West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive



A New Conspiracy
Remember back in Hobbiton, when Samwise, Peregrin and Meriadoc formed their conspiracy in order to prevent Frodo from leaving without them? Well...
Author: Princess of Geekland
Rating: NC-17


"Soon it will be too warm for a fire," Merry said lazily, his eyes on the dancing flames. They flickered on the marble walls of the fireplace, touching the white stone with orange, making it glow softly.

"Mmm," Pippin said as he leaned against Merry's shoulder on the long, velvet couch, absently rubbing the back of Merry's neck with one hand and squeezing one of Frodo's feet, which were in his lap, with the other.

"It still feels nice, for all 'twere nearly summer," Sam said from the far end of the low couch. "It seems like I'm never warm enough, in all this stone."

"That feels nice, too, Pip. Down a bit, please," Merry said, but as he spoke he leaned forward to catch Sam's eye, and raised his eyebrows in silent suggestion: Now?

Sam looked into those brown, serious eyes for a moment. He looked down at Frodo's face, which was easy to do, as his head was in Sam's lap. His eyes were closed, but Sam didn't think he was asleep. Sam, with a deep breath, pulled a pillow from under his own elbow, deftly sliding out from under the weight of Frodo's head and sliding the pillow in to take his place.

As he crossed the soft rug to sit in front of Merry, facing the fire and leaning back against Merry's knees, he said, "I could use a bit of that."

And Merry said, "Of course," but he was looking at Pippin and winking. Pippin's faced showed a curious mixture of amusement and worry.

Pip's head was turned away from Frodo, who might have wondered at his expression if he had seen it. He had been awake, or almost, when Sam got up. And now Merry watched as he raised his head from the pillow and looked at Sam with curiosity and a slight frown. Merry, his fingers gentle on Sam's neck, was thinking, Here we go.


Days before, Merry had watched Sam emerge from the room he shared with Frodo and pull the tall door closed, defeat written in the sag of his shoulders and the droop of his head. Sam crossed the hallway and came through the arch into the dining room to sit at the table with Merry and Pippin.

"He says he's going back to sleep, and he don't want no tea," Sam reported.

"No tea? Again? This won't do," Pippin said, looking up from buttering a slice of bread, and shaking his head.

"He's sleeping too much, isn't he, Sam," Merry murmured. Averse to prying, but sure he was right, he cleared his throat and went on, "And doing too little of some other things he should be. And I don't mean just skipping tea."

Sam went scarlet to the ears and quickly looked down at his plate.

Merry said no more then, but as they ate and drank, he was thinking, resting his gaze on the empty place they had set for Frodo. Since they all had been reunited on the Field of Cormallen, he had seen the new closeness between Frodo and Sam, and he was glad. Something good had happened between them in the middle of all the bad, all the fear and hurt and danger. He could only guess at how much they had needed each other, and it seemed a fine thing to Merry that they had formed such a bond. Sam was nearly as shy as he had always been, and Frodo was so quiet now, but when they were at home here together, just the four of them, Merry had observed the comfortable way they touched each other. Of course they shared a bed, but it seemed that even the simplest of Sam's touches eased Frodo. Merry had watched Frodo absentmindedly frown, and reach, and then smooth away the frown as soon as his fingers twined into Sam's. Frodo would scoot over until he could press his hip against Sam's while sitting at lunch, or in the evenings before the fire. Merry had seen the hugs, the soft kisses, and the private smiles. There was nothing furtive about it, in this house of high ceilings and cut-down furniture, this place that was their temporary gift from the King. Nothing furtive and everything quiet, loving, and full of comfort. Merry rejoiced. He knew -- who better? -- how true it was that love and healing went hand in hand.

But Merry could see what Sam saw, what put the sag in those strong shoulders. A  preoccupation in Frodo that was more than absentmindedness. Frodo had always had a dreamy streak, an ability to vanish inside his thoughts. But in the old days, he had always come out again, gayer than before and ready for fun. Merry was worried, because it seemed Frodo was spending more time somewhere inside himself than he was out in the world. Merry thought if Frodo were truly healing, he would not be like this. And Merry was certain that Sam thought the same.

