I just... I know that everything worked out in the end, and I’ll tell you how later on, but I...”  He bowed his head, squeezing his eyes shut.

She timidly reached up and ran her fingers through his hair soothingly, her heart wrenching to see him in such pain.  “I didn’t know that this would be so difficult for you,” she whispered.  “You don’t have to keep going if you don’t want to.”

But Pippin shook his head firmly.  “No, I’m all right.”  He took a deep breath and continued the story.  Diamond listened with growing wonder as he began to describe the Elven wood of Lothlórien, and her pencil moved fervently to draw the mallorn trees that he spoke of.

“It all sounds so breathtaking,” she said, her voice filled with awe.

“Oh, I wish you could have seen it,” he replied, eyes shining.  Without thinking, he put his arm around her shoulders as he went on with his descriptions, his face alight as he recalled the beauty of Lórien and its people.  Diamond hardly noticed this herself, so caught up was she in taking in all that he said.  She was almost reluctant to hear of the Fellowship’s departure from Lórien, but she stopped her pencil and listened to the events of their journey on the river.  When he spoke of the attack of the Orcs, she saw that his hands began to tremble.

“And then Boromir came, and...”  His entire body was shaking now with repressed tears.

“Pippin,” she whispered, unconsciously bringing her hand to his face.  Something dawned on her then, and her eyes widened.  “You once said that if Merry’s next child is a boy, he’s going to name him Boromir, as a... a tribute.”

Pippin nodded, closing his eyes too late to hold in the tears.  “Merry said it was the least he could do, in repayment for what Boromir did for us...”

“No,” she gasped in horror.

“Three arrows,” he said, meeting her gaze.  “That was what it took to finally bring him down...”

She once again ran her fingers through his hair, tears spilling down her face.  She listened with horror as he told her how he and his cousin had been captured by the Orcs and forced on the long march towards Isengard, and then of their escape into Fangorn Forest.  Here she once again put pencil to paper, idly sketching the image of two hobbits in the middle of a dark wood.  Pippin fought back a sudden smile, wondering if Diamond would enjoy the artistic challenge that Treebeard would bring.

Indeed she did; in fact, she drew several representations before finally settling on one she must have felt came closest to Pippin’s description.  She laughed softly as he struggled to describe the eyes of the old Ent even as she struggled trying to draw them.

He then told her of the Entmoot, and the Ents’ decision to march on Isengard.  He could see her shudder slightly as he recounted their war song to her.  A few minutes later, more images had appeared in her sketchbook, this time of the crumbled walls surrounding the tower of Orthanc.  He smiled at the joy and relief in her eyes when Gandalf arrived at Isengard, soon to be followed by Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas.

All too soon the time came for him to tell of the incident with the Palantír.  He paused for a moment, shifting restlessly as he thought of just how much he should tell her.  He could see by the look on her face that she was already frightened, frightened of what he would say.

Sensing his apprehension, Diamond took his hand tentatively.  “Please tell me,” she pleaded softly.  Looking into her eyes, Pippin could see that she desperately wanted to comfort him, to know what he had been through.

“Right,” he said.  “Sorry.”  He let out a deep breath and proceeded to tell her everything that he had seen and heard and felt in the Palantír.  He avoided her astonished gaze until he had finished speaking on the subject, up to when Gandalf had set out with him for Minas Tirith.

“Pippin,” she gasped.  She slowly wrapped her arms around his shoulders, burying her face in his neck.  “Oh, Pippin, I had no idea you went through all that...”

He rubbed her back, nuzzling his face into her hair.  “It’s all right.”

“No, it’s not,” she muttered.  After a moment, she whispered, “It must have been terrible for you to leave him like that.  Your cousin, I mean.”

Pippin held her closer.  “Yes.  Until then Merry had always been with me, and that made things so much easier.  But at least Gandalf was still there.  And besides, we hobbits can overcome things quickly, can we not?”  He smiled and pulled away reluctantly.  “Now then, there’s still a bit more to tell, so you’ll just have to listen a while longer.”  He went on to describe in a breathless tone the White City of Minas Tirith.  So vivid were his recollections of the city that Diamond’s depiction on paper was almost perfect.

His face became pensive when he started to speak of Denethor.  In the many years since his return to the Shire, Pippin had always tried to avoid thinking about the old man he had first sworn allegiance to.

“I suppose I felt sorry for him,” he said softly, his brows furrowed.  “He had lost so much, and yet he didn’t see what he still had - namely, his country and his younger son.”  Pippin sighed.  “And Faramir tried so hard to obey him, and to please him...”

“Faramir... you’ve mentioned him before.  Is this when you first met him?”

“Yes.  Well, not yet.  A few other things happened before I met Faramir.”  He told her how he had sworn fealty to the Steward of Gondor and been given the armor he now wore, as well as the name Ernil i Pheriannath.

Diamond raised her eyebrows at this.  “What kind of name is that?”

Pippin shifted, his face reddening.  “It’s Elvish.  It means...”

“Yes?”

“Prince of Halflings,” he mumbled sheepishly.

She giggled, bringing her hand up to cover her mouth and her grin.  Pippin’s blush deepened, and he spoke with an embarrassed smile, “Oh, be quiet.”

“Well...”  She cocked her head to the side, regarding him thoughtfully.  “I think you do look rather prince-like.”  It was then her turn to blush, and she decided to change the subject.  “So is the tree a symbol of Gondor, then?”

“Yes, only the tree at this time was no longer alive, and not very impressive, to say the least.  It wasn’t until Strider came-- but no, I’m getting ahead of myself.”  He continued with the story, his face growing darker as he came closer and closer to events he was not eager to relive.  But he left nothing out, feeling that Diamond deserved a complete telling, no matter how horrific it was.  He told her of the terrible siege, how Faramir had returned to the City on the edge of death, how Denethor had finally succumbed to madness and taken his youngest son to the House of the Stewards to be burned alive.

Diamond’s eyes were wide with horror, and she leaned closer to Pippin, once again taking his hand.  He trembled violently as he recounted seeing Denethor holding the Palantír, then lying on the pyre, flames all about...

“Fire...”  Pippin closed his eyes, his breathing ragged.  “I can’t look at fire anymore.  Whenever I do, I always see...”  Diamond brought her hand up to caress his cheek as he struggled to find his voice again.  “I’ve tried hating him for what he did, for not loving Faramir as he should have, for nearly killing his own son, for making me afraid to look at a fireplace.  But I just can’t hate him.  All I can do is pity him.”  He met Diamond’s gaze, looking mournful and weary, and her heart broke at seeing him so filled with sorrow.

She spoke softly, “I don’t think you could hate anyone, Pippin.  Not with that sweet, gentle heart of yours.”

He smiled weakly, squeezing her hand, then continued with the tale; how he had finally been reunited with his beloved cousin when he found Merry wandering the streets of Minas Tirith, covered with blood, sweat, and tears.

“I was so scared that I would lose him,” he whispered.  He wiped his eyes, taking a deep breath.  “But Merry’s too strong for that.  And old Strider was there, and he saw to it that everyone was healed.”

Pippin recounted the departure from Minas Tirith to the Black Gate, and the final battle.  Diamond gasped, horrified, as he told her of the troll and how he had blacked out at the end of it all.  He told her of his awakening in Ithilien with Merry standing beside him.  Tears of joy shone in his eyes as he spoke of seeing Frodo and Sam honored at the Field of Cormallen.  Then came Aragorn’s coronation, and his wedding to Arwen the Elf.

“Aragorn found and planted a sapling of the White Tree in the courtyard of the Citadel, and it grows there still, and oh, Diamond, it is simply glorious.”  He turned his shining eyes on her, grinning so brightly that she could not help but grin in return.

The story continued as the remainder of the Fellowship left Minas Tirith and came to Edoras, Isengard, Rivendell, and Bree before the four hobbits finally returned home to a ruined Shire.

“But I suppose you already know what happened then, with Sharkey and the ruffians.”

“Well, yes,” she said, leaning forward intently, “but never from your point-of-view.”  Pippin looked up to find her gazing at him with admiration, even adoration.  “I know there was a battle and that you are considered a hero for all that you did in it; but I want to hear the story from you.  I want to know what you saw, what you felt.”

He furrowed his brows for a moment, surprised by the eagerness in her eyes.  It had been a long time since he had met someone who was genuinely interested in his past experiences, in what he had to say.

But Diamond seemed to think she had been too bold; she moved away and sat back on her heels, pulling her knees to her chin.  “But you don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she muttered quickly.

His heart swelling with love for this meek, gentle girl, Pippin reached out and lifted her chin so that she met his gaze.  Words failed him for a moment, so he simply leaned in and brushed a light, tender kiss against her brow.  When he pulled away, he smiled softly and said, “I shall tell you anything you wish to know, dearest.”

She returned the smile and moved closer to listen to his account of the Battle of Bywater and the final defeat of the ruffians.  His expression became melancholy when he told her of Sharkey’s death in front of Bag End.

“It broke Frodo’s heart,” said Pippin sadly, “for it all to end right there on his doorstep.”

Diamond bit her lip, laying her hand over his.  “What ever happened to Frodo?” she asked in a hushed, almost frightened voice.

With a sigh, he rested his head on her shoulder.  “He went westward over the Sea, to a place called Valinor... where he could be healed.”

She soon felt something wet on her shoulder, and looking down, was shocked to find Pippin’s face contorted with a suppressed sob.

“Oh, Pippin!” she murmured, putting her arms around him.  She stroked his hair as she held him close, allowing him to weep onto her shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, pulling away.  “I’m sorry, I just... I know that it’s better for him there, but...”

She gently wiped his face dry.  “No, don’t apologize, darling, I understand.  You love him, and you miss him being here with you.”

He smiled at her.  “Thank you, Diamond.”

“For what?” she asked, tilting her head to the side.

He took her hands, pressing them between his.  “For understanding me.  For just being so wonderful.”

She looked away, smiling shyly.  But the smile slowly faded, and she spoke in a voice so soft that he could barely hear her.  “I love you, Pippin.”

“I love you too, Diamond,” he replied with a slight frown.  “So why do you look so upset?”

Squeezing her eyes shut, she responded, “Because you’ll be gone in the morning.”

Pippin’s heart threatened to drop like a stone, but he forced his sorrow away, smiling brightly at Diamond.  “In the morning.  Meaning we have the rest of the night to spend together, and I’ll not be wasting one breath of it.”  She met his gaze again, and he was pleased to find her face was alight with happiness.

“Not one breath,” she agreed.

“Now then,” he said, squeezing her hands tightly.  “May I see these new drawings of yours?”

* * *

It was only several hours later, when Diamond had nearly nodded off to sleep three times, that she agreed to be led back to the smials.  They walked slowly, arm-in-arm, counting every last second in each other’s presence as a blessing.

When they reached the window of her bedroom, Pippin opened it for her, taking her sketchbook and reaching inside the room to lay it on her bed.  They faced each other in silence for a moment, wishing the seconds could crawl by like years.

“Will you come back soon?” she asked with tears in her eyes.

“Of course,” he replied, bringing his hand up to caress her face.

She smiled at him and whispered, “I love you, Pippin.”

Pippin moved forward and embraced her.  “I love you, Diamond.”

He felt a deep sigh shudder through her as she buried her face in his chest.  He knew he could have stood there, holding her in his arms until the end of time, and so with great effort released her and pulled away.

“I’ll write to you as soon as I get home,” he said softly.

Diamond nodded, turning to face the window.  She stood still for a moment with her back to him, as though collecting the strength to return to her room.  Finally she turned again and approached him, her eyes shining in the moonlight.  She gingerly placed her hands onto his shoulders, stood on her toes, and kissed his cheek.

“Good night, Pippin,” she said, stepping away.

His throat tight, he responded, “Good night.”

