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EDIT: I discovered that my story had several serious flaws so a bit of rewriting has been done.
Happy New Year or Merry Yule! This is just a tiny ficlet written in a state of half-sleep so be nice. :P
Title: Safe And Sound
Gimli woke to the feeling of something shivering. Blinking owlishly he mused if the Rohirrim had decided to depart without waking him and Legolas and Merry, but listening further he could hear the soft snoring of many bodies around him and let out a small sigh of relief. They weren't abandoned then. He shifted over to his side and tried to ponder where the shivering came from. The earth beneath him felt still and calm and no horses were tramping about. The shivers came as small jerks that sometimes disappeared completely, just to evolve and rise in intensity after a short break. He listened keenly for any sound and at first he couldn't hear anything. Legolas lay beside him in that half-asleep state Elves called rest and on his other side was Merry, pressed up against the corner of a stone wall. The stone floor they lay on was covered with straw mattresses and their bedding consisted of woollen blankets and their Elven cloaks.
At first Gimli couldn't hear any sound besides the snoring and slight shifting of a large group of people sleeping together in one room, but as he woke more fully another sound became clear - the soft whimpering of someone crying in their sleep. Gimli instantly knew that sound and turned to look at the curled up bundle of hobbit beside him. The top of Merry's head could be seen in the dark and his bright curls shone like silver. The little head was almost buried beneath the blanket as was Merry’s wont but a foot peeked out from the cloak that covered him. Gimli sat up and tugged on a bit of the cloak to cover the hairy appendage and as his hand brushed Merry's cold calf Merry turned to lie on his back, scrunching up his nose and flinging one arm out to hit Gimli in the arm. Gimli could barely see Merry’s face but the tears running into his hair shone like small rivers on the mounds of his cheeks.
Turning to Legolas Gimli lightly shook his shoulder. Merry had resumed whimpering and Gimli was at a loss what to do. When the hobbits had a nightmare or started crying one of the other hobbits would always take care of him and Gimli had never been called upon to comfort a distraught hobbit. He remembered that he at first had found the cosseting childish and unnatural but as he came to learn more about the nature of hobbits he understood that the affection between family and friends was something the hobbits wore on their sleeves and to hold another hobbits hand or hug was as natural to them as not doing so was to the Dwarf. Now Merry was alone without his cousins or Sam or even Gandalf to comfort him. Gimli thought back to what the others had done for the hobbit in need of comfort and blushed at the thought of him having to do the same. He was alien to gather someone in his arms and rock them and stroke their hair and face until they calmed or sing soft songs into a small pointed ear until the sobs subsided. He didn't have children and his Dwarven nature was not bound to that kind of behaviour. He knew he must appear hard as the stone he so cherished to the soft-hearted hobbits, but he also knew that they had found trust and the occasional comfort in him. He could remember several occasions where a small body - usually Pippin followed by Merry - would snuggle up beside him for warmth and coax a story or even a song out of him, but when it came to distress the hobbits had always taken care of their own. Gimli had helped out when one of the hobbits was ill but he had never carried them or done anything except give them a extra blanket to lessen their physical discomfort. Others had always taken care of that.
Legolas was instantly alert as Gimli touched his shoulder. “What is it?”
Gimli didn't answer but shifted his gaze to the still shivering and crying Merry.
“Oh.” Legolas nodded and looked at the hobbit. Merry gave a great sniff in his sleep and a particularly deep sob escaped his lips.
“What do you suggest we do?” Gimli whispered.
Legolas rose softly and silently to his feet and gathered the sleeping hobbit in his arms. He sat down beside Gimli again and proceeded to gently rock Merry, humming a light and cheerful, but soothing tune. Gimli watched as the hobbit stilled but tears continued to stream down his face and the occasional soft whimper and dreamy mumblings could still be heard. Legolas shifted Merry and stroked a hand softly through his hair in a soothing manner, never ceasing the soft humming.
“He’s cold,” Legolas said when it finally looked like Merry was sleeping peacefully. “The cloak doesn't provide enough warmth for him and it doesn't make things better that he can't snuggle up to another hobbit for warmth.”
“But we don’t have any more blankets,” Gimli pointed out.
Just then soft footsteps could be heard and both Legolas and Gimli looked up to see a young soldier approaching. "May we help you?” Legolas asked.
“I thought I heard crying and came to see what was amiss,” Éowyn said.
“My lady!” Gimli looked surprised at the King's niece. He had been sure it was a young soldier having lost himself in looking for the privy but now he saw the flowing skirts that covered the slim frame and the long hair flowing down her back.
Éowyn smiled then looked at Merry. “Poor little one! Such a noble heart to offer his service to the King, yet so young and alone in the world. Is he ill or hurt?” She had heard from the soldiers about what happened at Isengard and how Mithrandir had flown away on his horse with the little holbytla's cousin and that he now was alone in the world. He had looked so small and lost and afraid when she first had seen him and although he was out of a legend for her she couldn't help but think of him as a child. They had not spoken much yet and tomorrow the King and the Rohirrim would ride to Dunharrow and he would go with them. She reached forward and gently touched the wet cheek. Merry’s skin felt soft as a child’s to her hand and with a feather light touch she let her fingers explore the pointed ear framed in silky curls, marvelling at the shape of it.
“Nay, my Lady. I do not believe he is ill, except perhaps for his heart longing for his kin, but his journey so far has proved a rough trial for such an innocent folk as his and it is a heavy burden to bear, no matter how noble his heart is."
“He is suffering from a nightmare then?"
“Yes, I believe so." Legolas said.
“I heard that his cousin was taken from him in haste at Isengard?” Éowyn volunteered.
“Aye,” Gimli said, “and those two rascals were inseparable, joined by the hip if you ask me. Merry here was always looking out for Pippin and never lost sight of him. As the story goes he has done so since Peregrin was born and as far as I know they have never been separated with force before.”
They all watched as Merry calmed further as Éowyn touched his face and hair and with a look to Legolas she sat down and he surrendered the sleeping bundle to her. Éowyn put Merry in her lap and cushioned his head against her heart and placed her chin upon his soft curls. With her thumbs she stroked the tears away and slowly they disappeared completely. Merry’s breath evened out and his sleep became deeper.
Legolas rose to tuck his cloak around Merry and wrapped his blanket in around the both of them. Éowyn sat like that for some time, now and again rocking Merry to and fro as if he was her child. When he had been sleeping deeply for some time and no new nightmare or bout of tears seemed to come forth Legolas and Gimli helped her put him down on his own mattress where Merry slept the rest of the night in peaceful slumber to wake with a smile after what he believed was a good night's rest, not knowing what had given him comfort during the night.
“I hope he survives this war and finds his cousin well and his homeland safe,” Éowyn said as she rose.
“Aye,” Gimli nodded, a mist covering his eyes and his gaze turning inwards. He hoped to see the Lonely Mountain and his own family again soon too and a sudden longing for the caves of his home rose in his chest and he swallowed the lump that rose in his throat. He looked at Legolas and the Elf’s gaze was also distant and longing. “I hope we all survive this war, my lady and I hope that you too will find your home and country safe and well when this is over.”
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