Of course they had all felt despair, wounded as they were in both mind and body. Each had his various injuries, and Frodo the most of all of them. Merry well knew that, but he had hoped along with the other two hobbits that Frodo would come around. Glimpses of their old selves were slowly but surely returning. Except for Frodo.

Pippin's high spirits had returned first, as Merry thought anyone would have expected, and recently they had enjoyed a taste of the madcap silly Pippin that none of them had seen since leaving Hollin. The Pippin who would tangle daisies in your hair while you were sleeping, or tie your ankles together, just to see you fall down when he startled you awake, or who would start some game involving tea spoons and flying grapes and the open mouth of Merry, and Sam, too, if they could get him to play.

So that was wonderful, and Merry let Pippin pull him into peals of healing laughter time after time. The spring days were becoming wonderful, and their nights were wonderful, too. Especially since Pippin's cracked ribs had begun to knit! But his own joy in his and Pippin's recovery was overshadowed. The longer Merry watched Frodo, and watched Sam worry, the more worried he became himself.

That day the three of them went out on the terrace for a pipe after tea, as Frodo slept. It was another thoughtful command from the King -- the common flowering weed, dried in the sun and turned to a use new to Gondor, old to the Shire. They had made sure Gandalf and Gimli had a share, of course.

Merry watched Sam take a pull from his pipe, flop down on the stone bench overlooking Anduin's valley and distractedly pull his free hand through his hair. Merry suddenly, achingly, realized that Sam had picked up the gesture from Frodo.

Pippin was throwing bits of bread onto the flagstones and watching the starlings intimidate the larger pigeons. Soon a couple of huge gulls showed up, shrieking at their find, and drove all the land birds away.

Merry's procession of thoughts had produced a frown, and a sort of worried itch that pushed him toward Sam. He laid his pipe unlit on the wall and strode over to his friend, and without preamble bent down and hugged him.

"How can we help you, Sam?" Merry asked, his cheek against Sam's tousled hair. "What can we do for Frodo? Maybe you can tell us what you think. You would know what he needs now, even better than the healers, I'll warrant."

Sam sighed and hugged Merry back, letting his head rest on Merry's shoulder. Not so much proper distance any more between Samwise the gardener and Meriadoc the future Master of Buckland. Not now. Keeping his arm around Sam, Merry sat down beside him, full of both relief and concern.

"I wish I knew what to think. He is better -- some. I can see it. He's not having near so many nightmares. In fact, he's sleeping more than I would like to see, but mayhap he needs it." Sam shook his head. "He's awful far inside himself these days, even for a Baggins," he said, turning to Merry with a passing gleam of his old wry humor. "The spider bite pains him, and his poor hand. But the worse pain is inside somewhere." Sam sighed and looked down, rested his hand on Merry's knee as if reluctant to break away from Merry's friendly touch.

"He needs shaking up somehow," Pippin declared, turning to them and brushing the crumbs off his hands. "I've teased him and teased him and all I get is that smile. You know -- the `Oh, Pip, you're such a child' smile."

Merry chuckled, then shook his head, trying and failing once again to match that echo of home with his new picture of Pippin the warrior, Knight of the White Tower, honored rescuer of Prince Faramir the Steward of Gondor.

But despite the chuckle, Merry's heart was wrung by the pain in Sam's eyes, how he had been still for a moment when Merry hugged him, then had clung to him. Merry resolved that no longer would he respectfully watch and wait. He decided that polite hesitance about what Sam and Frodo wanted or needed from him and Pippin had been misguided. His reserve had been brought on partly by the weeks they had spent apart, and partly by the soul-searing impact of what Frodo had had to do. Merry's high spirits and affectionate nature had never faced what Frodo had faced. Merry's own battles with the Nazgul and the orcs had left scars, and he was changed in ways he was sure it would take years for him to understand, but what had happened to Frodo was in a different class altogether. The Ringbearer had returned to them, and though his long burden was destroyed, he was not quite whole and not quite himself any more, and Merry didn't know what to make of him. They were all so changed, and Merry's own glimpse of that terrible Shadow sometimes left him speechless with fear for Frodo, and for Sam, who had had to bear it all at Frodo's side.