As Diamond backed away from him, Pippin gathered his strength and turned, walking towards the horizon where the sun would rise in a few hours time.

* * * 

I'll have to do reader replies later, I'm afraid.  But thank you all for your comments! :-)

* * *

Chapter 14 - Of Cousins and Kings

October, 1426 S.R.

* * *

“Diamond has lovely handwriting.”

Pippin jumped so high that he nearly fell out of his seat.  When he had composed himself, he said breathlessly and with a hint of annoyance, “How you can hover so quietly over someone’s shoulder like that is beyond me.”

Merry shrugged, wearing a smug smile.  “You were just never very good at it, Pip.  You breathe too loudly.  Besides, if you don’t want people to see your important letters, you shouldn’t read them out here in the sitting room.”

Pippin sighed and nodded, folding the letter.  The serious look on his face was disconcerting to Merry, and he sat down in the chair opposite his younger cousin, folding his arms and waiting patiently for Pippin to speak.

“I want to see her again,” said Pippin softly.

Merry nodded.  “It’s been almost a month since you saw her last.”

Pippin looked past him anxiously, as though expecting to see someone in the doorway.  “Are you... are you going to be needing me here?”

He shook his head.  “We’ll be fine.  Estella is not due ‘til the end of the month.”

“I know, but...”  He shifted nervously.  “Lily came early, didn’t she?  This one could, too, and I don’t want to leave if you are going to need me here.”

Merry smirked.  “So that we can panic together, like last time?”

Pippin crossed his arms over his chest, lifting his chin indignantly.  “I think I provided a good emotional crutch for you while you spent the whole time panicking.  How many times did I have to stop you from banging down the bedroom door that night?”

Chuckling, Merry replied, “Too many times.”  His smile softened.  “Yes, Pippin, I want you to be here.  I’ll probably need you here, if only to help with Lily.”  When he saw the unrest in Pippin’s eyes, he continued quickly, “But that doesn’t mean you can’t still visit Diamond!  You would only be gone, what, four days at the most?  And I don’t think Estella feels or looks like she will be having that child anytime soon.”

Pippin smiled gratefully, letting out a deep breath.  “Very well, then.  I shall write her back and ask her.”

This time it was Merry’s turn to take on the serious demeanor.  “You will be careful, won’t you?”

Pippin blinked in surprise.  “Of course, Merry.  It’s not like I’ve never traveled through the Shire by myself, after all.”

“I don’t mean that,” replied Merry, and Pippin’s brows knitted together in puzzlement.  “I mean when you get to Long Cleeve, will you be careful not to be seen?”

“Oh.”  Pippin looked down at his hands, his voice becoming low and solemn.  “Yes, of course.”

Merry shifted in his seat, looking awkward.  “Pippin, I...”  After a moment of searching for the suitable words, he gave a helpless sigh.  “I’m happy for you, Pippin.”  There was a note of sorrow in his soft voice.

“But you are also worried about me,” Pippin finished for him.  He met Merry’s gaze steadily, wondering if his friend was about to crush his heart by saying that seeing Diamond was a bad idea.

“I just... I don’t want you to get into any serious trouble.”

Pippin gave him an incredulous look.  “More serious than the time a troll fell on me, you mean?”

Merry laughed softly.  “I know, I know, it does seem rather absurd, considering what we’ve gone through before.  Here I am, a knight of the Mark, getting worked up about a knight of Gondor and his secret affair.”

“What would our kings say?” asked Pippin in a reproachful voice.

Merry leaned forward, his expression fervent and his tone disparaging.  “I think our kings, not to mention your Steward, would say that you need to stop this ‘cheek’ nonsense and give that poor girl a real kiss!”

Pippin’s jaw dropped, and he made a noise of indignation.  But while Merry was laughing at the expression on his face, Pippin leapt forward suddenly and tackled his cousin.  He dragged Merry to the floor, hitting the older hobbit playfully.

“Oy!”  Merry made a grab for Pippin’s neck, attempting a headlock.

“Fiendish Brandybuck!” gasped Pippin through his laughter and his friend’s grasp.

“Nasty Took!” cried Merry after Pippin had elbowed him in the ribs.

“What on earth are you two doing in here?”

The pair froze and slowly turned their gazes to the doorway where Estella now stood, looking quite astounded.

Pippin, who had been trying to pull Merry’s arm away from his neck, replied zealously, “I was defending my honor against your cold-hearted husband!”

“And I was defending my life against my bloodthirsty cousin!”

“Mmhm...” said Estella through pursed lips that seemed to be twitching with suppressed mirth.  She turned away, shaking her head and smiling fondly.

* * *

Pippin left for Long Cleeve the following week, and the evening after his departure found Merry lingering in the stables of Crickhollow long after he had finished his chores there.  He wandered slowly past each stall, murmuring soft greetings to the ponies as he passed them by and giving them each an affectionate pat.  He stopped in front of Brytta, his personal steed and a gift from King Éomer.

“Why am I fretting over this?” he muttered, stroking Brytta’s muzzle.  “He’s a grown hobbit, and he can take care of himself.  I shouldn’t worry about him so much anymore.”

Brytta whinnied softly, nuzzling his hand.

“I suppose you’re right,” replied Merry.  “He’ll always be my little cousin, and I can’t help but worry.”  He let out a heavy sigh, running his fingers through the pony’s forelock.  “I don’t know, Brytta.  Have I become old and motherly?”  Brytta snorted, and Merry gently flicked his ear, smiling.

The minutes passed in silence as Merry idly smoothed out Brytta’s mane, lost in thought.  He wondered if Pippin had reached the North-took smials and was with Diamond again, possibly even taking Merry’s advice regarding kisses.  Or perhaps the young couple had been caught, and a small disaster was about to strike.

So wrapped up was he in these thoughts that he was not aware that he had been joined, not until he felt a pair of slender arms wrap around him, and a round belly press against his side.

He put one arm around his wife.  “Did you put Lily to bed?”

“Yes.  I came out here to see if you wanted to tuck her in.”

“I will in a few minutes.”

Estella rested her head on his shoulder.  “What important matter are you thinking about, then?”

“Who says I’m thinking about an important matter?”

She lifted her face and smiled up at him.  “Why else do you stay out here for so long but to seek counsel from the ponies?”

Merry returned her smile, lightly running the back of his fingers down Brytta’s nose.  His smile faded as he spoke, “I’m just worried about Pippin.”

“Nothing new about that.”  When he didn’t respond, Estella kissed his shoulder and spoke again.  “Pippin’s a smart lad, deep down.  He knows not to get caught.”

“It’s not just that.”  She looked up at him curiously, and cringing slightly, he continued:  “This Diamond lass...”  He let out a sigh of frustration, shaking his head.  “I simply don’t want Pippin getting hurt, that’s all.”

Estella raised a brow, frowning.  “You think this girl is going to hurt him?”

“We don’t even know her, Stella,” he said, his eyes wide in response to her skepticism.

“But the way he talks about her, she seems like such a sweet girl--”

“And how do we know that isn’t just an act?”

Estella stared at him for a moment.  “An act.”

“An act!”  He turned to face her fully, putting his hands on her shoulders.  “He is the future Thain, after all, and I’m sure there are many girls who would love to... well, get their hands on him, as it were!”

Her face revealed the slightest hint of a repressed smirk.  “And you are the future Master of Buckland.  Surely there were plenty of girls who wanted to get their hands on you at one point, using ‘an act.’”

“There were!” he insisted.

She leaned closer to him, wrapping her arms around his neck.  She lowered her voice to a gentle tone.  “And did you ever for a moment fall for any of those acts?”

Merry opened his mouth to respond, then closed it suddenly, his brows furrowing.  “No, I didn’t,” he said softly.  He let out a deep sigh and rested his cheek on top of Estella’s head.  “You’re right, of course.  I suppose I am just being paranoid.”

She twirled a lock of his hair between her fingers.  “Maybe you just don’t want to see your Pippin growing up.”

It took him a moment to respond to this; when he did, his voice was low and sad.  “He is grown up.”

Estella pulled away, taking his hands and smiling gently.  “Come on.  It’s getting late, and you know Lily can’t sleep if her daddy hasn’t kissed her good night.”

He smiled back at her and squeezed her hands gratefully, letting her lead him back to the house.

* * *

“Hmph.  ‘Real kiss’ indeed,” Pippin muttered.  “Is it so bad that I don’t want to rush things?  And besides, kisses aren’t all that important in a relationship!”

After a moment he thought, Oh, but it’d be nice...

He lay stretched out on the grass, staring up at the cluster of leaves between which were dotted several brightly shining stars.  He had settled himself in for a few hours of sleep, but the memory of his conversation with Merry the previous day was keeping his mind occupied, and keeping him awake.  Also, the fact that he would soon be seeing Diamond again was not a very sleep-inducing thought.

A surge of giddiness swept through him as he remembered what it had been like to feel the press of her soft lips against his cheek.  He had been overcome at that moment to take her in his arms and kiss her until he ran out of breath; only a good deal of self-restraint had prevented him from doing so.

Pippin rolled over onto his side, but immediately rolled back when he felt something sharp dig into his leg.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out the culprit - a small rock.  A smile touched his lips as he remembered Lily presenting him with this.

“Present,” she had said, holding the rock up to her cousin.  It was a white, almost crystalline rock that she must have mistaken for a quartz of some type; either that or she simply thought it was pretty, as she was wont to do with the strangest things lately.

“A gift for me?” Pippin had asked, taking the rock curiously.

Lily had laughed and shook her head.  “No!  For Diamond!”

“Oh, of course!  How silly of me!”  He had then knelt down to give the girl a kiss.  “I shall present this to Diamond as soon as I see her.  I’m sure she will love it.”

“I know,” had been her proud reply.

Pippin laughed softly at this memory; his little cousin had some bizarre quirks, and he loved the girl all the more for them.  He often wondered if his own children would have similar quirks, and he would sometimes imagine a group of little Tooks playing and causing mischief with their Brandybuck cousins.

His smile faded then, and guilt and sorrow settled heavily on his heart.  How could he think about such things when he knew it was all too likely that those things would not come to be if he were to stay with Diamond?

He shook his head, and stuffing the rock back into his pocket shoved the thought aside, determined not to linger on it.  But that determination did not stretch to his dreams, and could not prevent the images of grinning children with his light brown hair and Diamond’s bright blue eyes from entering his mind as he slept.

* * * 

A hopefully-brief note:  After much deliberation, I have decided to up the rating to PG-13.  Not necessarily because there will be explicit material, but because there will be discussion of things that younger readers might not understand or be comfortable with.  Nothing major, this is mainly just to "assuage my conscience," as Mel put it.  The romantic scenes themselves will probably stay PG rated.

* * *

Chapter 15 - Gifts

* * *

The light of the crescent moon could only hint at the vibrant autumn colors which now filled the grove where Diamond waited.  She sat on the ground, her heart fluttering with anticipation, wishing the moon was brighter so that she could see the reds, yellows, and oranges of the leaves.

She watched as one leaf broke away from its branch, her gaze following its slow, erratic path down towards the grass.  As it neared the ground, she saw beyond it a figure moving amidst the trees.  A grin came to her face, and she leapt to her feet and hurried into Pippin’s awaiting arms.

“I love you,” were the first words he spoke to her.  “I love you, and I’ve missed you, and I love you, and I don’t ever want to let go of you, and I love you.”

Relief was evident in her joyous laugh, relief to once again find herself in his warm embrace.  “Pippin, oh, Pippin, I love you too.”

He pulled back and smiled brightly at her.  “I have something for you.”  He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a small rock.  Diamond took it with raised eyebrows, a somewhat bemused smile touching her lips.  “It’s from Lily,” he explained.  “Merry’s daughter.”

