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(You may find an illustration for this fic at http://www.frodosharem.org/Pics/Caveinillo.jpg)
Warnings: Completely gratuitous h/c. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Characters: Frodo, Merry, Sam, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, Aragorn, Gandalf
Written for Marigold's Challenge #12 and also for Anso the Hobbit's 10 things wishlist.
This story is also dedicated in memoriam to Nivina (Ethereal_Hobbit), harem sister and friend, taken tragically from us on February 6th, 2005.
Author's note: After slavering over everyone else's H/C for the past 3 years, I figured it was high time I gave some back. This is not a deep fic, nor has it any 'message' at all, it is just H/C for H/C's sake. It's what my last fic, Fear, was initially intended to be, though that, of course, mutated itself. This is for entertainment value only and I hope you will not think too poorly of me for writing it. I just wanted to do something simple for a change.
Chapter 1 -
"Merry? Open your eyes, please…"
The voice seemed to come from great distance through some strange echoing cavern. It was Frodo's, Merry realized, but oddly strained and with a cough inherent in its tone. That roused him. He was concerned for his cousin, but at that moment, he couldn't remember why.
"Can't…" he slurred. There was grit in his mouth and parts of his body were reporting in disagreeably. He was lying on his back, but something was holding his leg, pinching it painfully. His one arm felt to be over his head and was being held by someone and the other was cramped around a large mass of stone.
His mind was clearing though.
"Can you move?" asked Frodo, seeming nearer now.
Merry tried experimentally flexing the fingertips above his head. His movement was answered by a quick, heartfelt squeeze. His cousin held his hand. That was encouraging at least.
"The ceiling fell in." Frodo's voice was quiet and firm but Merry could now hear the fear he hid in it. "We were coming down to see the work Gimli was doing on the lower circle. I'm tucked into a fireplace; I am afraid it is the only part of this house that held up."
Frodo was feeling down his cousin's arm. "I believe something fell off one of the towers above us." He coughed. "Gimli's but one dwarf and the Gondorians' builders are stretched thin. They've not been able to secure some parts of the city. Apparently, this was one of them."
Merry opened his eyes but could see little but dark greys and blurs of shadow.
"I can't see," he whispered.
Frodo's hand found Merry's head and stroked his brow gently, then made a subtle exploration of his skull, pausing once on a swelling above his ear, but touching him so tenderly that if Merry didn't know his cousin, he might not have been aware he was being checked for injuries.
"The dust…" Frodo explained. "It was so thick earlier that I couldn't see anything. I've only just found your hand." Frodo's voice rose slightly and Merry again rallied. His staid companion sounded horribly worried and now Merry's thoughts were becoming clear enough to remember why. Their guide had taken a wrong turning - much of the lower city was in unrecognizable ruin - and they had wandered into a part that had not been declared safe. Gimli and the few Gondorian builders not killed on the battle fields had been working night and day to inspect the war-ravaged rubble, but many deserted neighborhoods had not been attended to yet, their inhabitants remaining in the villages and holdings they had fled to before the battle until the reconstruction could begin in earnest.
The last clear memory that Merry had was of a clank and rumble followed by a roaring, as Frodo shouted frantically at Sam to stay back and the two of them ducked into a battered but sturdy looking stone house. Beyond that his mind was a blur of confusion and pain.
"Merry, I must know how you fare," Frodo said. "I need to move you. That stone above us is held up by this chimney only. If it goes, that rock will crush you."
Merry raised his eyebrows. "Well, don't sugar-coat it, good fellow," he croaked. "Give me the bad news now."
Merry was beginning to be able to see, at least enough to perceive the grimness in his cousin's dust-covered face lift fleetingly.
"It's fair to say your wits are returning, at least," Frodo replied. "How about your legs?"
"Caught. At least the left one. Though I might be able to wiggle it…"
"NO!" Frodo hissed. "Is it your leg that’s caught, or is it your clothing?"
Merry gingerly tested the limb. "Bit of both, I think, though I believe I could get the leg out if I cut the trousers."
"I'll do it," Frodo ordered, letting go of his arm and leaning across Merry's body to find his leg. It was not caught and, after a quick examination to assure himself it was not broken either, Frodo took up his knife and cut his cousin free.
Once loose, Merry began inching away from the boulder. The stone had cut painfully into his calf and the sticky, pulling feeling informed him that he had been bleeding as well. What a delightful development. Frodo crept back into his makeshift shelter and began to drag Merry in after him.