As if that weren't enough, Merry realized he had not wanted to intrude once he had figured out how things stood now between Sam and his cousin. But he and Pippin had hung back too far. His eyes met Pippin's and it was as if they read each others' minds. Pippin sat down on the other side of Sam and reached for him, and Sam actually buried his face in Pippin's neck, his shoulders shaking for long moments until he sat up, brushed his sleeve across his eyes and cleared his throat.

"Funny how it can stab you like that, sudden like. Thank you, you two."

One hand still on Merry's knee, Sam rested his other hand on his own knee, holding his pipe, and drew a shaky breath. Pippin stood up again and kicked at the crumbs the gulls had left on the flagstones. The breeze was cool, the sun high and warm, dropping toward the west. There wasn't a cloud in the sky.

Sam said, "I know he's on the mend, in some ways." He shook his head and relit his pipe.

Pippin said without turning, "Maybe we've been too kind to him, too quiet. Maybe we need to get his attention somehow and pull him back. To us."

Merry found himself raising a hand to Sam's temple, smoothing a flyaway curl behind his ear. Sam looked at him, puzzled. Merry had never offered a gesture like that before.

Merry said, "I've watched you coax him and feed him and tend to him and love him. And he needs that. He needs you."

Sam blushed, but he answered Merry squarely. "I don't know what else to do. I'm fair worried about him. He's just so ... flat. " His eyes strayed to the sky, following the gulls as they wheeled and receded toward the line of the river. He seemed to be thinking out loud. "No snap to him. No spark. I almost wish to see him order me about, or get angry. And in the nights, well, there's hardly any spark, neither, and less than there was before we came back to this City of Men. Out in the Field, when it was still camping like, but in all that green, it was better for him." He seemed to realize he was speaking aloud, and reddened again as he looked down.

Merry smiled. "It's all right, Sam. You're right to be worried about him, and about that. I'm not telling any secrets if I say that's a side of Frodo that we all would wish to see healed and well again. What could be more wonderful than that, after all you have been through together?"

Sam's gaze was fixed on his toes, but he smiled.

Pippin had been listening intently and now he came and stood with a hand in Merry's hair, twisting a curl round his finger.

"Maybe that's just where we could help."

Sam looked up in surprise.

Merry admonished gently, "You're talking out of school, Pip."

"No, Merry, I don't believe I am." Pippin was looking steadily at Sam.

Merry folded his arms and leaned back. Pippin had that new tone in his voice, that steadiness that Merry had heard for the first time as he swam up out of darkness in the Houses of Healing, not so long ago and not so far from here. Merry found himself reluctant to contradict the new Pippin who could take that tone.

Pippin went on, "Perhaps desperate times call for desperate measures, Sam," but he was smiling, his hand reaching to twirl through Merry's curls again. "Maybe it's time for another conspiracy. We could all get his attention. Shake him up, in a good way. I'm afraid he's slipping away. In fact, I'm terrified of it. Maybe it will take all of us to hold him here."

"What are you proposing, sir?"

"Sam, if we do what I'm thinking, you'll never be able to call me 'sir' again."

Sam smiled, but Merry chuckled in glee. And what pure relief it was to laugh.

"Peregrin Took, you're going to offend our dear Samwise and I won't have it. Not for anything."

"I think I'm that far beyond offending at this point, Mr. Merry," Sam said, shaking his head ruefully.

Encouraged, Pippin said, his eyes dancing, "Maybe you, just you with him, maybe it's too familiar. Too easy. Now, I'm not wanting to push in -- oh, Merry, shut up -- where I'm not wanted, but -- Merry, you stop that snickering!"

Merry laughed until he had to wipe his eyes, leaning weakly on Sam's shoulder. Sam was blushing, but he was listening. He cleared his throat again.

"Now, I don't know that Frodo would think that was such a good idea. This could set him crosswise with us as quick as anything."

