West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

I Hope You Dance
During Yuletide at Brandy Hall, Pippin is jealous of the lass taking all of Merry's attention, and his prank backfires.
Author: Cathleen
Rating: PG
Category: AU-Angst/Drama

 

"I Hope You Dance"


"Quite honestly Merry, I think you worry about him far too much. I've told you before, I think he's playing you just like that fiddle of his." Estella frowned. "Someone needs to talk some sense into that lad!" Her eyes narrowed and she shook her head. "Or perhaps into you, if you keep failing to see just what he's about."

"Estella, I think you're making too much of this. I don't think Pippin did it on purpose. It was only a coincidence that he happened upon us so inconveniently."

"And I think, Meriadoc, that you need to open up those lovely eyes of yours and see what's right before your face. Could it be that you simply don't wish to?"

"No! But I believe Pippin when he said he didn't know we wanted to be alone. He--"

"Merry! He strode into the parlour bringing along half of the Hall's children simply to disrupt our solitude and get you to himself. He wanted to make me feel foolish and he did a very good job of it!"

"No, 'Stella. Pippin would never do anything so unkind on purpose. I'm sure he really did think the room was unoccupied. He wanted to play a game with the younger ones, just like he said. That why he brought them in." Merry winced at the hint of pleading in his voice. He wasn't certain he really believed his own words, and if he was actually trying to convince Estella, or himself.

"Merry," Estella said with an air of renewed patience inspired most likely by his obviously benighted state of mind. She placed her hands on his shoulders and leaned close to him, whispering in his ear, "You are simply not seeing what is right before your eyes, my dear."

Merry unexpectedly felt aroused by her closeness. Her scent, her milky complexion, and her soft hair...he reached out and touched her cheek with his fingers, somewhat in awe of the fact she wanted him and not some other lad. Having her at his side still amazed him, and every moment was a treasure. "Hmm?" he responded dreamily as he stroked her cheek. He was summoned back to reality abruptly when his beloved cleared her throat in apparent irritation and drew back.

Estella put her hands on her hips. "You have to talk to him."

"Well...yes, I suppose I should have a word or two with him--" Merry reached for her again.

"You suppose?" Estella caught his hand and pulled it away from her face. Merry looked wounded. "Either you do it or I will! I'll not be made a fool of by a silly teen!"

Estella spun and flounced away, leaving Merry alone. He sighed. Ever since his younger cousin had arrived at Brandy Hall with the rest of the Took's yesterday, everything seemed to be going awry. It was not the way he'd envisioned his first Yule with the most special lass he'd ever met. Merry knew that Pippin and Estella had not seen eye to eye since Merry had started to court her. Before that, neither of them had paid the other much mind at all. Now it was a very different story. Every time his cousin and his lass were in the same room together the air seemed to fill with tension and Merry always wound up in the middle of it. Oh, he'd tried talking to Pippin. Several times in fact. And, he'd talked to Estella. Pippin had only just arrived barely 24 hours ago. At this rate, what were the next two weeks going to be like?

Merry wandered out of the parlour and headed slowly down the long corridor towards his room. As much as he hated the idea of being away from Estella, he needed a chance to be alone and think about what his options were. Besides, she needed time to cool off. This last disagreement over Pippin had been the worst one of all and Merry had begun to worry that a full-blown war was about to break out if something didn't change soon. Reaching his bedroom he flung himself down on his back and stared at the ceiling. Perhaps he could enlist the aid of one of his cousins to help talk some sense into Pippin. Or to help him figure out what to say to Estella the next time Pippin burst into a room unannounced and disrupted the time alone he'd so carefully arranged for them.

Where was Pippin, anyway? He'd disappeared smartly, right after the episode in the parlour. Having pleaded his innocence, the lad wasted no time in making himself scarce. It seemed the little scamp was everywhere at once whenever he didn't want him to be, and just as absent when Merry wanted to talk to him.

"Maybe you should thump him good." Berilac suggested, entering Merry's room and interrupting his brooding. "I would, if I were you."

"What?" Merry rose up on his elbow. "Whomever are you talking about?"

Berilac grinned at him. "Who do you think?"

Merry snorted and fell back on his bed, folding his arms beneath his head, taking renewed interest in the ceiling. His cousin perched on a nearby chair and regarded him thoughtfully. "Look at yourself, lad. You've a lovely lass just waiting for you to make over her and here you lay. In your room, feeling foolish too, I'll wager, and not knowing a wit what you can do about it." Berilac shook his head in disgust.

"You don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh, yes I do. If it 'twas my little cousin running about, making a nuisance of himself and driving my lass away I surely would thump him. And then I'd lock him in his room for the rest of his stay!"

Merry snorted again. "As if I could get away with that." But he couldn't help smiling, in spite of himself.

Berilac laughed. "No, perhaps not. But it's certainly a thought to amuse yourself with, eh?"

Merry chuckled and pulled himself up to a sitting position on his bed. "I can't honestly say I haven't already considered it. Pip's only been here for one day and already Estella and I are having words about him, just like the last time. I know he's feeling like he isn't getting enough of a chance to be with me, and things just aren't like they used to be. He doesn't understand that things change and when a lad gets older he may have some other interests that are more of a priority for his attention."

Berilac shook his head. "Mer - Pippin understands a great deal more than you're giving him credit for. And I have to agree with Estella. He's doing it on purpose."

Merry raised an eyebrow as his cousin continued. "He wants your attention. And he wants it at all costs. He's angry with you. And he's jealous of Estella."

"What?" Merry leaned forward and eyed him disbelievingly. "Jealous of 'Stella? And angry? But, he's got no cause to be. I still spend time with him. He doesn't seem angry to me."

"All right, let's say he's irritated with you, then. Does that sound better? How about annoyed? Unhappy? Irate?"

Merry rolled his eyes but said nothing. Berilac continued. "Pip has always enjoyed being at the center of attention. Especially when it comes to having the notice of those he wishes to pay him mind. That's you, Mer. And that's selfish on his part."