Diamond’s eyes lit up suddenly, and she laughed.  “Oh, that’s adorable!”  She looked at the rock for a moment, then smiled at Pippin.  “Well, tell Lily that I said ‘thank you.’”

When she moved to pocket the rock, he said, “You don’t have to keep it if you don’t want to.  She’ll likely have forgotten it by now anyway.”  But Diamond simply smiled at him again, dropping the rock into her pocket.  Pippin returned the smile, and taking her hand sat down with her on the ground.

For a long while they lay on their backs, their hands twined together, talking about nothing in particular.  As the moon rose higher in the sky they fell silent, content to simply be in each other’s company, a rare and blessed moment where parents and illnesses and the coming of dawn were given no thoughts - when all was right in the world.

Diamond turned her head to look at Pippin, wondering if there was any way she could express what she was feeling to him in words, and saw that he had fallen asleep.

He must be exhausted, she thought, feeling suddenly guilty.  Spending all day riding to see me, then riding back, with hardly any rest in between...

A gentle breeze ruffled those light brown curls that Diamond was so fond of.  The moonlight illuminated that handsome face that she could barely keep her eyes from.  His nose, his lashes, his lips - they came together perfectly to form the most beautiful face she had ever seen, and yet she knew that his physical appearance did not come close to doing justice to what an incredible person he was.

She released his hand and shifted so that her face hovered above his.  Barely aware of her actions, she leaned in closer and closer until her lips were directly above his.  His breath was warm against her mouth, and in the moonlight she could faintly discern several thin scars scattered across his handsome face, tokens of his service in war.  She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and brought her lips down to his, allowing them to linger for a moment; and in that short moment, she felt his mouth moving beneath hers.  Realization struck, and her eyes flew open to find Pippin gazing up at her.  She immediately pulled away, fear and shame evident in her face.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered, unable to meet his gaze.  “I’m so sorry, Pippin.”

“Why?” Pippin asked softly.

Diamond shook her head.  “I don’t know why I did it, I didn’t mean to--”

“No, not that,” he said, and she looked up at him with surprise.  “Why are you sorry?”

“B- because, I...”  She looked down at her hands.  “It... it was very silly of me, very inconsiderate--”

“How so?”  Pippin’s voice was filled with shock and amazement, but was without a trace of anger.  “By letting me wake up to something so wonderful?”

She had certainly not expected that sort of reaction.  “You mean... you aren’t upset with me?”

“Of course not!” Pippin said, smiling.  “Diamond, I couldn’t be angry with you if I wanted to be, and besides...”  He moved closer to her and brought a hand up to caress her cheek.  “It was a very lovely experience indeed.”

“So, if it were to happen again,” she said slowly and with a shy smile.  “You wouldn’t mind?”

Pippin moved even closer to her, so that their foreheads were touching.  “Not in the least.”  And he tilted her chin and kissed her. 

Diamond had never been kissed before, so she was by no means experienced.  And yet she knew that what she was experiencing was the best kind of kiss there could ever be; because it was Pippin’s skin she felt, Pippin’s breath she tasted, Pippin’s lips that caressed hers so lovingly.  And inexperienced though she was, she knew without a doubt that no other lips could have possibly compared.  It was comfort, it was bliss, it was everything Pippin was to her.

He broke the kiss and pulled away slightly, gazing into Diamond’s eyes.  He cupped her face with his hands and brushed a gentle kiss against the tip of her nose.  She smiled, wrapping her arms around his neck and running her fingers through his curls.

“That was nice,” she whispered.

“It was,” he murmured, kissing her forehead tenderly as he stroked her cheek.  When a tear slipped beneath his fingertips, he pulled back in surprise.  “Diamond?  Are you all right?”  His eyes widened.  “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

She shook her head quickly.  “I’m fine.  It’s just that...”  She squeezed her eyes shut.  “I know that you’ll have to leave soon, and... and it’s becoming harder and harder to say goodbye to you.”

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close.  As she wept softly onto his chest, he rubbed her back and whispered, “Shh... I know.  It’s becoming rather unbearable for me as well.”  She trembled in his arms, and his eyes burned with his own suppressed tears.  He wasn’t sure if he would be able to release her at all that evening; how could he let go, having seen and shared her pain?  How could he, when it felt so right to hold her?

She let out a deep breath, forcing back her tears.  “But it’ll be all right in the end.”  As though seeking affirmation, she looked up at him, her bright eyes wide.

Pippin smiled, using his thumb to wipe away her tears.  “Yes.  We’ll find a way.”  He lowered his voice to a reverent whisper.  “I love you, Diamond.”

Diamond leaned against him and sighed, fresh tears streaming down her face.  “I love you too, Pippin, I love you so much...”

Burying his face in her hair, Pippin breathed deeply and held her tightly against him.  “Don’t cry, dearest.  It won’t always be like this.  You said so yourself, it’ll be all right in the end.”

“Pippin, will you...”  She met his gaze meekly.  “Will you kiss me again?  Please?”

He was all too eager to comply; but still he kept his movements slow and careful.  She began to tremble in his arms, overwhelmed by the tenderness of his touch.  A muffled sob escaped her, and Pippin started to pull away, thinking he had harmed her.  But she tried to follow his lips, and before either of them knew what was happening, he lost his balance and toppled backwards, Diamond falling on top of him.

They stared at each other, eyes wide with surprise at their sudden change in position, and simultaneously burst into a fit of laughter.

* * *

The couple had departed their grove and returned to stand outside of Diamond’s bedroom window, preparing themselves once more to say goodbye.  Pippin held her close, running his hand slowly up and down her back, gazing regretfully at her bedroom window which they now stood before.

“I don’t know when I’ll be able to see you again after tonight,” he said softly.  “After the babe is born...”

Diamond nodded, lifting her head from his chest to look at him.  “Your cousin will need you there.  I understand.”

Pippin smiled, bringing his fingers up to her face.  He leaned in timidly, unsure as to whether his advances would be welcome.  But when he saw the hopeful expectancy in her eyes, his smile widened, and he brought his lips down onto hers in a slow, lingering kiss.

He broke away with a sigh, setting his arms about her shoulders and closing his eyes.  “Mmm... you have no idea how badly I’ve wanted to do that these past few months.”

Diamond laughed, a shy smile gracing her face.  “Really?”

Opening his eyes, he replied, “Really.”  He kissed her again, his heart swelling with euphoria at the feel of her mouth moving against his.

Hours later, as Pippin rode through hidden paths towards Buckland, the memory of Diamond’s touch remained, warming his lips for many days afterwards.

* * *

Hearing the front door open and close, Merry looked up from the papers on his desk.  A few seconds later, he saw Pippin walking up to the open doorway of his study.  The young hobbit took hold of the door frame with one hand, slowly swinging himself to face the inside of the room.  He leaned the front of his torso against the doorframe, regarding his cousin with an extremely satisfied smile.

“Why Pippin,” said Merry, setting down his quill.  “You’re looking quite pleased with yourself.  Did you commit some sort of heinous act on your way home?”

“Oh, I just wanted to let you know...”  His voice was slow and cheerful, and there was a mischievous glint in his eyes.  “...That I have put an end to that ‘cheek’ nonsense.”

Without another word, Pippin pushed away from the doorframe and sauntered off, leaving a very amused Merry in his wake.

* * * 

Sorry this one took so long!  Thank you for being patient, and for leaving such wonderful comments. :)

* * *

Chapter 16 - Anxiety

* * *

Pippin hadn’t seen his cousin smoke a pipe so quickly in almost three years.

Though Merry was far more at ease now than he had been for Lily’s birth, he did not look particularly level-headed to Pippin.  He sat very still, his elbows on his knees, and the only part of him that moved were his lips, breathing smoke out at an astonishing rate.

They heard a muffled cry of pain coming from the bedroom, and Merry jumped so violently that his pipe flew into the air.  He managed to catch it, but not without spilling a good deal of ash onto his shirt.  He cast a wide-eyed, agonized look towards the bedroom door, and Pippin squeezed his friend’s shoulder in sympathy.

When Merry had more or less composed himself, he said, “I wish Lily was here.”  His daughter had been sent to stay with her grandparents at Brandy Hall a few days prior, in anticipation of the birth.

“Why?” asked Pippin.

“I just... feel better when she’s around.  It’s nice to have her in my arms.  When she’s willing to sit still in my arms, that is.”  He sighed, then gave Pippin a half-hearted attempt at a smile.  “You’ll understand someday.”

Merry didn’t notice the involuntary flinch that flashed across Pippin’s face.  The unrest that he had been trying to suppress for many weeks once again resurfaced, causing a pang of longing to strike him.

There had been times when just looking at Estella had brought near-anguish to Pippin, as he imagined Diamond with that swollen belly, her pale face radiant with the expectant glow of one who carried a new life within her body.  His heart sank as his head reminded him that such a thing might be too much to hope for.

Pippin’s awkward silence made Merry realize what he had said.  “Oh... Pip, I’m sorry, I--”

Pippin shook his head and smiled.  “No need to apologize, Merry.  You’re not in a very proper state of mind, if I may say so.”

“That’s true,” said Merry, smiling nervously.  He once again turned his gaze to the bedroom door, letting out a frustrated sigh.

In the bedroom, Estella cried out again, louder this time.  Merry twitched, then stood abruptly.  “I’m going in there.”

He started to march towards the door, but Pippin leapt up and grabbed him by the shoulders.  “No, Merry!  I’m under strict orders to keep you out here.”

Merry growled in response, struggling to get out of his cousin’s hold.

“Calm down!” Pippin insisted.  “She’ll be all right.”

Merry stopped struggling abruptly and nodded.  “Yes... yes, of course she will be.”  He sat down and began to gnaw on the end of his pipe.

Only a few indiscernible murmurings now came from the bedroom.  Releasing a deep sigh, Pippin reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of parchment - his latest letter from Diamond.

As Pippin began to read the letter, Merry stared at him in disbelief.  “Nice to see you’re being so supportive in my time of need!”

Pippin deliberately waited a few seconds before responding, not looking up from the letter, “I’m sorry, did you say something?”

Merry snorted in distaste, hoping to cover up his smile.

Smirking, Pippin said, “As though you were any different when--”

Another cry from the bedroom interrupted him, and Merry jumped up again.  Pippin was worried that he would have to restrain his friend once more, but instead Merry simply began to pace, still chewing on his pipe.

“I don’t know how she does it,” he muttered.  “Twice, no less!”

“I suspect that’s why the lasses are the ones who have the children,” said Pippin, folding the letter and replacing it in his pocket.  “They always seem very calm about these things.”

Merry stopped pacing and turned to look at Pippin, his eyes wide with anxiety.  “Are you sure it took this long before?”

“Of course!” said Pippin, trying to look and sound confident; he clearly did not succeed, as Merry narrowed his eyes accusingly.

“Are you just saying that to make me feel better?”

Pippin pondered this for a moment before responding, “Possibly.”

Their conversation was cut short when yet another cry rang out; but this was clearly not Estella’s voice.  Merry dropped his pipe and ran to the door, practically slamming into it in his haste.  He pressed his ear to the door as Pippin hurried to his side.  Merry gasped as the babe cried out again, and Pippin grinned broadly at his cousin’s reaction and with his own euphoria.

The door flew open suddenly, and Pippin had to reach out and grab Merry to prevent him from falling forward.  Tulip, the midwife’s assistant, stood in the doorway, looking quite bewildered at seeing Merry almost fall on top of her.  But she gave them a tired smile and stepped aside so that they could see inside the room.

Estella sat on the bed, her brown curls matted and drenched with sweat.  Her face was shining, and not just with perspiration.  She looked up from the bundle in her arms and gave Merry an exhausted but somehow dazzling smile.