Merry got up, still smiling, paced a step or two away and turned back to face Sam. Pippin had them in the soup now, all right, but the more he thought about it the more he thought Pippin might be right.

"Sam. The only reason Pippin even suggested it is that it's happened before. Years ago."

"And Frodo liked it fine," Pippin put in.

"The three of you?"

"Desperate measures, indeed," Merry continued. "Of course, we'd all had a bit to drink, and things like that seemed a lot less crazy at Brandy Hall than they ever did at Bag End."

Sam was shaking his head, but he was grinning now.

"You Brandybucks. I might have known."

"All right, then," Pippin said eagerly. "Here's what we'll do."


Over the next few days, Pippin did his best to create more hilarity than he had dared until then involving the Ringbearer. He played an escalating series of practical jokes on Frodo and the silently suffering Sam. Frodo did seem amused, but did not offer to retaliate, as he would have been so quick to do, once upon a time. Merry was never sure where Pippin had gotten the frogs, but he suspected Bergil as a co-conspirator.

Then one bright day, they ventured out of the City and down the road to the shores of the Great River, with Legolas and Gimli -- seeing some green again, as Sam said he wanted when he suggested it at breakfast. It was their longest ramble yet in Minas Tirith. That evening, Sam cooked supper, expressing a wish to be back in a kitchen again and sending the servants away early.

And here he was now, at Merry's feet, Merry's careful fingers exploring the back of his neck, and Merry was glimmering in amazement. He was thinking that he had never once considered getting this close to Sam, for all the years he had known him. And the more he had learned, the more he was in awe of the unselfishness of this quiet hobbit, the lengths he would go and had gone for Frodo, how much of himself he was still prepared to give. He and Pippin had yet to hear the full tale of what had happened in Mordor; both Sam and Frodo falling silent and shaking their heads at Merry's careful questions. But it was clear to Merry that Sam's fate had called him to deeds far beyond the imagining of a Shire gardener's son. Merry knew now that he had underestimated Sam all along. He alternately squeezed and caressed the smooth skin, moving aside the rumpled golden curls, thinking of Frodo's hands in this same spot. Merry recalled the expression on Sam's face -- the outright interest, calculation, and shyness as Pippin had outlined his plan. Merry chuckled to himself as he felt Sam's neck and shoulders soften under his touch, and then a thrill ran through him, wondering what would happen next. If it worked, if they could somehow touch Frodo and bring him back to them, offering their bodies and their love for him in this way, it would be worth any amount of risk.

Sam was patting his own thigh in invitation now, and Merry glimpsed, out of the corner of his eye, Frodo slowly getting up, looking curious and puzzled, and coming over. Good. Curious is good. 

Frodo knelt and Sam was about to pull him close, but Frodo paused to look up at Merry, who met his eyes frankly. Merry took a deep breath and let everything he was feeling show: His longing, his worry, his love. Frodo still wore that slight frown. Merry kept his hands moving on Sam's shoulders as Sam gently drew Frodo into his lap, settling him between his knees so that he could reach Frodo's neck and shoulders as Merry had touched his.

Pippin had gone very still, watching Frodo settle down with Sam, and as soon as he saw Sam's hands on Frodo's shoulders, he got up, too. He fitted a knee under the arch of Sam's leg and reached over to resume squeezing and stroking Frodo's feet. When he saw that Frodo was going to let him, he looked up at Merry and winked.

In a bit, his hands still busy on the back of Frodo's neck, Sam began planting kisses there, too. He reached around to Frodo's top button, his lips caressing just under Frodo's ear.

Frodo straightened, easing away from his hands, and said quietly, "I'm sleepy, Sam. I think I'll go to bed."

Then Pippin leaned forward and softly kissed him on the mouth. Merry could see Frodo's back stiffen. Sam's hands waited on Frodo's shoulders.

Pippin said, yearning plain in his voice, "Not yet, Frodo."

There was a pause. Frodo gathered his feet under him and stood up with an echo of his old poise and grace. The others stood with him and he swept his gaze across each of their faces.