"He's just a teen! I really don't think he has any substantial motive behind this behavior. I think he's just playing a few pranks. Actually, I think he's going through quite a lot at the moment. Remember what happened at the Harvest celebration?"

"He is most blind who refuses to see," quoted Berilac. "And you've already forgotten what it's like to be eighteen."

"That's not true."

Berilac nodded vigorously. "Yes, it is. And it's painfully obvious. That is, to everyone but you. You need to put Pippin in his place before he spoils everything for you."

Merry swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat there thinking it over. "Well, you're right about one thing. I do need to have a talk with him. When he marched those children into the parlour tonight I could have strangled him. Estella and I were just getting...ahem... comfortable, when they all pounced on us!"

"Uh huh, and didn't he act all innocent like? As if he didn't have any idea at all as to what you two were about." Merry nodded reluctantly. "You see? I didn't even have to be present to know what was going on. But I certainly heard all about it from those who are quite willing to tittle-tattle. Oh, Pippin is quite clever, you must realize that at least," Berilac snickered. "And your bellow of surprise was loud enough to bring half the Hall running."

Merry's cheeks grew warm with the memory. His cousin was right about that. And being found in a somewhat questionable position with Estella was something neither of them wished for. He frowned. "You don't have to tell me that. I know Pippin is very bright." He sighed. "And I also realize that folks are likely gossiping about what happened tonight."

Berilac stood and headed for the door. He turned, his hand on the knob. "Then take my advice and put a stop to his larking about before he ruins things for you and Estella."

Merry watched the door close softly behind his cousin and stared at it for several minutes, deep in thought about everything Berilac had said. He finally admitted to himself that the truth was he didn't want to believe that Pippin was doing any of this intentionally. Because that would mean his little cousin was scheming. Merry didn't like to think of Pippin in that way. But it was true that something was wrong and it needed addressing. Merry rose and went in search of Pippin. They had to settle this, and right now.

******

"Esmeralda, it's so wonderful to see you!" Frodo smiled warmly at his cousin as he came through the door, holding out both arms to hug her. She rushed to meet him and embraced him tightly.

"Oh, I'm so glad you finally made it. We've been watching for you all day. What kept you?" Esmeralda fussed over him, helping him off with his coat. Just then Eglantine came into the great hallway to greet him. Pervinca tagged along behind her.

"Wonderful that you're here, dear lad. We were looking for you hours ago."

"Hullo Frodo."

Frodo nodded to Pervinca as he continued to remove his outer clothes. "We were delayed in getting started, I'm afraid. Freddy was late in returning from Hobbiton before the trip. Ah, here he is!" Frodo turned as Fredegar Bolger entered in a great hurry.

"My, but it is nippy out there today." He bobbed his head in greeting to everyone present.

"You lads just go ahead and make yourselves at home. You might want to go have some rest before dinner. Your rooms are all made up for you." Esmeralda bustled about as she gestured her guests into the smial.

Frodo smiled in fond recall as he came around the corner and beheld the great Yule tree that stood in the huge front parlour. His ruminations were cut short as a noisy blur of enthusiasm erupted into the room and straight into his arms, in the form of his young cousin.

"Frodo! You're finally here! Wherever have you been? We were expecting you hours and hours ago and I've been ever so lonely waiting for you since Merry won't do anything with me because he's too busy with Estella all the time and I want you to go out for a walk with me and see the new puppies that are in the pony stable, and--"

"Pippin! Do come up for air, lad," Frodo laughed and hugged him again before holding him at arm's length and inspecting him up and down. "And you forgot to say hullo to Freddy."

Pippin turned sparkling eyes to Freddy Bolger and acknowledged him with a quick greeting before turning back to Frodo and starting to babble again. Frodo chuckled and pointed him towards the hallway leading to the bedrooms. "Come with us then, and we'll unpack. You can help while you tell me all about everything you've been up to since the Harvest party, yes?"

Pippin bobbed his head up and down and trotted along in front of them after first grabbing one of Frodo's bags. He kept up his breathless diatribe all the way to the room and plopped the luggage on the bed before turning back to Frodo and giving him another hug. "I'm so happy you've come at last," he told him, then tossed a shy glance in Freddy's direction. Freddy took the hint and excused himself to head for the kitchen. He mumbled something about finding a cup of tea and a bite of food to hold him until dinner.

Frodo sensed something important was on Pippin's mind and he paused in his task to give his young cousin his full attention. Motioning at the bed he sat and bid Pippin join him. "Is everything all right?" Frodo watched as Pippin climbed up on the bed next to him. Frodo was suddenly reminded of the morning they'd had their little talk after the Harvest celebration. He waited patiently for Pippin to respond.

Pippin fidgeted. At last he sighed, "Merry's spending every single moment with Estella. He doesn't even want to go see the puppies with me."

"I see. Well, perhaps he can make some special time for just the two of you at some point during our visit. We can ask him." Pippin looked up hopefully. "And I'll certainly be spending time with you. That's what I'm here for, after all. To visit with those who mean the most to me."

"I suppose the one that means the most to Merry now is Estella," Pippin said wistfully.

"Pippin, there are some things you're going to have to understand," Frodo told him gently. "Merry is getting older. So are you. He's a young hobbit entertaining what appears to be his first love and we have to respect that." Pippin hung his head and bit his lip. "Pip? I think you know what I'm talking about because you have some of those feelings yourself now. Don't you, my lad?" Pippin chose not to respond. "And it's not been easy, I know." Frodo placed an arm about his cousin's slight shoulders. Pippin shrugged. "What about those dreams you were having? Have there been any more?" Frodo observed a storm cloud forming on Pippin's face, but it passed quickly.

"I...uh. Yes, I've had more of the dreams." He raised his head. "Every now and then I'm frightened by them. And at times...well...odd things have occurred," his voice fell to a whisper but he got no further when there was a sharp rap on the door. They both looked around as Merry entered without waiting for an invitation.