“Merry,” she said breathlessly, immeasurable warmth and love radiating from her voice in that one simple statement.

He quickly approached her, setting himself down carefully beside her.  His face was filled with astonishment and his eyes shining with reverence as Estella placed their new child in his arms.

Feeling strangely awkward at witnessing this moment, Pippin prepared to turn and leave when Merry suddenly called out to him frantically.

“Pip!  Pippin, come here, come see him!”

Pippin wanted nothing more than to greet his newest cousin, but something held him back.  “Oh, I don’t know... I thought maybe you would want a moment alone, this being a family thing and all...”

Estella laughed and exclaimed, “Since when were you kicked out of this family?  Now I insist you come here and meet your cousin!”

He grinned sheepishly and joined them all on the bed.  Merry, beaming proudly, handed the babe over to his friend.  Pippin’s grin widened.

“A lad,” he said, glancing up questioningly at Merry and Estella; they both nodded, and Pippin returned his gaze to the baby.  “Well, Boromir, it is an honor to meet you.”

There was something comforting about feeling the weight and warmth of a child in his arms, yet there was also unrest in Pippin’s heart, and his smile slowly faded.  This was his cousin, Merry’s child, and not his own.  Estella’s child, and not Diamond’s.  For this was something that Diamond could not give, could not have.  And if Pippin stayed with her, they would share this burden of impossibility.

Adoption was a possibility, certainly, and Pippin had no doubts that he and Diamond could find a child to adopt.  But at that moment, holding Merry and Estella’s baby in his arms, there seemed such a vast difference.  Perhaps it made him selfish, but he wanted a boy with his own eyes, or a girl with Diamond’s face.  A child of his own.

Eventually he would have to choose between the hobbit he so loved and the future he so desired, and it tore him apart to acknowledge it.  It was something he had avoided, had pushed to the back of his mind to prevent such solemn thoughts from surfacing.  But with little Boromir Brandybuck laying seemingly innocuous in his arms, he was brought face-to-face with the very thing his love may deny him.

“Pippin?”

Merry’s concerned voice broke through his thoughts, and Pippin shook his head slightly, shocked to feel tears in his eyes.

“I’m sorry, I was thinking... thinking about Boromir.”

But he knew that Merry was not fooled, and to hold off any unhappy discussions, he gave Boromir back to Estella and said brightly, “Shall I go to the Hall and fetch Lily?  She’ll be wanting to meet her brother, I think.”

Estella looked a bit startled by Pippin’s sudden mood swing from happy to melancholy and apparently back again, but she smiled at him.  “That would be wonderful, Pippin, thank you.”

“Are you sure?” Merry asked.  “I could go myself later today.”

“Nonsense!” declared Pippin, ignoring the worry in his friend’s eyes as his heart wrenched at doing so.  “You and Estella need to stay here and become acquainted with this new lad of yours.”

He stood to leave but before he walked out he gave one last glance at husband, wife, and child.  Estella placed a hand on Merry’s cheek as he leaned in to kiss her lips softly.  When the kiss ended, Pippin could see a very familiar tenderness in Estella’s eyes as she gazed at Merry.  Pippin recognized that look that the couple exchanged.  He recognized the pure and unquestionable devotion that passed between them in that gaze.  He had felt it so many times himself.

Before leaving for Brandy Hall, Pippin went into his room and walked up to his desk.  He sifted through the clutter of papers until he found a small book, one that Frodo had given him many years ago.  Flipping through it, he soon came to a dried-up flower that had been pressed between two pages.  Its lavender petals had faded to a pale pink and were threatening to break off of the stem.

Pippin touched it lightly with the tip of his finger, recalling the day he had picked it up from the ground after it had been left by a quiet young hobbit lass.  A lass who was small, shy, and perfect.  A lass who was everything Pippin wanted and needed.  A lass he now knew he could not live without, no matter the consequences.

Some thought of Pippin as being impulsive, maybe even foolish.  But he was a hero of the West, and if he had learned nothing else it was that one thing was more important than armies or heirs:  hope.

* * *

I'm sorry I took so long in updating!  Real Life reared his ugly head, and I had to beat him off with my pre-calculus book...  I don't think it'll take me as long to post the next few chapters.

A short note on this chapter: I had originally mentioned Diamond's birthdate in passing back in Chapter 5, but I've had to change that because she decided to inform me that her birthday was actually in December. Silly me.

* * *

Chapter 17 - Birthday Wishes

December, 1426 S.R.

* * *

Pippin entered the kitchen to find Merry already seated at the table.  After they had exchanged greetings, Merry nodded at a parcel that sat on the table.

“Package for you.”  He smirked.  “From Long Cleeve.”

Pippin’s eyes lit up; he sat down and grabbed the parcel, eagerly tearing into it.

“Any idea of what it is?” inquired Merry.

“It’s Diamond’s birthday present.  I told her she didn’t have to send me anything, but...”  He shrugged, grinning.

Having removed the paper a few seconds later, he let out a soft gasp.  In his hands was a black scarf lined on the edges with silver.  Long silver and black tassels hung from it, and a silver tree was embroidered at both ends.

As Pippin held the scarf up to admire it, Merry said, “Goodness, did she make that herself?”

“I told you she was talented,” said Pippin with a broad smile.

Merry grinned and asked, “Did it come with a letter?”

Pippin glanced about him, then spotted a piece of parchment that had fallen to the floor.  He picked it up and read aloud:  “I know you already have a scarf, but I thought you might like one that could go with your armor.  I enjoyed knitting it; black and silver now always make me think of you.  It is not as good as actually seeing you, of course, but I can wait for now.  I hope you like your present!  Love, Diamond.”

Wearing an impish smile, Merry said, “Do try not to swoon, Pippin.”

Pippin raised his chin haughtily.  “I don’t know how they do it in Rohan, but knights of Gondor do not swoon.”

“Oh, of course not!”

In response, Pippin proudly wrapped the scarf around his neck.

Just then, a brown-haired blur came rushing into the room and latched itself onto Merry’s leg.  He smiled down at it.  “Good morning, Lily.”

She lifted her face to grin at him.  “Good morning, Daddy!”  She turned to wave cheerfully at Pippin.  “Good morning, Uncle Pip!”

“Good morning to you, Liliadoc!”

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing at his neck.

“This?”  Pippin reached out and brushed the fringe of the scarf against Lily’s face, causing her to giggle.  “This is a present from my friend Diamond.”

“Gondor colors!” she exclaimed.

“That’s right!” said Merry, lifting her into his lap.  “And what is Rohan’s color?”

“Green!”

“Right again!  And whose colors do we like best?”

“Gondor!”

Pippin snorted while Merry hurried to correct her, whispering, “Rohan.”

“Rohan!”

Merry grinned, tickling her neck.  He then spoke to Pippin, “And did you send your fair lady a letter wishing her a happy birthday?”

“Sent it off just the other day.”

Lily tugged on her father’s sleeve.  “Hungry.”

“So am I!” he replied.  “And that cook of ours is nowhere to be found.  Where is your mother?”

She took his hand and proceeded to examine his fingers.  “Feeding the baby.”

Pippin tsked.  “Well, it’s obvious who Estella cares more about now, isn’t it?  Ever since that lad was born, we’ve become a much lower priority.”

Merry sighed and shook his head.  “Blatant favoritism.”  He set his daughter on Pippin’s lap.  “Here, hold this.”  He then walked out of the kitchen in search of his wife.

Lily picked up one end of his scarf and ran her fingers through the tassels.  “Visit Diamond soon?” she asked.

“I’m afraid not.  It’s getting too cold out at night for us to meet.”

“Why meet at night?”

Pippin was silent for a moment as he wondered how best to explain it to her.  In the end, he said softly, “It’s just better that way.”

* * *

Bellamanta was drying the last of the dishes left over from supper when Diamond entered the kitchen wearing a bright smile.  Apparently not noticing her mother, she immediately walked over to the counter and selected a large apple from the basket that sat there.  A slight bounce was in her step, and her foot tapped in time with a song that only she could hear.

The girl’s cheerful demeanor had been obvious throughout the day, as was to be expected of a young hobbit on his or her birthday.  She had handed out each of her presents with a grin, and seemed to be more than satisfied with the small celebration that her family had held in honor of the occasion.  Quite different from her birthday the previous year, in which she had hardly spoken to or looked at anyone before making an early escape to her room without even waiting for dessert.

“It’s nice to see you taking a genuine interest in your food,” said Bellamanta, causing Diamond to jump in surprise.  “Like a proper hobbit at last!”

Diamond simply smiled sheepishly as she continued eating, now humming to herself.  Bellamanta’s own good-natured smile faded and she let out a soft sigh of frustration.  Her youngest daughter’s behavior over the past few months had been a source of great confusion and unrest for her.  Diamond seemed to have undergone a sort of metamorphosis:  Pale cheeks were now fuller and carried a rosy tinge.  Curves were starting to develop, and she was looking more like a hobbit her own age, as opposed to the teenager she had resembled not many months before.

But with those changes in her physique had come changes in her behavior.  She had become more secretive, and would stay in her room for hours, immersing herself in the books she was now able to read.  She also received post at least once a week, though she never told Bellamanta who they were from.  And Bellamanta had always respected her children’s privacy, especially Diamond’s.

She only wished Diamond would not be afraid to confide in her mother.

One of the many things that worried Bellamanta about her youngest daughter was how Diamond hardly ever came to her family members about her problems.  If something was bothering her enough, she might speak to her sister Opal, maybe even her brother Fildigrim about it; but more often than not, she simply kept her problems to herself.  And when Bellamanta suspected something was amiss and asked her how she was feeling, Diamond would respond with merely a quick nod and a small smile.

Bellamanta often wondered if it was too late for her to become more actively involved in Diamond’s life, if she would be met with bitterness were she to try.  She wondered if she had failed as a mother to her youngest child.

Her stomach knotted painfully as she recalled a time twenty-two years ago when she and Feldigram had stayed at Diamond’s bedside for two agonizing months; a time when they could not even bring themselves to sleep for very long, terrified that they would awake to find their little girl was no longer breathing.

Pushing those memories aside and forcing her mind to focus on the present, she lowered her voice and spoke again.  “Diamond, is there anything you want to tell me about?  You know you can talk to me if you need to.”

Diamond was silent for a long moment, her eyes wide, a strange, almost frightened look coming to her face.  She did not meet her mother’s gaze when she replied softly, “No, of course not.”

Bellamanta’s shoulder’s slumped in defeat.  Her throat tight, she whispered, “Very well.”

* * *

Diamond returned to the privacy of her room as soon as she had finished eating.  She collapsed onto her bed, curling up on her side and hugging her knees to her chest.  She felt overwhelmed, she felt sick.

She had never lied to her mother’s face before.

Their relationship had never been ideal, but most relationships weren’t, and Diamond loved and respected her mother deeply.  She wanted to believe that her mother would have supported her relationship with Pippin, but she knew that Bellamanta had to think of matters other than the happiness of just one child.

After all, the North-tooks had several unmarried lasses in the family other than Diamond - and none of them had any dowry to speak of.

No one in the smial was starving, of course, but expenses were running low.  Diamond and her sisters had not bought new dresses in over a year, and their mother had gone even longer without any new clothes.

She’s making sacrifices for us, and I’m deceiving her.

A suppressed sob shuddered through Diamond, and she squeezed her eyes shut.  She was struck by the biting pain that was the absence of the one person who never failed to make her smile.

She curled up tighter, recalling the memory of Pippin’s cheerful voice and the feel of his arms enveloping her gently.  Such thoughts were usually enough to put her mind at ease.

But no longer.  It had been too long since last she had heard his voice outside of her memories and her dreams; mere recollection would not suffice anymore.  And so Diamond did the only thing she could do:  Keeping Pippin’s face at the front of her thoughts in the hope that he would find his way to her dreams, she cried herself to sleep.