The rocks above gave out a sickening groan and Merry's heart froze. Frodo screamed his name and pulled desperately on his clothes, trying to pull all of him into a space barely big enough for the one who already occupied it.
All at once the rocks shifted and crashed down on the space outside the chimney. The spot where Merry had lain mere moments before, disappeared in the avalanche as a wall of grey stone sealed the hearth opening. Bricks and stone fell heavily onto his back and he cried out. The chimney flue was collapsing too! Frodo rolled his cousin under him and grunted as he took the brunt of the next shower of bricks. Thick, choking dust filled the tiny fireplace and the already faint light from above flickered and was blocked. The roar of falling stone slowly fell quiet.
Merry hadn't lost consciousness this time and had felt every bone-bruising stone that hit. Frodo also seemed overcome and draped over his younger cousin, coughing and wheezing as if he could not get enough air into his lungs. If you could call it air. It was mainly stone dust; even Merry could barely breathe. For his convalescing elder cousin, the task seemed more than he could manage.
"Easy, Frodo, I'm all right," lied Merry. "Relax and take slow, deep breaths."
From beyond their cramped little chamber, Merry could hear a new sound rising. It was a scream, muffled by rock and distance. A horrified cry of loss, tormented and hopeless, and it was coming from a hobbit.
"Sam!" Merry gasped. Then, as loudly as his dust-choked lungs could manage, he called out. "We're here! Sam!" Frodo nodded, encouraging his cousin, yet unable to yet do anything but cough. "Sam! Oy! Sam! Hush up and listen for pity's sake!"
"Hello!" came the gardener's faint frantic call. It was closer, but many feet of stone lay between them. "Please, sir, call again! We'll find you!"
"We're here, Sam!" Merry called again, fighting the coughing fit that was trying to claim him. "We've a small shelter in the chimney, but we can't get out - the hearth is blocked!"
"Mr. Merry, Sir! Is my master with you? Is he…"
"Here, Sam," Frodo croaked.
Merry could almost hear the other hobbit's sigh of relief.
"Captain Belegorn is off to find Gimli and some of the guard folk. He says to stay put, if you can, and not to move about much. This here rock looks to be settled, but neither of us knows enough about stonework to be sure." There was the sound of scrabbling on the rocks near the chimney shaft and a few more pebbles fell down the flue. "You two sit tight and we'll get you out of there."
Frodo seemed at last to be catching his breath. "Sam, I don't want you on the stone. Get off the rubble and stay a safe distance."
"But Mr. Frodo!"
"Do it!" ordered Frodo, as fiercely as he was able. "The site's not stable - even your weight could bring it down! Get away now and stay away, I command it!"
A moment's heartbroken pause was followed by a 'Yes, sir,' and the sounds of someone climbing carefully over the rocks.
Frodo breathed a sigh. "And keep yourself out of danger too, you dear fool," he added softly, though only Merry could hear him.
The parts of Merry that had earlier reported in as being worse for wear were beginning to stiffen. His back, bruised by the falling masonry, was hot and stiff and his leg had not stopped bleeding, he could tell that by the continued warm slickness on his lower leg. He also wished there had been a bit more room in the fireplace. He was starting to feel decidedly claustrophobic. He tried to stretch out his legs but the stone had sealed all but a tiny space outside the hearth. He felt a wave of panic wash over him and barely suppressed the urge to kick out.
Sam and the guardsman had been behind Frodo and Merry on the street -- it had looked as if the tower was going to fall right between them. Apparently it had. When they'd dashed into this stone and wood-framed house, Frodo had pointed to the cold fireplace as a possible shelter and he'd been right, as it was seemingly the one structure that had withstood the falling tower.
"Well, this is a right cozy little nest you've found, Mr. Baggins," Merry said, lightly. "A bit on the snug side, but I suppose beggars can't be choosers."
He felt more than heard Frodo's wry chuckle.
"You see why I relied on your skills to locate me housing in Buckland," he answered hoarsely. "I'm hopeless at it, as you see."
"Wise of you," Merry agreed. "What about this place, though? You said the chimney's blocked? How badly? Can we shift it? There's a bit of daylight coming through; can you tell how much brick is blocking the way?"
Frodo moved and Merry heard him gasp in pain.
“How do I fare? What about you?" he asked.
"I'm all right, Merry. Just took a bit of bruising from those bricks, that's all. I'd say I was in a better state than you."