"You planned this, didn't you?" he demanded, eyes narrowing.

Sam and Pippin both put out a hand to touch him.

"Aye, we did," Pippin said, "and it's a good idea."

"I'm grateful. But I can't let you do this."

"And why not?" Sam asked quietly.

Frodo stared at him. "I can't. I don't deserve this, and besides that, I'm just not in the mood."

He glanced at Merry's face, then Pippin's.

Merry said, "You know we love you, Frodo. This is for us as much as it is for you."

"How you talked Sam into it I'll never guess," Frodo said, and began to turn away.

Merry stepped forward and hugged him. "Frodo. Please." The others waited, the tension rising. He felt Frodo sigh and put his arms around him.

"Thank you, Merry. But I can't. I'm going to bed." He pulled away, but Merry swiftly closed his hand around Frodo's wrist, risking the glare of those blue eyes.

He tried to joke. "Are we going to have to tie you up, love?"

Like lightning, Merry saw a flash of surprise and what he swore was an instant of awakening lust, quickly veiled by an expression of pained regret. Frodo started to pull his arm away and when Sam put a hand on Merry's chest, Merry let Frodo go.

Such a delicate balance, Merry thought.  But this wasn't a mistake.

Sam patted Merry's chest gently, and then followed Frodo into their bedroom. The door closed behind them.

Frodo stretched out on his back on top of the covers, his hands folded under his head, looking at the shadows on the ceiling. He was silent as Sam lit the lamps and gathered a basin and cloths and a jar of balm that Aragorn had sent home with them.

Frodo did not resist as Sam gently pulled his right hand from under his head and first washed it, then began working the oily, thick balm into the red and peeling new skin. He had done this every night since the wound had closed. The balm had kingsfoil in it, Sam was sure, and some unfamiliar aromatic herb that sent a sharp, but not unpleasant, scent through the room. It melted as the heat of Frodo's hand warmed it. He looked up to see Frodo watching him.

"What has gotten into the three of you?"

Sam smiled. "We make right good conspirators, as you may recall." Frodo smiled, too, and Sam tried to hide the wash of relief he felt.

"I never dreamed that you would want that, Sam. All of us? You surprise me."

"Well, it's about time something surprised you, now, isn't it? We mostly wanted to get your attention, and at least we've done that."

"It was beginning to feel quite overwhelming, having all of your attention."

"I imagine so." Sam smiled.

"It's more than I wanted, more than I need. More than I deserve, if you want to know the truth."

"What's deserving got to do with it? You know we all love you, in our way. They told me you had lain with them before."

Sam's heart was pounding, but he kept his tone matter of fact as he put away the basin and the balm and returned to the bed with Frodo's nightshirt over his arm. Frodo was blushing.

"They told you about that?"


"Well, it was a long time ago and we were all quite drunk."

Sam started to undo Frodo's buttons, but Frodo pushed his hands away and took his nightshirt, sitting up straight on their bed to undress and change.

Sam looked at him for a long moment, but Frodo was gazing resolutely down at his own buttons. Sam stood up and moved away, pulling off his own clothes.

"What did they tell you?" Frodo wouldn't meet Sam's eyes.

"Nothing; only that it happened at Brandy Hall, years ago." Sam gathered up their discarded clothes and began to fold them away. "And how was it?"


"You can tell me, you know."

Frodo's head emerged from his nightshirt. His gaze rested on Sam's face, then slid away. He shoved himself under the covers and turned his back.

"I can't remember."

Sam didn't know what was worse -- learning that Frodo wouldn't tell him, or thinking that statement might be simply the plain truth.

The lamps out, Sam climbed into bed. After a few moments, Frodo pulled him close.

"Another conspiracy," Sam heard him mutter, and soon he could tell by his breathing that Frodo was asleep.


Pippin had decided to flirt. Merry had decided to snuggle up to Sam. And they were all secretly delighted, the next day, to see the new frown on Frodo's face. As Sam had said, even anger would be an improvement on that flat, distant look that was becoming his habitual expression.