"I heard you'd made it in finally," he greeted Frodo, "so I surmised that our little cousin was probably here when I couldn't find him elsewhere." He turned his attention to Pippin. "You and I need to have a talk," he said without further preamble.

"Why?" Pippin tilted his head and watched him with a subtle air of challenge.

Frodo could tell that Merry was trying to summon his patience. He sighed inwardly. Obviously something was going on between the two of them already. He wondered if he should say something before this went any further. Before he could speak Merry interrupted his thoughts.

"I think you know why."

"No I don't, Merry. Did I do something? You seem a wee bit upset."

Pippin's tone contained far too much feigned innocence for Merry's taste. He shook his head, clearly exasperated. "I want to talk to you about what happened in the parlour earlier."

"Oh, that." Pippin shrugged carelessly. "I already said I was sorry. I didn't mean to bother you and...her. We were simply looking for a place to play."

Merry's irritation grew stronger. He found his cousin's tone of voice annoying and Pippin's demeanor far too cheeky. Perhaps Merimac had been right after all? He took a deep breath and tried again. "Pip, I think you knew we were seeking some privacy. I think that perhaps you wanted to intrude on us. So you gathered all the youngsters you could find and came tearing into the room to stop us from being alone, then pretended you didn't know we were there." Merry crossed his arms as if daring Pippin to protest.

"No, I didn't mean to intrude. I told you that already. And I didn't know you two were snuggling on the couch, either! Why don't you believe me?" Pippin's expression was sullen.

Merry looked him up and down, growing more annoyed by the minute. His tone was chilly when he spoke again. "You used to think twice before you considered telling a lie, even a small one. What happened?"

Pippin scowled outright. "Are you accusing me of lying?"

"Yes, that's what I'm saying."

Frodo looked from one cousin to the other, feeling he should intervene before the situation worsened, but Pippin, in his intermittent moodiness, had already leaped off the bed and got in Merry's face. "I think you should apologise to me."

Merry raised an eyebrow. "For what? For seeing through your little games?"

"For being mean to me and accusing me of something I didn't do."

"Pippin, you can get in a great deal of a mess by telling falsehoods. I think you should come clean. You wanted to stop Estella and me from spending time alone."

Pippin's cheeks flushed and his eyes sparkled hotly. "Why would I mind about that? You already spend all your time with her. I don't see how I could stop you. Or want to, for that matter. Why should I be bothered?" Pippin took a defiant stance.

"I'm trying to help keep you from creating greater difficulty for yourself, Pip. All I want is for you to stop what you've been doing."

"I said I didn't do anything on purpose. You used to believe me. That is, before you started spending all your time with her. Now you're accusing me of lying?"

"Your actions are going to get you into a real fix if you don't stop. Furthermore, I don't much care for the way you keep referring to Estella."

"Just what is that supposed to mean?"

"It means that if you do anything to disrupt my time with her again, or try to embarrass her in any way, I'm going to tell Uncle Paladin about all the tomfoolery you've been up to. Or, perhaps I'll simply take care of it myself!"

Pippin's eyes darkened. "Is that a threat of some sort?"

"Oh no," Merry shook his head, his own expression matching his cousin's, "it's a promise."

"All right you two - I've heard quite enough." Frodo stepped between them and maneuvered the angry cousins apart. He held up a hand to stop the flow of words from both directions. "Stop acting younger than either one of you are, and right this moment!" They glared at one another around Frodo, but neither of them made another move. "Merry, go have a seat." Frodo pointed to a chair. Merry grudgingly sat without further protest. "And you," Frodo gave Pippin a nudge in the opposite direction, "sit over there." Pippin scowled but did as he was told. Frodo looked from one of them to the other before speaking.

"I realize there is a problem that needs attention. But it will not be resolved by threats or fighting." He paced around the room, regarding them both thoughtfully as he circled. "The way to get to the heart of the matter is by talking. You are both smart enough to know that." Frodo paused by the sturdy chest of drawers and leaned against it while he pondered. He took in Pippin's pouting expression as the lad studied everything in the room, but refused to look at Merry. Frodo turned his attention to Merry, who sat stonily watching Pippin as the teen swept his gaze about the room, doing his best to avoid Merry's stare. Frodo sighed.

"Who wants to begin?" Frodo prompted. Neither of them spoke. Frodo rolled his eyes. "All right. I'll begin, then. Merry, you're upset because you want to spend some time with your lass alone and you were interrupted. Isn't that right?" Merry nodded, still eyeing Pippin who continued gazing about the room, ignoring them both. "Pippin?" Frodo waited patiently until Pippin turned his eyes to him. "You're out of sorts because you also want to spend time with Merry alone. Yes?" Pippin snorted rudely and looked away. Frodo frowned. "Peregrin Took! You will look at me, and you will listen politely to what I have to say."

Pippin startled at his eldest cousin's stern directive and looked up guiltily. "That's better." Frodo's voice softened to its normal tone. "Answer my question, Pip." Pippin sighed almost imperceptibly and nodded, then allowed his gaze to drift to his feet, swinging them back and forth in obvious dismay.

"All right. Then I propose you come to an understanding before we leave this room. If you don't resolve this, you're likely going to spoil this visit for all of us. Do you really want to do that?" Frodo smiled as two heads of curly hair, one tousled, and one neatly groomed, shook from side to side. He took a seat on the bed. "You know you both care for one another very much. Remember that words can be very hurtful and once said, you cannot take them back. Now, don't you both have something to say to each other?"

Merry watched his youngest cousin struggle to speak. Taking pity on the little rascal, he smiled. "Pip, listen. I'm sorry about everything. I know you want to spend time together and so do I." Pippin looked up in surprise. "We can make time to do some things with just us lads, all right?"

Pippin swallowed hard. "You mean, with...without her--I mean, without Estella?"

