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For Anso, who wanted an angsty Merry h/c:
A MIST OF TEARS AND WEARINESS
Aragorn slumped wearily outside the tent, where three badly injured hobbits lay, watched over by one deeply grieving. He had no more comfort left to give without lying, and that he could not, would not, do.
“My friend? Is all well?”
He looked up at the sound of the warm, gruff voice.
“Gandalf? I am glad you are here now. I do not know what is left to say to Merry that will comfort him. There is still so much doubt as to the state of the others, and he begins to despair. If he does, I fear a return of the Shadow.” He shook his head, and blinked as tears came to his own eyes. “I could not bear it if we lost them all.”
Gandalf nodded. Merry had arrived with the first of the hurriedly sent supplies. When they sent for him, they were nearly certain that he would be saying a last farewell to his cousins and friend, and yet by the time he arrived, Frodo and Sam were in a healing sleep. And with his arrival, Pippin’s spirit had also strengthened. But, as Aragorn said, there was still a lot of doubt. “I will see what I may do,” said the Wizard, a troubled look in his own eyes.
He entered the tent, where in the dim light of a dark lantern, he saw the three occupied cots: two at one end of the tent where the battered and thin figures of the Ringbearers lay. The other end of the tent held two more cots, but one was empty. The other held the broken and bandaged form of young Peregrin. Next to it Merry knelt, his head pillowed on his arms and his shoulders hitching with his silent sobs.
The young hobbit turned his tear-ravaged face to the Wizard. “Gandalf?”
Gandalf knelt and held out his arms, and Merry turned and buried himself in the Wizard’s comforting embrace, sobbing even harder. “Gandalf,” he said brokenly, “I can’t do it. I can’t *do* it by myself. I can’t lose them all.”
“There now, Meriadoc.” Gandalf gathered him up and patted him on the back, rocking him like a fauntling. “We do not know that you will lose any of them, let alone *all*. They are already much better since your arrival.”
“But even Strider would not promise that they will be all right!”
“And no more should he make such a promise. No one knows for certain what the next moment may bring. Yet even should such a dire thing occur, this would not be a reason to give up. They would not have it so.”
“No,” Merry shook his head. “No. I can’t go home alone. Please don’t make me. I can’t face Uncle Paladin and Aunt Tina and tell them I didn’t take care of my Pippin. I couldn’t look the Gaffer and Rosie in the eye and tell them what became of their Sam. And to tell Mum and Da of what I let happen to Frodo--oh, Frodo!…no, no, I can’t.” And again his tears were renewed.
Gandalf too, felt the bite of guilt. If any blame lay anywhere outside the evil of the Dark Lord himself, it was his own in not recognizing sooner the stink of the Ring in the Shire. He had already pictured in his own mind making these same explanations to the families of the hobbits, and he knew exactly how Merry felt.
“Meriadoc. Listen to me. You must not despair, for you know that your kinsmen were returned to you beyond all hope. Frodo and Sam were brought out of Mordor yet alive; Pippin, even though at death’s door, was saved from going through, largely by your presence at his side. I do not make promises, and I do not give comfort lightly, but I can say this much:
I do not believe they would linger here yet, if it were not *meant* that they are to live, and to return with you to the Shire.”
Merry looked at the Wizard in astonishment. In the dim light of the tent, Gandalf seemed to almost glow with a faint light, and in his eyes, Merry could discern the wisdom that he usually kept masked from mortal ken.
“Oh, Gandalf! I’m sorry.” He trembled in the Wizard’s arms.
“Do not apologize for your grief, Merry. It is only natural. But it is not yet a time to mourn, it is a time for hope.”
“Look at Peregrin. He breathes still, and I believe he will breathe yet, come morning. Would you like to lay alongside him? I know that would bring comfort to you both.”
For the first time a hopeful light appeared in Merry’s eyes. “Do you think it would be all right? I would not want to hurt him.”
“I daresay you will be careful. And these cots are meant for Men. There is plenty of room for you by his side.”
He carried Merry back to the cot, and lay him down by his cousin’s side. Merry turned so that he could face Pippin, and carefully placed his left hand lightly on Pippin’s arm. Merry breathed a shuddering sigh, and seemed to relax.
Gandalf sat on the floor by the bed, and smoothed the curls from Merry’s brow until he finally relaxed into slumber.
He was still there when Aragorn returned in the morning.
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