At Pippin's insistence, Frodo brought his quills and paper out to the terrace and they spent the afternoon talking about Captain Faramir and Lady Eowyn. With only a little prompting, Merry told in more detail than he had yet shared how he had accepted her offer to ride secretly with the Rohirrim. He faltered a bit at Theoden's death, and the Lord of the Nazgul, but Pippin put a hand on his arm and reminded him that this was to be Eowyn's love story. So Merry skipped ahead with relief, and talked about how Faramir had wanted to know everything Merry could tell him about the White Lady, while they were all in the Houses of Healing, and how the the two Big People were so happy even while it seemed they were all waiting together for the End. Then Pippin took up the tale and described his first meeting with the Prince, how brave he was and how his men loved him, and how, wounded as he was, he had ridden out to command the rearguard just before the siege of the City.

When Frodo said he had written all he could, and Merry said he could hear Sam's stomach growling, they declared an end to the day's storytelling.

"The book shan't be all about battles and armies and doom. It's got to have a bit of romance in it," said Pippin to Frodo, who was smiling as he collected his sheets of parchment and the small stones he had weighted them with because of the breeze.

"Ah, romance," Merry said, exaggeratedly rolling the "r", and he swooped down on Sam, who had been sitting quietly nearby, smoking and listening. Her threw his arms around Sam's neck and planted a kiss on his mouth, and Sam laughed into it, pushed him back against the rampart and kissed him back, hard, three or four times, before pulling him up and sending him off with another push and a spank.

Merry hoped Frodo had noticed. Their invitation was still hanging there, out in the open, and Merry wanted Frodo to notice, wanted him to think and to become annoyed! All that day he had watched Frodo carefully, and he was sure that their proposal had done some good already. He believed that Frodo was a little more awake -- a little more dazzling "present" in those deep eyes, Merry thought, remembering Treebeard.  And, Merry had not forgotten the flash of lust in Frodo's eyes the night before. They went in for tea.

They had all been invited to dine that night with the members of the Third Company, Beregond's old troop, as they bade him farewell. He was leaving them to take up his service with Faramir and organize the men who would serve the prince in Ithilien.

After a long and merry meal and many toasts, the four hobbits wound their way from the hall in the Citadel back to their house in the Sixth Circle. The night was fair and sparkling with stars, and the hobbits sparkled, too, for to honor Pippin's friend they were all arrayed again in mail and their finest clothes -- Sam's gilded shirt of rings that Gandalf had given him at the Field of Cormallen, Frodo in the old mithril shirt of Bilbo's, Merry in the white and green corslet of Rohan and Pippin matching his comrades in the Guard, almost invisible in the night in the sable armor of the Tower.

Pippin was walking arm in arm with Frodo, with Merry and Sam behind them. The stars had put them all in mind of Rivendell and Bilbo and Elves, and Pippin was stubbornly trying to get right, in Sindarin, one verse of the hymn to Elbereth. Merry was surprised to hear Sam humming along with Frodo, keeping up with the tune where Pippin stumbled. They turned into the lane that led to their house, and then, following Pippin, pushed through the iron gate to their terrace instead of going indoors.

Sam was still humming, but Pippin had abandoned the song and was pointing up, asking Frodo the Elves' names for the stars and the quarters of the moon. Merry chuckled to himself at Pippin's relentlessness, but noted Frodo was patiently going along with him.

Sam fell silent, watching Frodo point upward and explain something to Pippin, their faces close together, and Merry looked at him. He was handsome in his mailshirt and the luxurious clothes, looking as fine as Merry had ever seen him. Whether it was the Anfalas wine or the conspiracy prompting him, Merry didn't stop to think, but he stepped closer, embraced Sam and kissed him. It was much less playful, much more tender, than the silly kiss of the afternoon, and Sam smiled and sweetly kissed him back, standing under the stars, so far from home.

Merry was thinking of nothing but Sam's gentle humming, and tasting the wine on Sam's lips, when Sam nudged him, and he pulled back and opened his eyes to see Sam looking intently over Merry's shoulder. Sam gave him a warning squeeze and kissed him again, turning him a bit so that Merry could more conveniently see what he saw.