Merry nodded. "Sure. I planned on doing that anyway. I just never got the chance to tell you." Merry grinned as he watched Pippin's eyes brighten. "But, I also plan on spending some time with Estella, and you have to respect that and leave us be when we want to go off by ourselves. All right?" Pippin nodded, albeit reluctantly. "No tricks, and no attempts on your part to embarrass Estella. Agreed?"

"But what if she tries to embarrass me?"

"She would never do that, Pip. Trust me."

Pippin wasn't certain he believed that but he was glad to be putting this matter to rest, at least for now. "Do you want to go see the new puppies with me?" he asked eagerly, already getting to his feet.

His enthusiasm was infectious and Merry and Frodo both grinned. "Well, I've already seen them, but that's all right. I know Frodo hasn't. Let's go do that! But let me tell Estella where I'm going first in case she's looking for me. Then I'll meet you both in the kitchen. All right?"

Pippin nodded. He felt the familiar sting of resentment tugging at his heart but fought not to show it. He lingered behind while Merry started out the door. Frodo waited, holding the door open for him.

"Thank you, Frodo." Pippin looked up into his beloved cousin's eyes and smiled somewhat half-heartedly.

Frodo knelt and pulled him into a hug. "It will all work out fine, Pip. You'll see. But you have to do your part too."

"I know," Pippin muttered and started to walk out the door. He stopped and turned. "I'd like to talk with you some more about, you know, the dreams. Would that be all right?"

"Of course. I want to talk about it too."

Pippin nodded and followed him out of the room.

******

"However did you manage that, Frodo?" Eglantine chuckled as she set a cup of tea before him and settled into a chair in the smial's huge kitchen. She was still chuckling as she lifted her own cup and blew on the hot liquid. Frodo had been telling her about his discussion with Pippin and Merry, and how he'd helped them resolve their dispute over Estella.

"Oh, once I got them calmed down and talking they took it from there on their own. Neither of them really wants to be at odds."

"I know, but my son has been extremely moody of late and it doesn't seem to take much to set him off. Although it does take a great deal to quiet him down." Eglantine sipped her tea and smiled at Frodo through the hot steam that rose from her cup. "I appreciate your having a talk with them. Hopefully the situation will clear up now and they can make their amends. We certainly got off to a rather thunderous beginning almost the moment we arrived. He had his hopes set on spending all his time with Merry, although Pad and I both tried to remind him that his cousin would also want to have time for his special lass, too."

Frodo nodded. "It isn't a simple matter, really. Everything is beginning to change around him and I think Pippin feels left behind."

"Aye," Eglantine sighed. "Being the youngest has never been easy for him. He wants to be able to do what the older lads are doing." She shook her head. "He seems to have very little patience these days. He wants everything to fall into place the moment he thinks it should. And when things don't go his way...well, let's just say that although my son has never been the patient type to begin with, he's even more intolerant since he's entered that particularly complicated time in every lad's life."

Frodo grinned openly. "Perhaps he'll set his eye upon a lass himself while we're here. That would certainly give him something else to think about."

"Hmm, and 'twould certainly give me something else to think about as well! He can let his eyes wander but he'd best be keeping his hands to himself. He's far too young to be thinking overly much about lasses."

"Don't you think you're fooling yourself, Tina? He's noticing them, all right. As much as he tries to pretend he doesn't."

"Yes, you young scamp, I realize he's noticing them!" Eglantine laughed aloud. Setting her teacup down she reached over and patted Frodo's hand affectionately. "But he needs to slow down and take things a step at a time. Oh my, Pad had a long talk with him right after the Harvest celebration and I wasn't sure which one of them was more embarrassed! He told me afterward that Pippin was fair mortified and didn't ask him many questions."

"So Pad tried to answer them anyway, I imagine."

Eglantine bobbed her head. "Oh yes. And the more he got into the discussion the harder it got for both of them, he said. Ah, my poor lads!"
"Now, who are you talking about, Tina?" Esmeralda joined them, sliding into a chair and reaching for the teapot.
"Oh, our sons and your brother, of course, Esmie. And some of the things that have been going on lately, if you know what I mean!"

"Yes, I certainly do know what you mean. That little episode in the parlour didn't escape the notice of many, I'm afraid." Emeralda reached for the sugar and stirred a spoonful into her tea thoughtfully. "Ah, poor Pip! Such a difficult age for a lad. I remember when we went through it with Merry."

"Now Merry's entering another stage that must be nearly as difficult in its own way," Eglantine added.

"Aye, but at least he's past that terribly awkward phase that our wee Pippin is just starting on. Oh my, I don't envy you and Pad at the moment."

"Well, we've been through something similar with our lasses, but..."

"It's another matter entirely with a lad," Esmie finished for her. Eglantine smiled a little.

"He'll survive it, Tina," Frodo consoled. "You're simply going to be in for an interesting time."

Eglantine chuckled. "Raising Peregrin has always been interesting. Why should this be any different?"

******

The next few days passed with little event. Pippin did his best to keep his promise, but he found it increasingly difficult. The more he watched Merry with Estella, the more resentment he felt building up inside. It was now at the point where his stomach literally churned whenever he was with them together for long. He lay in bed ruminating over things. He didn't want to hurt Merry, but he found it ever so hard to accept the many changes that were taking place. Today had been the worst of all because he'd come upon them accidentally again, kissing and touching in the same way as the other time he had spied them months ago.

His cheeks grew warm with the memory and a tingle of pleasure shivered through his body. Their interaction on this occasion had amounted to a great deal more than he'd ever seen before. His feelings of arousal at the sight had delighted and shamed him simultaneously. His confusion made him feel like his mind was being twisted inside someone's fist. Pippin sighed and punched his pillow a few times in annoyance, then rolled over, attempting to turn off the persistent thoughts.

The harder he tried to go to sleep, the more his eyes stayed open. He sat up at last with a grunt of antipathy and huddled on the bed, knees drawn up to his chin, while he stared bleary-eyed into the darkness. The recurring dream he'd had the night before returned unexpectedly to haunt him, and he shivered. He could almost hear the crying child and see the water while fully awake. What did it mean? The dream changed only slightly each time he had it, but grew more intense with each episode. It felt like someone was trying to tell him to do something. Perhaps it was something important. He found it highly disturbing that he couldn't figure out what it was.