* * *

I'm so so SO sorry it has taken me so long to update!  *grovels at the readers' feet*  I had a crisis where I was beta-less for about two weeks, but the wonderful Marigold stepped in and beta'ed this chapter for me.  Thanks, Marigold! :-)

And thank you all for your encouraging comments.  I'm so glad you've stuck with me this long!  Some very important events take place in the next chapter, so I hope you'll wait around to see what happens to Pippin and Diamond... *cackles*

* * *

Chapter 18 – Rainy Weather

January, 1427 S.R.

* * *

Dearest Pippin,

I am so glad you like your scarf!  It was the first time I ever knitted anything so fine, and I was very nervous about how it would turn out.

How are you and your cousins?  I imagine that things must be very hecktick—

Diamond pulled her quill away from the paper, frowning at the word she had just written.  Then, with a heavy sigh, she reached under her bed and pulled out a large book.  Fildigrim had proudly presented her with this book after learning that she could read - it was filled with more words than Diamond could fathom, and included correct spellings and definitions.

She flipped to the pages containing words starting with the letter “h,” and after a moment’s search found the word she was looking for.  Scowling slightly, she scratched out what she had previously written, replacing it with the proper spelling.  She was starting to become frustrated with her constant spelling errors; but though her writing was not as eloquent as she would have liked, and it took her quite some time to finish a letter, she felt she was making at least some progress.

Some time later, as she was blowing the ink dry on her completed letter, there was a knock at her door, accompanied by her sister’s voice.

“Diamond, may I come in?”

Diamond quickly put the letter underneath her bed as she replied, “Yes.”

Opal peered inside tentatively.  “Are you busy?”

Diamond shook her head and gestured for the older lass to enter.  Opal sat down on the floor across from her, and the two sisters stared at each other awkwardly for several seconds before Opal spoke up nervously.

“How are you?”

Unnerved by the seriousness in Opal’s tone, Diamond replied, “I’m… all right.  Why—”

“Diamond!” cried Opal in sudden, desperate frustration, causing Diamond to jump in surprise.  “I know something is wrong, but you refuse to talk to me about it!  Why are you hiding things from me?”

Taken aback by her sister’s distress, Diamond struggled to find a response.  “I… it… it’s nothing…”  Her hands began to shake as she realized she was once again lying to a beloved family member.

Opal stood abruptly, pointing a trembling finger at Diamond.  “Don’t, don’t lie to me like that!  I know something is bothering you.  You keep going through these horrid mood swings – one week you’re practically skipping with joy, and the next you look like the weight of the world is on your shoulders!”

Diamond’s heart was racing, and she felt herself grow faint; but she took several deep, calming breaths until the feeling departed.  Suddenly she realized that this was exactly what she needed to do:  to let everything out, if only to one other person.

She slowly reached under the bed and brought out a small box, filled with folded sheets of parchment.  She moved to sit on the bed and handed the box to her sister.

Opal took the box and frowned in confusion.  “What are these?”

“Letters,” said Diamond softly, meeting Opal’s gaze.  “From Pippin.”

“Pippin?”  Opal’s eyes widened.  “Peregrin Took?  But… why is he sending you letters, what does this have to do with—”  Comprehension seemed to dawn, for she paled and stood frozen in place.  “Diamond…” she gasped.

“I wanted to tell you before, but I…”  Diamond bowed her head.  “I’ve just been so confused.”

Opal sat down beside her on the bed, still wide-eyed and looking completely bewildered.  “Diamond, what exactly is going on here?”  She took Diamond’s hand and whispered in a scandalized tone, “Are you and Peregrin Took having an affair?”

Her cheeks reddening significantly, Diamond said, “We have been… seeing each other every few months, and writing to each other in between then.”  She met Opal’s gaze.  “I love him, Opal.”

Taking her hand, Opal replied gently, “And does he love you?”

Diamond was silent for a moment, pondering her answer.  “I may be uncertain about many things, but this isn’t one of them.  Pippin loves me.  I—”  She let out a deep breath, wishing she could fully describe what she and Pippin shared using such a simple form as words.  “I know it sounds silly, but I can feel that he loves me – when he writes to me, when he talks to me, when he kiss—”  She stopped abruptly, blushing again.

Traces of amusement entering her tone, Opal said, “When he kisses you?”  Diamond nodded sheepishly, and Opal continued.  “Well.  If he’s going to carry on a secret affair with you, at least he’s doing it in a properly romantic fashion.”

The smile that had made its way onto Diamond’s face at this comment slowly faded, and she asked softly, “Are you angry with me?”

Opal replied in a trembling whisper, “I’m frightened for you.  If our parents found out—if his parents found out!”

Diamond looked away.  “I know.  I know, and it scares me too, but…”

Opal turned to face Diamond fully, taking both of her hands.  Her voice was soft but strong when she spoke, “He’s the Thain’s son.  If it were anyone else—”

Diamond stood and walked over to the other side of the room, hugging herself as she breathed deeply.  But she could not calm herself enough to fight back her tears, so she squeezed her eyes shut in attempt to prevent them from falling.  She soon felt Opal standing behind her, wrapping her arms around her shoulders.

“I’m sorry, Diamond,” she said gently, sounding like she truly meant it.  “But you have to understand:  Whether he wants children or not, whether he loves you or not, he will need heirs of his own.  And you can’t- we don’t know if you can give him that.”  A repressed sob shuddered through Diamond, and Opal tightened her grip on her sister’s shoulders.  “Maybe you should think about ending this now, before it turns into something you can’t control.”

Diamond turned to face her, eyes wide and mournful.  “It already is something I can’t control.  I can’t control who I love.”

Finding no words to say, Opal embraced her sister tightly, and for a moment they simply cried on each other’s shoulders.  At last, Opal stepped away, wiping her eyes.

“It’s getting late,” she said, “I think I’ll go get some rest.  You should do the same.”

She turned to leave, but Diamond said, “Opal, wait—”

Opal turned back to her, placing a hand on her shoulder.  “I’m not going to tell anyone.”

Diamond breathed a sigh of relief.  “Thank you.”

Smiling faintly, Opal kissed her brow.  “Anything for my little sister.”

* * *

March, 1427 S.R.

 

“Diamond!”

She whirled around to find Pippin standing beside one of the trees.  He grinned and ran towards her, embracing her tightly.  The dreadful weight that had settled on her shoulders during his absence was lifted by the coming of his warm laugh.  His eager fingertips slid up her back, sending chills through her ‘til she shook with giddiness.

“It’s so good to see you again,” Diamond whispered, pressing herself against him, clutching him tightly if only in an attempt to still herself as she trembled with overwhelming emotion.  It had not been a dream – he was here with her again.

“How long has it been?” he asked.  “Five years?”

Diamond laughed, pulling away slightly so that she could look at his face.  “Five months, Pippin.”

“An eternity,” he murmured, bringing her hand up to his lips and kissing her fingertips.  She sighed contentedly as she watched his lips brush against her skin, tracing her fingers along his mouth.

Pippin looked up at her a moment later and frowned.  “You’re shivering.”

It was then that Diamond realized that she was no longer just shaking from emotion, and that she had forgotten to bring her cloak.  “Oh... I suppose I didn’t think it would be very cold.  But then the clouds came in...”

“Here,” said Pippin, taking off his own cloak.  When Diamond started to protest, he shushed her gently and insisted, “Wear it!  I don’t need it.”  He then threw the cloak over her shoulders, clasping it at the neck.

She fingered the leaf-shaped clasp and said softly, “This cloak is beautiful.”

“I think most Elven things are,” replied Pippin as he seated himself on the grass, pulling Diamond down with him.  They sat facing each other, and he smiled at her as he spoke again, sounding a bit sheepish.  “But I know of a thing or two that surpasses anything the Elves have ever made.”  Blushing at the admiring look he gave her, she looked down at her lap and smiled.

Just then, a tiny droplet of water struck Pippin’s nose; the two hobbits looked up at the dark grey sky and were greeted by a few more raindrops on their upturned faces.  Those few quickly turned to several, several to countless, all now falling much quicker and harder.

Pippin returned his gaze to Diamond as the rain soaked into his clothes and said, “It would appear that I selected a bad night to visit you.”

She bit her lip fretfully before unclasping the Elven cloak and quickly returning it to Pippin’s shoulders.

Startled, he asked, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I can’t let you stay out here in the rain without something to cover you!” she explained, pulling the hood of the cloak over his head.

“I could say the same thing about you!” he countered.  He saw that Diamond was now being drenched by the swiftly falling rain, and he sighed deeply.  “Well, there’s only one way to fix this.”  He then wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her close.  “Now don’t be startled, Diamond.  I’ll understand if this makes you uncomfortable, but I simply cannot have you going without any sort of shield from the rain.”

Pippin moved one arm under her knees, keeping the other around her middle, and quickly lifted her onto his lap.  He then pulled his cloak so that it covered the both of them, positioning his head so that she was not exposed to the rain.

Indeed for a moment, Diamond was a bit uncomfortable in this new position.  But the moment was fleeting, and she soon was able to relax in Pippin’s arms.  She snuggled closer to him, pressing the side of her face against his warm chest.

“I hate it when it’s overcast at night,” she said, using her small fingers to lightly circle the buttons of his shirt.

He nodded, burying his face in her dark hair.  “I know; you can’t see the stars.”

“Exactly.”  Diamond looked up at him, gazing deep into his shining green eyes.  “Or,” she said softly as she ran her hand down his cheek.  “Perhaps I can see them.”

Pippin tightened his grip on her as he brought their faces closer together, and their lips met in a soft kiss.  But that kiss began to grow in intensity, as a newly kindled fire that quickly spread to a blaze.  Diamond sighed through the kiss, repositioning herself in his lap so that she could gain a better angle.  As a result, her upper body was now exposed to the rain, but she was only aware of it when she tasted the water between their lips.

He wrapped his arms around her waist, pressing her against him.  But for all his passion, the movement of his lips was still slow and tender, never once overbearing.  Diamond’s heart swelled with love for this gentle hobbit as raindrops fell down her face like tears, and she melted fully and willingly into Pippin’s loving embrace.

He ran his hands slowly up her back; his hood had fallen back as he tilted his face to meet hers.  A low moan rumbled in his throat as her small hands caressed his wet face.

“Diamond,” he whispered through the kiss.  “My Diamond...”

She broke the kiss slowly, keeping their faces close.  Pippin could see each dark lash, could feel her lips brushing ever so slightly against his skin, could feel her shaking in his arms.

“You’re getting soaked,” he said, his voice rather husky.

Diamond shook her head.  “I’m all right.”

“No, you’re not,” he replied guiltily, shifting her body so that he could cradle her in his arms, wrapping the cloak so that it covered as much of her as possible.  “I’m sorry.  I...”  He cleared his throat awkwardly.  “I suppose I should be more careful about kissing you under certain circumstances.”

“Oh, Pippin,” Diamond chuckled softly, shaking her head.  They sat in silence for a moment, listening to the trickling music of the rain.

“I feel so warm,” she whispered.  Pippin rested his cheek on top of her head and held her even closer, as close as he could bring her.

“Good,” he said.  “You’ll never be cold if I can help it.”

* * *

The light breeze tickling Diamond’s nose caused her to awake.  Before opening her eyes, she tried to stretch out her arms, but something was impeding her movements.  As she shifted in attempt to free her arms, she became aware of a hand resting against her back.

A bird chirped overhead, and Diamond’s eyes flew open as the memory of the previous night returned.  She was lying on her side on the now-dry grass, and stretched out in front of her with his arms wrapped tightly around her was Pippin.

She sat bolt upright, pulling out of his grasp, her heartbeat quickening as panic overtook her.  She was momentarily calmed when she saw that it was still dark; but the sky near the horizon was growing paler, and faint wisps of orange could be discerned.