"Well, perhaps. All the same, I think it might be wise of both of us to get out of here as soon as possible."
Frodo moved carefully, sitting back and putting his hands up to guide himself along the firebrick. Soot drifted down onto Merry's face, but he at least had room now to stretch out his arms.
"Ai!" Frodo ducked back as a shower of pebbles rained into the firebox. "It's more than we want coming down on us," he gasped. Merry nodded and Frodo tried shifting into a position that was not directly under the flue. It was no use. There simply wasn't any room for the two of them to sit comfortably in the cramped space. In the end, Frodo sat his cousin up against the far wall with his legs blissfully outstretched and placed himself on the pile of bricks that had already fallen.
"I thought you said there might be more showers expected?" Merry chided.
"I'm in better condition to handle a rain of bricks right now than you are."
Merry sighed, suddenly too tired to argue. Sitting up was terribly uncomfortable for his back and made his head spin so that he felt sick. He rolled to his side and tried to make himself comfortable in the tiny space. Without Frodo lying beside him, he was beginning to feel cold. He shivered.
The next thing he was aware of was his cousin's hand on his leg, gently wiping blood and caked dirt away from the still bleeding cut. He opened an eye to see Frodo beginning to search through his pockets.
"You'd have thought," he said softly, "that I'd have learned by now to carry a handkerchief with me."
Merry said nothing. The dampness on his leg was making it chilly too, and the stones at his back seemed to be pulling the heat from his body. He folded his arms over his chest and tried to conserve what warmth he had left. There was a tearing sound and he saw Frodo ripping a long strip from the lining of his coat. He chuckled.
"You might want that later. It's getting bloody cold in here."
Frodo frowned. "No, it isn't," he said. "It's quite comfortable, at least in temperature, but I think you've lost more blood than you realize. This is a very bad cut." Merry’s cousin worked carefully, his face set and grim as he bound the torn leg. "That's going to need to be stitched but the bandage should help some." He looked up at Merry who was gazing at him dully. "Anything else wrong that I should know about?"
"Other than the fact that I am as bruised and battered as you are, no, not particularly."
Frodo sighed and shifted again, coming around to lie beside Merry and pulling him into his arms.
"I'll keep you as warm as I can, Merry. Lie quiet and try and rest." His fingers touched the bruised bump on Merry's head and the shivering hobbit winced. Frodo murmured an apology and eased his cousin's head against his chest. "Shall I sing you a tune to pass the time?"
Merry nodded and settled against Frodo's coat. He felt like he was a tot again, being held by his elder cousin as they sat listening to stories by the fire in the great hall. Those had always been the best of times, and were perhaps what Merry had missed most about having Frodo move to Hobbiton. Frodo's soft voice, a little hoarse from the punishing dust, rose above the beating of his heart and Merry relaxed, beginning to feel the sense of cold lessen in his limbs as he became almost drowsy with comfort.
The song wound on, low and gentle, and Merry slipped deeper into doze. His leg didn't hurt as much and the warmth from his bruised back seemed to be spreading down his limbs. He sighed, almost smiling. It was nice to be held like this. He knew their predicament was dire but somehow it didn't seem to matter as much anymore. The pain was receding and, in the protective circle of his elder cousin's arms, the danger seemed lessened too. Merry felt safe. Frodo had always been the strong one, never sick, always confident, responsible and competent. Those qualities were what Merry had always admired and tried to emulate, though he would never have told Frodo that.
Neither would he have told him what it had felt like to watch a dear cousin fighting for his life. Twice now he had been seized by a terror deeper and more profound than he would have let on to anyone. For some strange reason, it had never seemed possible to him that Frodo could die on this quest. Not before Rivendell, at least. And even afterward, as they'd set out on their perilous journey, Merry had thought their Company too strong and powerful to let his kin come to grief. But he had learned the folly of that thinking. His despair had been more than half the reason he had ridden against his Lord Theoden's wishes; he could not bear to remain behind, safe, tormented with the knowledge that his loved ones were fighting, perhaps dying, in some uncharted land far from home. Better to fight and die himself than to endure that uncertainty.
But the nightmare was over. His cousin was warm and alive against his cheek and his heart and voice sounded gloriously in Merry's ear. The younger hobbit settled deeper into the embrace and put aside his all his worries. There was naught else to be done until help arrived anyway. Darkness beckoned and, with Frodo's voice and warmth around him, Merry followed it.
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