He got up and paced the floor, finally lighting a candle and retrieving his blanket from the foot of the bed. He padded out into the hallway and headed towards the library. Perhaps he could read himself to sleep.

******

"Oh my! Doesn't he look sweet?" Pimpernel exclaimed as they passed the door to the library. She stopped and smiled at Pippin fondly. He was curled up in a big chair, a book turned upside down on his chest, head spilling over onto his arm. His blanket trailed the floor next to the chair. He snored quietly.

"Hmph. He only looks that way when he's asleep. Appearances certainly are deceiving, aren't they?" Pervinca squinted at him. "And I think I see a trail of drool running down his arm. How delightful."

"Oh, Vinca, be nice to your little brother," Pimpernel admonished her sister. "He's having enough difficulty these days."

"You mean he is a difficulty," Pervinca chortled at her own jest and Pimpernel frowned at her. "But Nell, it's just so amusing to watch him noticing the lasses when he thinks no one is looking. I'm finding it difficult to imagine Pippin holding hands with one." She winked at her sister. "Or kissing her!"

"Pervinca Took! You were that age yourself not so long ago. It's a tough enough time without being made sport of by one's own family."

"I was only teasing. You needn't act so high and mighty about it."

"Nevertheless, stop giving him such a hard time." She held a finger to her lips when Pippin stirred. "Come, let's not wake him." Pimpernel steered her sister towards the kitchen.

Pippin allowed one eye to pop open as soon as he sensed they had gone. He sat up, scowling. So Vinca thought he was amusing, did she? "I'll show her." Pippin stumbled to his feet dropping the blanket to the floor. The book followed. He eyed both items darkly and then turned his back. Why should he pick them up? He stretched and yawned, feeling cross as a bear. The day had already got off to a bad start as far as he was concerned. And lasses were certainly a great deal more trouble than they were worth. He didn't know why he paid them any mind at all. Grumbling to himself, Pippin headed for the kitchen.

******

He couldn't help grinning with anticipation. Itching powder was a wonderful thing. Sancho Proudfoot had shown him how to make a special kind and he was about to put it to good use. Having spent another day witnessing the unabashed handholding and whispered endearments, Pippin was almost ready to shriek. Last night at supper had been the last straw. Auntie Esmie had spoken to them three times before she was able to get their attention. Pippin had smiled in satisfaction when Uncle Saradoc favoured Merry with a stern look of warning. He had noticed Merry and Estella had both paid a great deal more mind to the meal and the rest of the family after that, and he couldn't stop himself from smirking in their direction.

Merry had promised they would spend some time together after their chat with Frodo the other day. But he hadn't spent more than a few extra minutes with him last night before taking after Estella once more. Pippin was growing tremendously annoyed. He wondered if Merry would remember that he had promised to play chess with him later this morning.

He observed them now, over first breakfast, as they shared their secrets, seemingly oblivious to everyone else. It was just plain rude, and Pippin wondered why Uncle Saradoc didn't say something to them again. But instead, Da cleared his throat meaningfully and Pippin looked up in alarm. Paladin admonished him firmly for staring at Merry and Estella. Pippin quelled his scowl and fidgeted uncomfortably in his state of disgrace as all eyes turned his way. He stared at his plate and started plotting exactly what he was going to do with the itching powder.

******

Now he pressed himself into an alcove near the corridor where the huge smials guest rooms were located, awaiting his opportunity. As had become their habit, Merry and Estella were preparing to go for a morning stroll. No doubt so they could kiss and do whatever else it was they did when alone. Pippin snorted softly in disdain as he thought about it. He waited, hidden from sight, while Estella retrieved her cloak and gloves from her room. After they left and the hall had grown quiet and deserted, Pippin slipped inside and closed the door. He drew the little bag of finely cut up hair from his pocket and considered it thoughtfully. Well, he had needed a haircut. Hopefully, no one would notice that his curls were slightly ragged on one side. He hadn't dared to trim any more to even it up after he'd cut too much from one spot.

Pippin opened the wardrobe and searched for just the right item. What an utterly contemptuous prank he was about to play. He felt a twinge of guilt but dismissed it with a firm mental push. Estella deserved this for acting so haughty and for occupying all of Merry's time! A little voice nudged at him and Pippin looked around, startled at first. He felt like he had as a young lad when he'd carried his knitted piglet about. Pippin was almost certain he'd heard Tulip scolding him the way she used to. He chuckled nervously at the thought, then darted his eyes around just to make certain he was alone. He reached up and was about to select a garment in which to deposit the itchy bits of hair when he heard voices.

"Oh no!" He scrambled up inside the wardrobe and pulled the door almost closed. Peering out of the crack he watched as young Goldenrod and Gingerblossom Took scooted into the room, giggling, and began to nose around. Pippin's heart pounded. What if they looked in the wardrobe? Oh, he would be well and truly done for! But wait. Pippin thought fast. They were only wee lasses. He would probably be able to banter his way out of trouble and then offer them something to keep quiet.

What he hadn't counted on was the length of time they spent exploring the room. They would find something of interest, and then giggle endlessly over it before searching for something else to amuse them. Pippin rolled his eyes disbelief as he huddled in the cramped space. After a time he shifted carefully to ease the cramp in his leg and stifled a groan. Just how much longer were they going to chitchat? If they didn't hurry up Estella was going to catch them all in her room. He shuddered as he imagined her reaction to finding him hiding in her closet amongst her underclothing. No, that was definitely not a place he wanted to allow his mind to wander. He would be dead, plain and simple. He recalled his sisters' reaction anytime they had found him poking about in their rooms and he wasn't even near their underclothes!

"Did you hear something?" Gingerblossom halted in her examination of Estella's hair bobs and ribbons. She raised her head and looked around.