Pippin groaned softly, awakened by her sudden movement.  “What—”

“Pippin, get up!” she said frantically, touching his shoulder.  Taking in their surroundings, he inhaled sharply and sat up.

“Come on,” he breathed, standing and pulling her to her feet.  Still grasping her hand, he took off at a run towards the smials.  As they ran, Diamond tried not to think about the muddy state of the dress that her mother would be washing that day, or the fact that Pippin was heading closer and closer to a place where he could be easily caught.

“Pippin,” she gasped as they neared the smials.

“No time,” he replied breathlessly, squeezing her hand.

At last they came upon her bedroom window, and Pippin glanced inside, then scanned either side of the smials; they were the only hobbits about.

He leaned against the hillside, chest heaving, and pulled Diamond towards him.  She collapsed into his embrace, breathing deeply against his chest.  But when she tried to pull away he would not release her.

“Pippin, you have to go,” she whispered.  “You’ll be seen if you stay here much longer.”

He tightened his grip on her and buried his face in her hair, but made no move to step away.  “Please, just a while longer,” he said softly.

“Pippin,” she whimpered imploringly, “I have to go, I don’t want you to get caught.”

She could feel his breath, hot and unsteady on her neck.  “Not yet.”

“But it’s almost sunrise,” she said weakly.

“I don’t care,” he mumbled against her skin.  “Please don’t go.”

“Don’t ask me to stay,” she begged through her tears, “you know I won’t be able to refuse!”

But then they heard a sound that made them both look up in horror:  someone was knocking on Diamond’s bedroom door.  Pippin immediately released her and lifted her up as she scrambled to open her window.

She crawled through the window and flopped onto her bed just as the door opened a crack; Bellamanta’s voice spoke, “Diamond, are you awake?”

“Yes,” she replied shakily, pulling a blanket over herself as the door opened wider, revealing her mother’s face.

“I was wondering if you would mind helping me with first breakfast this morning?”

“All right,” she responded, praying her mother would not notice her breathless tone.  “Will you give me a few minutes?”

“Of course, I won’t start breakfast for another half-hour anyway.  Thank you, dear.”

“Yes, Mum.”

After the door closed, Diamond let out a long breath and sat up, crawling towards the window as Pippin stood from where he had been lying on the ground outside.  He seized her hands and kissed them desperately, then held them against his face, breathing deeply.  A sob escaped her, and she leaned out the window to embrace him.

“I love you,” she whispered brokenly.

He placed his hand on the back of her head and pulled her into a hungry, desperate kiss, his lips filling her with warmth and hope, declaring his love without need of words.  When he could bring himself to pull away, he said firmly, “I’ll come back soon.”

Diamond nodded, biting her lip.  He kissed her hands again, his eyes bright with tears and longing, burning into her soul.

When he turned and hurried off into the distance, she fell to her knees and wept.

* * *

Thanks so much, everyone!  *hugs the wonderful readers*  Very Important Things happen in this chapter, and I hope no one is disappointed... :D

I'd like to dedicate this chapter to the lovely Marigold and her fiancé.  Best of wishes to the both of you, I know you'll make each other very happy. :)


* * *

Chapter 19 - Take Courage, Lover

April, 1427 S.R.

* * *

Bellamanta approached Diamond’s bedroom carrying a laundry basket that was halfway full.  The bedroom door was ajar, which usually indicated that its resident was elsewhere.  Bellamanta used her foot to push the door open the rest of the way and stepped inside the somewhat cluttered room, then put the basket on the bed and set about collecting the discarded clothing that was scattered about.

Soon she had tossed the last dress into the basket; one sleeve hung over the edge, and directly below it on the bed was an envelope.

Something about this envelope caught Bellamanta’s attention, and she picked it up tentatively.  But her conscience took great offense to this invasion of her daughter’s privacy, and she was just about to set the envelope back down when she noticed the return address.

Buckland?  Who does she know in Buckland?

Before she could think to stop herself, Bellamanta pulled the letter out of the envelope and stared at it fretfully.  Surely… surely, just reading the signature would do no harm?

Feeling a strange sense of foreboding, she slowly unfolded the letter and set her gaze on the very bottom corner.  She saw the name, and she saw the closing line that was written just above it.

Love, Pippin.

She could do no more than skim the rest of the letter; her hands were shaking far too much to hold the parchment steady for very long.  But she’d gathered enough from what she did read, enough to put her in a frantic state.  She tore about the room, pulling open each drawer, blinking back tears as she sought other letters.  All the while she cursed Peregrin Took for every word he had written to Diamond; but mainly she cursed herself, for her ignorance, for becoming so detached from her daughter, for her unwillingness to see the truth.

Not long after, Bellamanta found herself in the doorway of her husband’s study, clutching several envelopes nearly identical to the one she had first discovered.

“Feldi,” she said in a hushed, frightened tone.  Feldigram looked up in surprise and worry.

“What is it?”

Instead of replying, Bellamanta simply approached his desk, setting the envelopes in front of him before bursting into tears.

* * *

Diamond peered into her father’s study.  “You wanted to see me, Dad?”

Feldigram glanced up at her, his expression unreadable.  “Yes, Diamond.  Sit down.”

She did so, her apprehension growing.  Something about his terse voice sent a slight chill up her spine.

He didn’t speak for some time, his silence serving to heighten her anxiety.  She recalled the faces of her family members as they had watched her make her way to Feldigram’s study.  Some had been surprised, some piteous, and some even held what she thought was suspicion.  Then there had been the look on her mother’s face as she told Diamond that her father wanted to speak with her.  Bellamanta had looked… betrayed.

“Dad?” she prompted nervously.

Feldigram threw down the quill he had been writing with and reached into a drawer.  “You know, Diamond, you have been able to read for, what, almost a year now?  And yet I still have not witnessed your skills in the matter.”  He pulled out a folded piece of parchment and tossed it onto the desk in front of her.  His face was dark and his voice low.  “Perhaps you could demonstrate for me - an oral reading.”

She picked up the parchment with shaking fingers.  She unfolded it, immediately recognizing Pippin’s handwriting; the sight of his script had for so long filled her with immeasurable joy, but now it made her heart freeze.

She looked up at her father, her eyes wide with fear.  Finding no other words to say, she simply began in a hushed voice:  “I can explain.”

“I certainly hope so!”  Feldigram rose to his feet, and though his stature – being only slightly greater than that of an average hobbit his age – didn’t often intimidate anyone, at that moment he seem almost menacing to Diamond.  “And this isn’t the only one I’ve seen.”  She looked up at him sharply, but he went on:  “No, I’ve seen many others.  Talking about how he makes plans to visit you here!  Is it true?  Has this lad been seeing you behind my back?”  

Trembling violently, she could only stare down at her lap and nod.

He threw his hands up in the air and made a sound of disgust, turning away.  “Unbelievable!  Out of everyone living under this hill, you were the last person I expected this sort of thing from.  Ashamed and appalled don’t even begin to cover what I’m feeling about you right now!”

Still unable to meet his gaze, Diamond replied, “You… you’re acting as though I’ve betrayed the family in some way.”

“Haven’t you?” he retorted, wheeling around to face her.  “Running off in the middle of the night to consort with some… some miscreant!”

Without thinking, Diamond stood abruptly and declared, “He’s not a miscreant, Father!”

“No, no, you’re right, he’s not.”  Feldigram placed his hands on the desk and brought his face close to hers.  “He’s the son of the Thain!” he hissed.  “You can’t just carry on some sort of dalliance with the Took’s heir!”

“Dalliance?” she repeated incredulously, tears welling up in her eyes.  “Don’t you understand?  I love him.  This isn’t just a silly infatuation!”  She lowered her voice to a desperate whisper.  “Don’t you trust me?”

He sighed deeply, looking away.  “Of course I trust you,” he said softly.

“But you don’t trust Pippin,” she said, filling in what he hadn’t wished to speak.

“Why should I?” he replied, looking back at her.  “Unless… Diamond, have you told him about your… your infertility?”

A feeling of dread welling up in the pit of her stomach, Diamond said, “Yes.”  Emotionally overwhelmed, she fell back into the chair and buried her face in her hands as her body shook with sobs.

Feldigram knelt in front of his daughter, placing a hand on her knee.  “I’m sorry, Diamond.  But Peregrin Took is the heir to the Thainship, and he thereby needs heirs of his own… heirs that you cannot give him.”  He took her hands away from her face and placed his hand under her chin.  “Whatever you and Peregrin might have together, it cannot end well.  He knows this, Diamond, and it’s wrong of him to keep it from you.”  She started to protest, but Feldigram shushed her gently.  “I am truly sorry that you had to go through this.  But I don’t want you getting hurt for his sake.”

He stood then, taking a deep breath.  “I am going to tell Peregrin Took that he is not to see you anymore.  It’s for your own good, Diamond.”

Without replying, Diamond stood suddenly and rushed out of the room.  She ran through the smial until she came to her room, throwing the door shut behind her and locking it.  She then walked slowly to her bed and collapsed onto it, sobbing into her pillow.

* * *

Pippin dismounted his pony with a heavy sigh, glad to have his feet on the ground after the long ride from Buckland to Long Cleeve.  The journey that had once been quite easy for him was starting to seem more arduous as time went by, as each day without Diamond became more difficult to bear.

That evening he was positively aching to have her back in his arms, and his heart raced with the anticipation of seeing her again.  But when he reached the grove there was no sign of her; strange, considering she had always been there to greet him before.

He began to pace about the grove, but a voice from the trees made him stop dead in his tracks.

“I thought I’d find you here.”  Pippin whirled around to find Diamond’s brother, Fildigrim, emerging from the shadows of the trees like a ghost.  “Diamond said you would be coming tonight.”

“Where is she?” Pippin demanded.

“In her room.  Where she’s stayed for the past two days.”  As Fildigrim stepped closer, Pippin could see that the younger hobbit’s face was contorted with barely-suppressed rage.  “Because of you, I might add.”

“What happened?” asked Pippin fearfully.  “Is she all right?”

“What happened was that my parents found out about those little meetings that the two of you have been carrying on this past year.  I take it that the whole thing was your idea?”

Pippin bristled, his nostrils flaring.  He walked up to Fildigrim so that they were less than a foot apart; and though Fildigrim was taller than most hobbits, being a descendant of Bandobras Took, he still was forced to look up at Pippin.  “Yes.  And I would never have gone through with it if I had thought that Diamond did not feel the same as I.”

Fildigrim shoved an accusing finger at him.  “You made her go against her family’s wishes, made her do something foolish that she would have never considered before you shoved your way into her life!”

“How dare you?” said Pippin in a low and furious voice.  “To think that I care about Diamond any less than you do.  You have no idea what Diamond and I have together, you have no idea how much I love her.  And no brother, no father, nothing is going to keep me away from her!”

With that, he turned and marched purposefully towards the smials.  Bewilderment overcoming his previous anger, Fildigrim called after him, “You really love her, don’t you?”

Pippin slackened his pace for a moment as he turned to glare at Fildigrim.  “Is it that hard to believe that someone could love her so much?”

Fildigrim’s face softened at last.  “No.  No, I suppose it isn’t.”

* * *

Pippin hurried over to the window he knew belonged to Diamond’s bedroom.  Peering in, he saw an image that made his heart wrench.  Diamond was curled up on the bed, her shoulders shaking slightly, her face buried in her hands.

He rapped his knuckles against the window.  “Diamond!”

Her head shot up, her eyes wide.  By the time she started to get out of bed, Pippin had already pulled the window open and was climbing inside her room.  She hurried over to help him, and when he had both his feet on the floor, the two hobbits embraced each other tightly.

