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Many, many thanks to Shirebound and her Shirebunny (plotbunny) website, and to Periantari who donated this ‘bunny to the hutch:
Merry and Sam have a conversation after seeing Frodo off... maybe a day or two after Frodo leaves from the Grey Havens. What do they talk about? Does Sam feel badly that Merry knew Frodo was leaving before he did? Would both of them feel sorrow? How would they help each other deal with the loss?
11. On the Way Home
The three travelers, bereft of the one they all loved best, camped on the downs, knowing that the next sunset would see them home again. The weather had turned as it does sometimes in autumn, not to rain and wind, but instead to a crisp winter-chill that showed their breath, and at night the sky was clear and dark, filled with sharp, white stars.
They had had little to say since they had left the Havens, and the grief of parting lay heavy on their hearts. With a very-unhobbit-like lack of idle talk they set about their tasks that evening. Merry tended to the ponies and staked them out, and Pippin brought two or three armloads of dead branches from under one lone old tree for a fire. Sam got out some pots and pans for their supper, and a small kettle to heat water for tea.
They had a good meal then, sitting on their bedrolls under the stars, though when they thought of all that had been left behind, the bread and bacon seemed to stick in their throats. They had pipeweed to spare, but none of them wanted a pipe, so after a last cup of tea Pippin tossed the dregs of his cup into the long grass, then said goodnight, wrapped himself in his blanket and turned his back to the fire. Soon they heard his breathing even out, and they knew he was asleep.
"I'm glad he can sleep," Sam said. "Poor old lad."
Poor old us, Merry thought. "He sleeps deepest when he's sad or troubled, I think it's a refuge for him." He tossed another branch on the fire, and the red sparks whirled up. He pointed up at the stars. "Look there, Sam, there's the Hunter."
"Aye," Sam said. "With his bow, and his dog at his heel. Do you...do you think the stars are the same, where Master Frodo is going?"
"I don't know. I hope so," Merry said, and his throat felt tight. It would ease his heart to think that at least he and Frodo were still under the same sky. He sighed. "You know, Sam, I envy you."
Sam was as staggered as if Merry had announced a decision to grow wings and fly. "What, me?"
"Yes, you, Samwise." Merry couldn't help but smile a little at Sam's befuddled expression. "You will see Frodo again, Sam. You'll touch his hand and hear his voice. Pippin and I, we never shall, never again in this world."
Sam's kind heart ached and tears came to his eyes. "I'm sorry, Mr. Merry. I wish it could be different. If anyone deserves to follow Master Frodo to the Elves's country, it's you and Mr. Pippin, after the great deeds you've done."
Merry laughed with tears in his eyes. "Yours were greater, Sam. You followed Frodo to the very edge of doom, you would have gladly laid down your life for him-you nearly did lay down your life for him. That was more than I managed to do."
Sam came around the fire and sat down beside Merry, and very hesitantly, he put his arm around him. For years young Pippin had been merely the son of a prosperous farmer, easy to love because he was such a laughing, good-hearted lad, and Sam didn't fear to ruffle his curly head, or give him a gentle scolding when he got into mischief. Master Frodo, well, he hadn't been like other folk, he cared for a hobbit's thoughts and his doings, not the place in life he was born in. But Merry had been the only son of the Master of Buckland, heir to a very high place indeed, and Sam's Gaffer had never let him forget it. There had always been a sort of awkwardness between them. But now there was the feel of an old wall, built of birth and circumstances, crumbling down under the weight of their shared sorrow, and it would never be so high again. They had both been blessed enough to know and love Frodo, and now they had lost him, Merry for all time.
"You were right where you were meant to be, Mr. Merry. Master Frodo wouldn't never have wanted you to come with him to that dreadful place, it would've broke his heart to see you and Mr. Pippin suffer so. He wouldn't never even have took me, except that I near drownded myself and he had to haul me into the boat like a trout." Sam pulled out his handkerchief-a fine linen one rather than the coarse cotton ones he used to carry, and embroidered with green leaves all along the edge by his dear Rose-and he pressed it into Merry's hand. "There now, there now, Mr. Merry. Please don't take on so."
Merry wiped his face, then twisted the cloth between his clenched hands. "I ask myself, is there something I could have done? If I had spent more time with Frodo these past months, if I had only talked to him. I turn it this way and that in my mind, and it still comes out the same." Merry took a ragged breath. "I'm sorry, Sam. I shouldn't bother you with this and make you feel wretched. It's just so hard."
"Cruel hard," Sam said, wiping his sleeve across his face. "But we can't turn back the clock, we just have to go on as Master Frodo would want us to, and try to be happy as we may. I have my Rose and the little babe, and you have Buckland, and Mr. Pippin to lean on, and you'll both have wives and children, and he'll be Thain someday-"
"And you'll be Mayor, Sam," Merry said.
"Oh now," Sam said, and even in the dim firelight Merry could see him blush. "You think so?"
"I know so," Merry laughed, this time without hurt or bitterness. "Remember what Frodo said? All that I had or might have had I leave to you. Home and family and friends, and the Shire to care for. He gave that to you, Sam, with his whole heart."
"Bless him," Sam said. "Dear Master Frodo! I'll never forget him, and I won't let anyone else forget him, neither. I'm not wise like him, Mr. Merry, nor so book-learned, or brave, and I can't take his place, but I'll do the best I can and be the best friend I can to you and Mr. Pippin, just as he was to me." He took hold of Merry's hand. "If you are ever in a fix, if you ever need me, just send to Hobbiton and I'll come, even if I have to run on my own two feet."
Merry was deeply moved. He knew well that Sam did not make a promise or give his friendship lightly. "Thank you, Sam."
"That tears it," came a muffled, tear-soaked voice from the other side of the fire. "If someone doesn't come over here and pet me soon, I will bawl out loud like a faunt, and then I shall get up and snivel and snot all over both your waistcoats."
"Peregrin Took!" Merry said. "Have you been awake all this time?"
"No," Pippin sniffled. "Well, long enough. My nose has fairly frozen off from keeping my back turned."
Merry and Sam both laughed at this, then got up and brought their bedrolls to where Pippin had stretched himself out. They put their blankets on either side and lay down beside him, shoulder to shoulder, taking comfort in each other's nearness, and talked until the stars dimmed and the sky began to pale. They talked of all the sweet days of their youth that were behind them, the terrors and wonders they had found out in the wide world, and the blessed days ahead. With love and longing they spoke of Frodo and other friends that had gone, and the time they had spent together, and all the great, good things that they hoped Frodo would find across the sea.
(...of this, but more ficlets to come.)
I'm a bit of an amateur stargazer, so I'm reasonably sure the constellation Orion (what the hobbits here are calling the Hunter,) is visible in September. Of course, I could also be entirely wrong. Whether Orion would actually be visible in the sky in the Shire's equivalent of September is beyond me. If there's a reference hidden in canon somewhere, darned if I can find it.
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