"I didn't hear anything," her cousin reassured her and went back to inspecting the items on Estella's bedside stand.

"Hmm," Gingerblossom swept the room with her eyes once more before shrugging and rejoining Goldenrod in her poking and prying. "Oh look! How lovely."

They bent over a tortoiseshell barrette and Pippin took the chance to crack the door a bit more. Whenever were they going to leave? His sense of urgency grew. It wouldn't be much longer until Estella returned, he was certain of it. She was as methodical as a well-tuned clock. Pippin knew she'd be back to drop off her things before rejoining Merry. His fidgeting increased along with his growing sense of disaster. A sudden fierce cramp in his calf solved the problem of remaining hidden. "Oww!" Pippin clutched at his leg as he tried to stand in the impossibly small space. The pouch spilled out all the hair it contained, depositing it haphazardly into the soft clothes while he tumbled unceremoniously out of his hiding place. Two young hobbit lasses squealed in surprise as their older cousin landed at their feet with a painful thump.

Pippin grasped his aching leg as he rolled on the floor and articulated a few curses for good measure. Both lasses gasped in shock. Goldenrod's eyes grew big and Gingerblossom threw a hand up to her mouth. Pippin finally managed to get to his feet, attempting to relieve the pain in his calf muscle by massaging it.

"Pippin Took! Wherever did you come from?" The older of the two, Gingerblossom placed her hands on her hips and pursed her lips. She looked him up and down with an air of self-importance.

"He was inside the wardrobe! What were you doing in the wardrobe, Pippin?" Goldenrod tilted her head, watching him with a puzzled expression.

"Uhh..." Pippin could feel the flush already creeping up his neck and into his ears.

Goldenrod giggled in delight and pointed. "You were doing the same thing we were. You were snooping in Estella's things!"

"Umm..." Pippin was seldom without the words to express himself, but this time he was at a total loss. He stood and brushed his trousers off, then felt for the pouch in alarm. It was gone. He had to find it! Pippin turned to the closet and groaned aloud this time.

"What are you up to, Pippin?" Gingerblossom demanded.

Pippin drew a deep breath and released it abruptly. He had to act quickly or they would all be in very deep hot water. "We have to get out of here. Estella will be returning any moment." He took them each by the arm and pointed them towards the door. "Go! I'll be right behind you!" The lasses looked at each other, the reality of what their cousin was saying finally sinking in. They bolted from the room as one.

Pippin wasted no time hurrying to his former hiding place. He groaned. His wonderful itching powder had spilled all over Estella's delicate underclothes, including her knickers and slips. Retrieving the pouch he shoved it carelessly into his back pocket, then hastily tried to shake out the clothing and rid it of the offensive material. It proved to be a hopeless task and the tiny bits of his locks clung to the material with a vengeance.

Ah, sweet Eru's Ghost! All he'd meant to do was sprinkle it into one or two of her scarves and perhaps a dress or a nightgown, not all over her most private items of apparel. Pippin's face flamed as he touched the under things. He finished his task in a hurry, tossed the things back in the closet and tore out of the room. He headed down the long corridor as fast as his legs would carry him, hoping all the while he wouldn't run into anyone who would question him.

Now he would have to find his young cousins and make them agree to a pact of silence. After all, they each had everything to gain by keeping quiet, and all to lose if they didn't. Pippin kept trying, and failing, to push aside the imagined look of wrath on Estella's face if she discovered what he'd done. He failed to notice the pouch had spilled from his pocket and lay on the floor at the corner of the wardrobe.

******

"Lovely morning, isn't it?" Merry reached for Estella's hand and squeezed it.

"It certainly is. Although it's quite chilly again today." Merry obligingly put his arms around her under the pretense of keeping her warm. Estella laughed and returned his embrace. "Oh, I'm so looking forward to the Yule party! I have the most beautiful gown that my mother had made for me, especially for the party."

Merry smiled fondly and brushed a curl from her cheek. "And I cannot wait to see you wearing it. May I kiss you?"

"Why Meriadoc! You are such a polite hobbit." Estella grinned coyly and leaned into him, taking the lead as she placed a gentle kiss on his cheek and then his mouth.

Merry sighed contentedly as they turned at last to head back to Brandy Hall. "I should take you in out of the cold. I don't want you to catch a chill."

Estella shivered. "That sounds like a good idea. I'll just go to my room and get a shawl and then we can sit by the fire and warm up together." Merry frowned. "What is it?" she asked.

"I, umm...I did promise Pip I would play a game of chess with him this morning. I wouldn't want to go back on my word."

Estella sighed. "No, of course not. It's all right, Merry. Go and spend some time with the little scamp, then maybe he'll be less inclined to keep going on about not getting his due." They reached the smial and Merry held the door for her. "I'll go and get that shawl and my knitting. I'll be in the front parlour whenever you're through. All right?"

Merry smiled and pressed her hand to his cheek. "Thank you for being so understanding. I'll spend a couple of hours with him and then we can sit by the fire."

They parted and Estella headed to her room. Coming upon the door ajar she stopped, wondering if she had forgotten to close it. Estella entered the room and raised a brow in suspicion. All of her instincts were telling her something was amiss. She examined her surroundings, uncertain if everything was as she'd left it. She turned about in a circle, frowning.

"Have you seen Pippin?" The maid shook her head as she hurried to her next chore. Merry tugged at his lip as he thought. He'd asked the question several times by now but no one was able to tell him where his cousin had disappeared. Puzzled, Merry started off towards the huge Mathom rooms, a favourite place for Pippin to spend time poking around.

Merry searched for over an hour but Pippin was nowhere to be found. Nobody remembered seeing him since that morning and Merry fretted that his cousin was off somewhere ruminating and working himself up into another bad mood. He must have forgotten that we planned to play chess. But, I was only a little late. Merry grinned to himself about not being able to tear himself away from Estella any sooner. The lass just seemed to hold a power over him...Merry shook himself back to the reality of his search. No. Pippin would not have forgot, not when it meant so much to him to spend time with Merry. Was the lad hiding somewhere, upset with him, thinking he'd forgotten? Merry paused and scratched his head. It would be so like his cousin to hide out just to make his point.