“Pippin,” she sobbed into his chest.

He held her close and kissed the top of her head.  “Oh, Diamond, I’m so sorry.”

She sobbed again, collapsing against him so that he had to hold her even tighter lest she fall.  He blinked rapidly, determined to hold back his own tears; he needed to be strong for Diamond.

Pulling back slightly so that he could kiss her brow, Pippin then bent and swept her into his arms.  He carried her to the bed, setting her down and wrapping his arms around her shoulders.  He buried his face in her hair, breathing deep the scent of her that he always longed for.  It suddenly became more difficult to fight his tears.

“I don’t think I can do this anymore, Pippin,” she whispered mournfully.  “I want so much to be with you, but…”

“I know,” he replied softly, his throat constricted.

“I wish things weren’t so complicated,” she said, tightly gripping his shirt as though afraid he would disappear if she let go.  “I wish we could just run away and get married and not have to worry about what anyone thought of us being in love.  It isn’t fair.  We love each other, that should be all that matters.”  She pressed her face against his chest, taking a deep, shuddering breath.  “I just wish we could be together.”

Pippin squeezed her shoulder suddenly.  “Why can’t we?” he whispered.  Diamond looked up at him with furrowed brows, and he continued:  “Why can’t we just run away and get married?”

“What are you saying?” she gasped.

Pressing his forehead to hers, Pippin took her hands and held them tightly as he gazed into her eyes.  “Come away with me.  Marry me, Diamond.”

Her eyes widened, and at first her face lit up with joy.  But that joy quickly dissipated, and she squeezed her eyes shut, turning away.

Pippin faltered for a moment.  “Diamond?”

She responded in a voice so soft that he had to strain his ears to hear.  “I can’t.”

His grip on her hands became limp, looking as though she had struck him across the face.  “But… but I thought you wanted to get married!”

“Oh, I do!  Pippin, I would love nothing more than to marry you, but…”

He brought his hand to her face, his voice quavering with desperation.  “But what?  Please, Diamond, just tell me!”

She reluctantly met his gaze, looking tired and defeated.  “You’re the son of the Thain, Pippin.  You need to have heirs, and that’s…”  She lowered her head as more tears flowed down her face.  “That’s something I can’t give you.”

He tilted her chin so that she again met his gaze.  The gentle certainty in his voice left no room for doubt.  “I don’t care, Diamond.  I don’t care.”  He pressed his forehead to hers, brushing his lips lightly against her cheek before continuing.  “We shouldn’t give up hope, because your infertility isn’t certain.  But I am certain that if I don’t marry you, I will regret it for the rest of my life.”

Diamond leaned forward slowly and wrapped her arms around his shoulders; for a moment she buried herself in his presence, forcing from her mind thoughts of all that stood against them.  Silent tears fell onto his shirt as she whispered into his ear, “Yes.”

He furrowed his brows.  “What?”

She pulled back suddenly, a determined look coming to her tear-streaked face.  “Yes, I’ll come away with you.  I’ll marry you.”

There was a brief moment where he could only stare at her in wonderment.  But then he leaned in and caught her lips in a passionate kiss; he moved forward and embraced her, nearly falling over on top of her in his sudden euphoria.

Whenever Pippin had kissed her before, he had always made sure to hold his passion in check so that he was never too rough with her.  But all fear dissolved in that moment, and he kissed her as though he would never be able to stop.  Amidst it all, Diamond made a noise that was somewhere between a moan and a sob, but she did not attempt to pull away.  She gave in completely to the kiss, and the pair quickly surrendered themselves to love and longing.

She broke away long enough to murmur his name, more tears falling down her face so that Pippin could taste them on her soft lips.  He brought one hand up to her cheek, cupping it while he ran gentle kisses up the paths where her tears had flowed.  She wrapped her arms around his neck, tangling her fingers in his hair as he brushed his lips against her skin.

He leaned in and kissed her again, just as lovingly as before; only this time he opened his mouth slightly and used his tongue to carefully force apart her lips.  Diamond inhaled sharply, but she did not shrink away from this contact, and soon her tongue met his as her hands tightened their grip on his shirt.

She whimpered softly, straining to get closer to him, gasping and weeping in a torrent of emotion.  He lay both his hands flat on her back, holding her firmly against him.  They separated only for brief seconds to reverently whisper each other’s names.

This could have gone on for quite some time, Pippin realized, and with a great effort he slowly pulled away and spoke, “Can you be ready to leave tonight?”

Rather breathless, Diamond simply nodded and stood, swiftly walking over to her armoire and pulling it open.  She reached in and grabbed a small traveling satchel, which she immediately set about stuffing full of clothes.  After a moment, she turned to him and said, “I won’t be able to bring very much.”

“That’s all right,” said Pippin, standing to join her.  “I can buy you some more clothes in Buckland.”

She smiled at him.  “You’ve done too much for me already, Pippin.”

He returned the smile, wrapping his arms around her waist and kissing her temple.  “And I will gladly do more in years to come, my wife.”

Her smile widened in response, but as she started to return to her packing, there came a hasty knock at the door.

“Diamond, it’s Opal - may I come in?”

Diamond hurried over to the door, gesturing for Pippin to step back.  She opened the door a few inches and peered out cautiously.  “What is it, Opal?”

“Fildigrim told me that Peregrin Took had shown up outside,” came her sister’s anxious reply.  “Have you--”

Before Opal could finish, Diamond had pulled her inside and quickly closed the door behind her.  Opal gasped upon seeing Pippin standing there in her sister’s room.

“What--”

“Opal, I need you to do something for me,” Diamond interrupted.  “It’s very important.”

But Opal was not watching Diamond; her gaze was fixed on the other hobbit in the room.  She was regarding Pippin suspiciously, almost resentfully.  Seeing this, Diamond slowly moved to stand beside him, taking his hand.  “Opal,” she said imploringly.

Tears filled Opal’s eyes as she spoke in a small, trembling voice, sounding more like a young child rather than an older sister just out of her tweens.  “Are you leaving?”

Diamond came forward suddenly and embraced Opal, her heart racing furiously as she clung to her sister, thinking about all she would be leaving behind.

“I have to,” she whispered at last.

Opal sucked in a shuddering breath, taking a moment to steady herself before responding, her morose voice slightly muffled from where her face was pressed to Diamond’s shoulder.  “Well Diamond, I’ve always wanted you to be happy, and if this is the only way, I suppose I can’t object.”

Diamond squeezed her shoulders and whispered, “Thank you.”

When Diamond pulled away, Opal nodded and said, “I’ll think of something.  I’ll tell everyone that you just want to be alone for a few days.  I can pretend to bring you food and such.  I think I’ll be able to hold everyone off for two or three days, but I can’t promise much after that.”

Diamond gave Opal’s hand a squeeze before stepping back and picking up the satchel containing what clothes she had managed to collect.  As she and Pippin moved towards the window, Pippin looked back at Opal and said, “Thank you for doing this.”

“Take care of her,” she said sadly.

Pippin nodded.  “I will.”

Within moments, the two hobbits had both climbed through the window and out of sight.

* * *

Now it's time for me to beg my readers' mercy.  I'm so, so sorry it's taking me so long to update!  Real life has been a hassle lately, but I'll do my best to write the next chapter more quickly.  You guys are wonderful, thank you for your comments!

And as always, many thanks to Melyanna for her beta assistance.


* * *

Chapter 20 – Under the Hill, Under the Stars

* * *

It was only a few hours until sunrise, and Pippin and Diamond had been riding throughout most of the night; but both were wide awake, too tense, too charged to even consider being sleepy.  They had made only a few stops, all brief and none that allowed sleep – one had been at the post office of a small town just inside the East Farthing, to drop off a hastily scrawled letter addressed to Crickhollow.

Diamond had pressed herself so close to Pippin that he could feel her heart thumping faintly against his back.  His own heartbeat quickened with nervous anticipation as they came nearer and nearer to their destination.  He heard her give a soft gasp as they passed the towering mallorn of the Party Field.

Pippin dismounted the pony as they came to the little road that ascended the Hill.  He planned on letting Diamond stay atop the pony, but did not object when she immediately joined him on the ground, taking his hand.

They left the pony at the small gate and walked up the path to the round green door that was so familiar to Pippin, a door that Diamond had heard of only in a famous Shire bedtime story.  Pippin raised his fist to knock, but froze suddenly.

“What’s wrong?” whispered Diamond.

He screwed up his face in concentration.  His voice was hushed when he responded in a dire tone, “If I knock too softly, no one will be able to hear it; but if I knock too loudly, the entire household will wake up.”

Despite the situation, despite her anxiety, Diamond couldn’t help but smile.  I think he’s been awake for too long.  “Maybe you should just find a middle ground.”

“Good idea!” he said emphatically, and he knocked on the door in a way that was neither too loud nor too soft.

At first they thought the knock had been too soft, for there came no sign of reply from the other side.  But soon they heard the shuffling and grumbling of an approaching hobbit.  Diamond instinctively moved closer to Pippin, and he grabbed her hand and held on tightly.

The green door opened to reveal the newly-elected Mayor Samwise Gamgee, holding a candle and still wearing his nightclothes.  His bleary gaze slowly traveled from Pippin to Diamond and back again.  “Pippin… kidnappin’ lady hobbits in the middle of the night will get you nowhere fast.”

“I didn’t kidnap her!” he insisted, eyes wide.  “Well, maybe I did… but it wasn’t against her will, honest!  We—”  He felt Diamond squeeze his hand, soothing his nerves by the tender reassurance of her touch, her mere presence, and he took a deep breath.  “We need your help, Sam.”

* * *

Merry focused all his mental energy on deciding what clothes he should fit into his traveling satchel.  He much preferred to think about what he was packing rather than why he was packing.

Estella watched him from the doorway, with little Boromir asleep in her arms.  Breaking the silence that lay heavy in their bedroom, she spoke, attempting a casual tone:  “I’ll clean the house a bit while you’re gone.  I suppose I should fix up Pippin’s bedroom, considering the state he keeps it in…”

He didn’t reply, merely continued to pack in a somewhat haphazard manner; the force he used to shove his clothes into the satchel gave clear evidence of his temperament.

Deciding that small talk was not going to get her anywhere at this point, Estella asked softly, “Will you try to talk him out of it?”

“That would be the sensible thing for me to do, yes.  I just hope Pippin will want to listen to reason.”  Merry clasped the satchel closed and sighed; his voice lowered to a barely-audible whisper.  “That fool.  He’s the biggest fool I’ve ever known.”

“But you love him,” she said gently, sadly.

Merry closed his eyes and was silent for a moment, his features heavy with pain.  “Of course I love him,” he replied at last, swinging the pack over his shoulders.  “That’s what makes him so difficult to handle sometimes.”

Just then, Lily came bounding into the room, jumping up onto the bed.  “Bringing Pippin back?” she asked her father as she lightly bounced in place.

Heaving a sigh, Merry responded, “Yes, love.  I’ll be back with him soon.”  He sat down beside her on the bed.  “Listen, Lily – hold still, darling, I have to talk to you – when I bring Uncle Pippin back, there might also be—”

“Merry,” Estella interjected, and he looked up at her in surprise.  “Don’t worry, I’ll explain it to her later.  You should be going now.”

He nodded tiredly, looking extremely grateful.  He kissed Lily’s brow as she wrapped her arms around his neck in as strong a hug as a three-year-old can give.  He then stood and approached his wife; after running a gentle hand through Boromir’s curls, he met Estella’s gaze, resting his hand against her cheek.  Finding no words to say, he kissed her softly on the lips and walked out.