"All right then, Pip," Merry whispered, turning back the way he'd come. "I'll go spend my time with Estella while you make up your mind what you want to do."

******

The evening meal was well under way and everything seemed normal, at least on the surface. However, Eglantine's motherly instincts detected something that was not quite right. She couldn't place her finger on it exactly. Was it because Pippin was so subdued? The usually rambunctious, chattering lad sat quietly at his place at the table, speaking only when spoken to, not looking anyone in the eye for very long. Why, tonight he wouldn't even look at Merry and Estella. Was another of his moods coming on? Or perhaps he was feeling guilty about something? That would most likely not be a good thing.

She noted that Merry was not saying a great deal either. Had the lads experienced a falling out of some sort? Eglantine turned her attention to Estella and wrinkled her brow, puzzled by the lass's fidgeting. She appeared very uncomfortable for some reason. What was going on? The conversation continued around the table and Eglantine shifted her gaze to her husband. Paladin seemed oblivious to the problem and carried on a lively conversation with Saradoc and Merimac.

The meal ended at last and Estella was the first to excuse her self and hurry away. "Why, whatever is wrong with Estella?" her mother asked. "Merry, do you know?"

Merry shook his head and rose from his chair. "I'll go talk to her."

"No, perhaps I should," Rosamunda Bolger held up a hand to stop him.

Merry turned a puzzled look to his parents. "She was fine earlier! I have no idea what's going on."

Eglantine tossed a glance of suspicion at her son, noticing that he continued to sit very still. No, that wasn't like him at all. Something was definitely amiss. She was about to ask him if he knew any reason behind Estella's behavior when a chortle of amusement drifted to her sharp ears from the other table where the youngest children were seated. Teriadoc Brandybuck was laughing into his hand and she saw Pippin shoot a glare of contempt in his direction for no obvious reason. Next to Teriadoc, little Goldenrod whispered something to Gingerblossom. Well, Eglantine recognized a conspiracy easily enough. She sighed, wondering just what Pippin had been up to today. Best to find out just what was wrong with Estella first.

Pippin fumed inside while trying to appear calm. Those little...little...they told Teriadoc! That lad had difficulty keeping a secret about anything! Estella had obviously changed into some of the clothing he had spilled his itching powder into. Why hadn't his young cousins kept their mischief to themselves! Now it wouldn't be long until someone figured it out. Pippin had noticed his mother's wary attention to their behavior. It was only a matter of time. Och, Merry was going to kill him! That was, right after Estella killed him first. His parents weren't going to be any too pleased with him either. Neither would the Bolgers'. Pippin continued mentally named the list of people who would be upset with him and found that it was far too long. Perhaps he should just confess and end his agony. After all, the children were no doubt going to reveal everything soon with their unrestrained giggles. He needed to get them to stop.

Pippin turned full around and favoured them each with an individual scowl. Goldenrod stopped laughing immediately and Gingerblossom also quieted. Teriadoc however returned the scowl and then stuck his tongue out for good measure. Pippin gave him an even darker frown and mouthed a silent warning. He wasn't sure if Teriadoc could read his lips, but his expression conveyed his message loud and clear. The young hobbit ceased his giggling and bolted from the room. Pippin smiled with grim satisfaction. Little horror! Chuckling to himself he rose from the table and headed to his room.

Hopefully, Estella would not be able to figure out why her clothing itched so much. Pippin was afraid that was simply wishful thinking. It wouldn't take a great deal of thought to turn the under things inside out to find what had tormented her. But, would she know it was he that had put it there? Don't be daft, he told himself. Who else would she think of first, but him?

******

Eglantine knocked and entered Estella's room. "I came to see what was wrong, my dear." Rosamunda was seated on the bed while her daughter changed her clothing and looked up as Eglantine joined her. "It would seem that there is something very itchy inside of my daughter's underclothes."

Estella came back into the bedroom carrying her slip and knickers. She held them out for them to inspect, her face puzzled. "There are tiny little bits of something prickly inside my under things. I don't understand it." She went to the wardrobe to look over the rest of her belongings and stepped on the soft pouch that had gone unnoticed. She bent to retrieve it, her face darkening when she opened it.

Meanwhile, Eglantine was examining the garments. She frowned. Rosamunda lifted an eyebrow in question. "A bit of mischief I'm afraid I recognize," she said, sighing heavily just as Estella whirled with a shriek. The mothers startled. Estella held up the little pouch for them to see.

"Someone was in my room! Someone put this...this...stuff inside my clothes on purpose!"

"Let me see that." Eglantine reached for the pouch and opened it. The inside was still coated with bits of hair.

"I'm going to kill him!"

"Now dear, do calm down. We don't know yet what happened--"

"Mother, please! I think we all know who did it!"

Eglantine looked them in dismay. "This is Pippin's leather pouch. I recognise it. And, his hair."

"HIS HAIR?"

"Estella! Do lower your voice, child," Rosamunda admonished.

"I'm afraid this is a prank that I'm familiar with. It's minced up bits of hair to make a sort of itching powder." She stood, her face grim. "Excuse me please. I need to find my son."

Eglantine headed for Pippin's room and met him in the corridor before she was halfway there. Pippin winced when he saw what his mother held. "Mum, I was just coming to tell you what I did." He paused in front of her and lowered his eyes.

Eglantine tilted his chin upwards and looked into his glistening eyes. "Peregrin..." she shook her head and released him, then held out the pouch. His eyes grew big. He hadn't realised he'd lost it. "When Estella showed me what was inside her clothing I knew right away what you had done. 'Tis a prank you haven't played on anyone in quite some time." He nodded slowly, still staring at his feet. "Why would you do such a thing?"

"I was, I was angry Mum. At Estella and Merry both," he whispered.

"Yes, I see that. Come." Eglantine grasped him firmly by the arm and marched him off.

******

"I'm going to kill him!" Estella shrieked. "How dare he?" She paced around the parlour waving her hands in the air.

"No, I'm going to kill him first!" The scowl had not left Merry's face since they'd been told the entire story.

"Now, no one's going to be killing anybody, children," Eglantine's calm voice tried to soothe the irate youngsters. "Pippin is very sorry for what he did and he will be apologizing to you, Estella. Meanwhile, you need to calm down."

"But, he touched my underclothes! He went into my room and rummaged about in my private belongings!"

"Sit down, both of you," Eglantine gestured at the couch. They grudgingly obeyed.

Rosamunda reached out and patted her daughter's hand. "Now, my lass settle down please. Tina is right. And 'tis not the end of the world, after all. Young lads have a way of getting into mischief--"

"Particularly this young lad," Merry muttered.

"And the other children were into your things too. And that's being addressed by their own parents," Rosamunda assured them.

"That's right," Esmeralda agreed. "They're just wee ones, after all."

"Not Pippin! He's quite old enough to know better! Oh, how could he do such a thing?" Estella broke down in tears. With a stricken look Merry hurried to her side to comfort her. They both looked up in surprise when they heard Pippin's voice.

The teen had entered the room with his father, and stood contritely before them with his head bowed. Paladin nudged him forward. "Pippin has something to say to you both. Son?"

Looking as unhappy as anyone had ever seen him, Pippin made his apologies.

Merry frowned as he stood to face him. "I can't believe you would stoop so low, Pip. And you did it simply because you were unhappy with me? I don't know if I can ever forgive you."

"Merry," Frodo cautioned with a stern look.

"I said I was sorry!" Pippin released a loud sob and ran from the room. Paladin started to go after him. Frodo stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Pad, may I talk to him?"

Paladin nodded. Frodo hurried away as Paladin turned to his nephew and Estella. "I spoke with him at length. He really is full of remorse for what he did. And you've been told the full story. I hope you'll find it within yourselves to make amends with him."

Merry sighed heavily while Estella dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief.

"Leave it for the morrow, anyway. When you're ready you can go and talk to him in his room. That's where he'll be spending the next two days as punishment for his misbehavior."

******

Frodo found Pippin face down on his bed crying into his pillow. His heart ached for his cousin. He sat beside him on the edge of the bed and laid a gentle hand on Pippin's shoulder. "It will get better. I promise," he said very softly.

"What?" Pippin lifted a tear-streaked face to look at him and then plunged it back into the pillow. "No it won't."

"Yes. It will. I should know."

Pippin sat up and threw himself into his cousin's arms and sobbed uncontrollably for a time. Frodo held him and allowed the tears to do the work of cleansing his guilty conscience.

"Merry hates me! I know he does."

"No he doesn't, and I think you know that. It's just that right now he's very upset. Two of the people he cares for most in the whole world are hurting."

Pippin shook his head against Frodo's chest. "He'll never forgive me. Neither will Estella. I never meant for the prank to go so wrong! Honestly I didn't!"

"I know. And when Merry calms down he'll see that too. So will Estella. Why, someday we'll all look back on this and laugh." Frodo chuckled at Pippin's snort of disbelief and encircled his little cousin even tighter. "You'll see."

******

It was time for the Yule celebration to begin with the lighting of the Yule log in the great fireplace. The musicians were warming up and Pippin joined them carrying his fiddle. He was very pleased to be asked to join them. As he tuned up, his eyes flitted around the huge room and he spied Merry, who was helping with the fire. He smiled ever so slightly.

The last several days had certainly not been painless ones. The long talk he and Merry had was not easy either. But gradually they had been able to talk. Pippin smiled. Really talk. About many things they hadn't shared before. It had been a huge relief to clear up all the misunderstandings between them. Both of them had come to a new appreciation for what the other was going through. The talk with Estella had been even more difficult. Pippin recalled how ashamed he was for his irresponsible actions, and worse, having to face Estella and explain to her why he had done it. But strangely, in the end she had seemed to be aware of what had motivated his behavior. She even forgave him. Pippin had been stunned by the apology she'd offered him.

He watched his cousin fondly now as he and Estella joined everyone in the first dance of the evening. Pippin smiled as he played his fiddle, and wished Marigold was here. After playing for the first few dances he approached the refreshment table during a break and was surprised when Estella and Merry moved toward him. He tensed for the briefest of moments, then breathed easily when they both smiled at him.

"Peregrin, would you care to have the next dance with me?"

Pippin's eyes widened at Estella's invitation. He looked at Merry, who nodded his approval and patted him on the back. He followed her onto the dance floor, feeling all eyes upon them, and as awkward as a newborn lamb. As the music swelled he began to relax and the familiar steps of the slow dance came back to him easily. Many thoughts ran through his mind as they moved to the sound of the fiddles and other instruments. He hummed along to the music as he reminisced, remembering some of Frodo's words to him last night. His cousin's soft tone and the gentle, almost poetic cadence of his voice had comforted him greatly. Perhaps Frodo was right. There were definitely some complicated paths in front of him. But if he never took the chance to learn about something new, even though it was scary, how would he ever learn to cope? No, he was stronger than that. Of this he was certain.

The dreams were worrisome and he knew they meant something, although he didn't know what, as of yet. Becoming a teen was daunting at times, along with all those weird and wonderful new ways of thinking, and the odd sensations as he felt his body changing. He still experienced a twinge or two of regret whenever it was clear that Merry preferred to spend his time with Estella, as opposed to him. But at least now he better understood where all his strange, conflicting feelings about it were coming from. Frodo was right, yes. Life was indeed a dance of mystery and involved taking chances. It sometimes even left him breathless with wonder. He decided then and there he would never let his fear consume him like it had, not ever again. Frodo had assured him that when a particular door in his life closed, it simply meant that another had opened, and it was time for him to try something new. He would not sit out the joys, or the perils. Instead, he would dance.
























































 

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