* * *

Sam stood at the threshold of Bag End’s dining room, leaning against the wall and watching those who sat at the table eating luncheon; his eyes focused mainly on the new arrivals.  Pippin – who was a self-proclaimed expert on Rosie’s cooking – was filling Diamond’s plate with all the different foods he thought she should sample (which was practically everything in the kitchen).  The dark-haired girl kept her head down throughout most of the meal, occasionally stealing a glance at Pippin, who would smile brightly at her, though not without a trace of his own anxiety coming through.

Rosie, who had been tending to little Merry-lad, noticed her husband watching from the doorway; she carried the baby over to where Sam stood.  He set his arm around her, leaning his head against hers as she spoke softly, “Does it look familiar?”

“What do you mean?”

Rosie smiled.  “The look that Diamond keeps giving him.”

He watched, and only a few seconds later he saw what his wife must have been referring to – Diamond gave Pippin another glance, and Sam saw it clearly in her face:  the shy adoration of one who clearly felt unworthy, coupled with the unquestionable devotion of one whose affections could never waver.

“I see the look,” he said to Rosie, “but how is it familiar?”

Her smile widened.  “Well, ‘tis familiar to me, at least.  I remember seeing it coming from you.”

* * *

The following morning, Sam sat in the study, the room he still felt belonged to Frodo Baggins.  He wondered if he could perhaps channel his former master’s wisdom to aide him in the current situation.  Somehow, Sam felt very inadequate to make this decision on his own.  

Anyone with any common sense could tell that what Pippin and Diamond were requesting of him was a terrible idea.  Sam felt it would be dreadfully wrong to abuse his mayoral powers in such a way.

And yet… something in his heart was pleading with him to go through with it.

There was a soft knock at the door, and he turned to find Pippin standing in the doorway, looking apprehensive.

“Are you busy?” he asked.

Sam shook his head and gestured for Pippin to enter.  The stood facing each other for a moment, trapped in an awkward silence.  Pippin seemed torn between proper etiquette and extreme desire to be rid of his uncertainty.  At last he blurted out, “Have you decided?”

Sam clasped his hands behind his back and stared down at his feet.  “I think,” he said slowly, “that I’d best talk this over with Merry before I make any decisions.  He’s a far wiser hobbit than I, and I think he’d know best.”

Pippin walked closer to him, clutching his hands together in a vain attempt to stop them from shaking.  “But Merry isn’t going to think this is a good idea, I know he won’t.”

Wincing, Sam replied, “I can’t say that I would disagree, I’m afraid.”

Pippin’s face fell drastically, his eyebrows furrowing upwards in an expression of fearful disappointment.  “You don’t want to marry us, then.”

Still refusing to meet Pippin’s gaze, he responded, “It’s not that I don’t want to help you and Miss Diamond, it’s just that… I shouldn’t be usin’ my position in such a way, if you follow me.”

After mouthing wordlessly for a moment, Pippin sputtered out, “Well… what- what should we do, then?  Should I take her back to Long Cleeve and forget I ever met her?”

Sam looked at him then and placed his hands on the younger hobbit’s shoulders.  “No one’s askin’ you to forget about her.  But it might be best if you at least waited ‘til she’s of age before—”

“Her parents would never let me come near her!”  Pippin wrapped his arms around himself, and his voice became bitter, shameful.  “Not after I’ve talked her into this…”

Sam let out a sigh.  “Well.  I suppose there’s no use wonderin’ what you should’ve done differently.  You’ve got no choice but to work with what you have now.”

Pippin’s heart froze then, for they heard a knock on Bag End’s front door.  Sam gave him a pitying look before walking past him and out into the hallway.  But there he saw his wife, well within earshot of his conversation with Pippin, leaning against the wall with her arms folded across her chest; her glare caused him to halt in his tracks.  Rosie held the glare for several seconds before shaking her head, turning around and walking towards the front door.  Sam followed her dutifully.

But Pippin lingered in the doorway of the study, chewing on his fingernails and awaiting the doom of reasoning that his cousin was sure to bring.  And while Merry gave his greetings to Sam and Rosie, Pippin saw Diamond make her way out of the kitchen and walk quickly towards him.  She looked almost as nervous as he felt.  He reached out to her and put his arms around her, pulling her to him so quickly and forcefully that she nearly fell over.

“He’s your friend,” she said, “so there’s nothing to be worried about… is there?”

Pippin made no reply.

All too quickly, they found Merry standing before them wearing the face of an admonishing parent.  His gaze traveled between the two of them, resting at last on his cousin.  “I should’ve known that when you finally decided to get married you would want to do it in the most reckless way imaginable.”

Pippin looked up at him sharply, but still did not speak.  Merry sighed and moved his gaze to the other hobbit.  “Hello, Diamond.”

“Hello, sir.”  She looked like she wanted to say more, and opened her mouth to do so; but no words came to her, and she returned to staring at her feet.

“Diamond,” he said in a commanding tone so that she looked at him again.  “How old are you?”

She winced.  “Thirty-one.”

“Thirty-one,” Merry repeated softly, glaring at Pippin.  “Not even of age, then.”

“I guess I didn’t think about that,” Pippin mumbled.

“Of course not,” said Merry sharply.  “That would’ve required some foresight on your part.  And we both know that foresight isn’t something you’re very good at.”

Pippin’s brows furrowed as he frowned defensively.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Merry rolled his eyes.  “Oh, honestly, Pippin.  You’ve made it quite obvious over the years that you are seemingly incapable of thinking things through, of thinking about the possible consequences of all your rash decisions.  Remember Moria?  The Palantír?”  His voice became gradually louder.

Pippin bristled.  “Haven’t I made up for that by now?” he hissed.

His tone coming close to a shout, Merry responded, “It doesn’t matter if you’ve made up for any of that, not so long as you keep making the same kind of impulsive, foolish decisions!”  He turned abruptly and began to walk away.

“Where are you going?” Pippin called out to him angrily.  He was given no reply.

As soon as Merry was out of sight, Pippin felt his rage quickly ebb and turn into fear.  His knees grew weak, and he leaned on Diamond for support.  Unable to speak, she simply held him.

* * *

Merry entered the kitchen to find Sam sitting quietly at the table, with Rosie standing beside him.  She looked up at Merry, a fire in her eyes.

“Shall I give you the same talk I just gave him?” she asked heatedly, nodding her head at Sam, who was massaging his brow.

“I know what you’re going to say,” replied Merry, fighting to keep his voice even.  “You’re going to say that we’re all terrible people for trying to keep those two apart.  But this isn’t all some romantic fairy tale – these are two irresponsible young hobbits—”

“How can you say that?” Rosie interrupted, looking appalled.  “Even if you don’t know Diamond, Pippin is still your best friend, how can you speak to him like that?”

Merry laughed humorlessly.  “You have to understand, Rosie, that part of being friends with Pippin is realizing when he’s being an unbearable fool.”

Rosie looked at her husband, her eyes brimming with angry tears; her soft voice carried traces of desperation.  “Sam?”

He didn’t meet her gaze.  “You know I can’t, Rose.”

She sat down next to him at the table, taking his hands.  “Is it because Diamond is underage?  Tweenagers get married all the time!”

“With their parents’ consent,” Merry pointed out.

“All of them?” she asked.

“Well… I’d imagine, yes.”

“But do you know for sure?”

Merry furrowed his brows.  “Well… oh, what difference does it make?  It’s still against the law, isn’t it?”

They both looked at Sam, who appeared deep in thought.  When he realized that they were watching him expectantly, his eyes widened.  “I… I’m afraid I don’t rightly know, actually.  This situation isn’t exactly a common one.”

“Shouldn’t you look it up, then?  Find out if there really is any law that prevents it?” asked Rosie.

Sam looked as though he wasn’t keen on answering, and so Merry spoke up, “Even if it isn’t strictly forbidden, it would still be very immoral of Sam to use his position in such a way.  Besides, he may be the mayor, but Pippin’s father is still the Thain of the Shire.”  His expression became gentler, weary.  “Rose, I don’t like this any more than you do.  Believe me, I would personally escort them to Gondor and let Strider marry them if I thought it would do any good.”

Rosie stared down at her lap and murmured, “It’s not fair.”

Merry let out a long breath.  “No, it’s not.”

She looked up a moment later, first at Sam and then at Merry; she stood and walked out of the kitchen, gesturing for them to follow her.  “Come with me.  Quietly, now.”

They complied, following her into the hallway where Merry had left Pippin and Diamond; but the two hobbits were no longer in there, and Rosie walked towards one of the guest rooms.  The door was open, and she peered inside.  When she pulled away, she looked at Merry and Sam expectantly and nodded towards the room.  Glancing at each other dubiously, they looked inside.

Pippin and Diamond sat together on the bed; his head was resting against her chest, her arms wrapped around his shaking shoulders as she ran a gentle hand through his curls.  Pippin’s face was turned away from the door, but Diamond’s profile was in view from where Merry stood, her eyes squeezed tightly shut.  This was the first time he had been able to carefully regard the girl who had stolen his cousin’s heart.  She was a small, delicate creature, almost fairy-like.  She was no outstanding beauty – she did not have Rosie’s comely grace, or the unwavering confidence that caused Estella’s face to shine so brilliantly; but she was pretty in her own way.

But most importantly, she was gentle.  Merry was astounded by the tenderness she displayed as she held Pippin in her slender arms.  Hearing Pippin speak of her, Merry had perceived her to be a person to be protected, not the type to do the comforting, which he could now see was an error in judgment.

Merry turned to his companion, and it was clear by the determined set of Sam’s face that his heart had won over his head.

Uncle Paladin is going to kill me for this.

* * *

Pippin’s tears had ceased, and he was now curled up against Diamond, her chin resting atop his head.  She thought she heard him speak, but his voice was so soft that she couldn’t make out what he said.

“What?”

He raised his voice slightly, but she still had to strain to hear.  “I’m sorry.”

Her eyes widened in surprise; she was about to ask what he had to apologize for when she realized that was a rather silly question.  She was silent for several seconds before whispering, “Don’t be sorry.”

“I’ve been an idiot.  I’ve pulled you into something we might not be able to get out of.  All because I still haven’t learned to think things through before I act.”

She bit her lip, her eyebrows furrowing upwards in a mournful expression.  At last she turned her head and pressed her cheek against his curls.  “It’ll all work out,” she said; but her voice wavered and betrayed her uncertainty.

She continued to stroke his hair, listening as his breathing gradually slowed.  With a bit of effort, she managed to lay him down on the bed without waking him; she hesitated briefly, but her own exhaustion finally overcame her sense of propriety, and she curled up next to him, pressing her face to his warm chest.  For a short moment before sleep claimed her, she felt a comforting sense of rightness, of perfection, of peace.

The next thing she knew, someone was caressing her forehead and voices were conversing somewhere above her.  But she was not nearly ready to be awake yet, and so she lay still with her eyes closed, enjoying the feel of those soft fingertips against her skin.

“Diamond.”  A warm, familiar voice was calling her back.  “Wake up, Diamond.”

“Pippin,” she breathed.  She opened her eyes and saw his face before her, brighter and more hopeful than she’d seen for far too many days.

Pressing his palm against her cheek, he said, “Will you still marry me?”

Though her mind was still quite groggy, his gentle inquiry rang clear, and she gave him a sleepy smile.  “Of course.”

Pippin grinned and kissed the tip of her nose.  “It’s going to happen, Diamond,” he whispered frantically.  “Sam’s agreed to it, it’s really going to happen.”  He glanced up at the figure standing behind Diamond.  She looked over her shoulder to find Merry wearing a benevolent smile.

“It’s all been worked out,” he told her; his smile widened.  “The only thing you need to worry about now is what you’re going to wear.”  With that he turned and left the room.

Pippin kissed her again, this time on the lips, and everything else in the world disappeared.

There were no formalities, no long speeches that night – simply a small group of friends that watched as Pippin and Diamond Took shared a tender kiss beneath the stars.

* * *





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