A few feet away, standing near the bench where they had lain their cloaks, Pippin, eyes closed, was carefully and intently kissing the palm of Frodo's marred right hand, holding it up in both of his, kissing across it, kissing each finger, then turning it and continuing across the back.

Frodo was perfectly still, letting him do it, his eyes open, looking at Pippin's face, his lips slightly parted. As Pippin turned Frodo's hand again, the slight movement made a sudden glitter as the moonlight was caught and thrown in all directions by the mithril shirt's crystal belt. And Pippin started over, moving across Frodo's wounded hand again, but nipping now, and adding the touch of his tongue.

Frodo's other hand crept up to lie against Pippin's neck as he let his cousin caress him, and Merry's heart leaped. Sam was motionless in his arms. Perhaps Frodo felt their gaze, because he didn't move or take his hand away, but he turned his head and his eyes met Merry's for a long moment. Merry caught his breath. The night sky could not be deeper than those eyes.

And with Frodo watching, Merry turned back to Sam and kissed him with passion, with longing, wanting Frodo to see, wanting him to notice Sam in this unfamiliar way, hoping it might take Frodo outside himself just a little more. There was nothing sweet or chastely friendly about Merry's kiss this time, and oh, how Sam responded. When they broke apart they were both breathless.

Now Pippin was leaning into Frodo's left hand, and moving his lips up to Frodo's wrist, unbuttoning Frodo's cuff and sliding his sleeve out of the way, his lips following up Frodo's arm. Sam and Merry crept closer until they were all touching, standing in a loose hug while Pippin's lips found the soft spot on the inside of Frodo's elbow and lingered there. Frodo's eyes had drifted closed and he let Pippin kiss his arm as he leaned one shoulder against Sam, his right hand resting on Merry's shoulder. Sam leaned to gently kiss Frodo's mouth.

Merry laughed silently to himself and seized the moment, gently shoving them all toward the door, heading for his and Pippin's room. Days before, Pippin had proposed that was where they should end up, not in Frodo's own bed, because it would be less familiar. They made quite a herd, though there were no stumbles. Merry glanced at Frodo's face as he turned from shutting the heavy door. He looked pale, his lips flushed, his eyes wide. Frodo willingly turned down the hall, one arm around Sam's neck, the other around Pippin's.

In Merry's room, the fine clothing and the armor and the mailshirts were soon a jingling, clanking jumble on the floor. The hobbits were as careful with settling Pippin, with his cracked ribs, and Frodo, the center of all their attentions, on the bed as they had been careless with their clothes. It was the warm mingled scent of all of them, as familiar as his own bed in Brandy Hall, that Merry remembered later, and which quickly set him ablaze. He was hot with desire for so many things -- for each of them, like different notes in music, for the slaking of his own rising need, and strong and twined through his desire, a desperate wanting for Frodo to be well, to come back to them, to come home.

Sam pressed himself along one side of Frodo, kissing his neck, touching his lips with his fingertips, while Pippin, a soft pillow under his elbow, was giving the now-exposed knife scar the same loving treatment he had given to Frodo's hand. One of his hands covered Frodo's nipple. As Merry settled his back against Pippin's legs he heard what might have been Frodo's last attempt to flee, a plaintive whisper: "I don't deserve this."

Sam hushed him, saying, "Don't think about that. Think about how we're wanting it." And then softer, right in Frodo's ear, "I love you." Frodo gazed into his eyes with wonder and what might have been fear, then arched and let his head drop back with a little cry as Pippin's mouth slid from his shoulder to his nipple.

Merry decided it would be kindest if he could make rational thought impossible for Frodo, and the sooner the better. He found that Frodo fit entirely into his mouth, though he hoped to please Frodo well enough so that soon he would have room to wrap a hand around the warm base below his mouth, too.

Merry closed his eyes and was cheered to hear Frodo's gasp, and soon he himself was as blissfully lost as he hoped Frodo would be -- lost in the taste, in warmth, in more skin than had ever before baked into his own. He felt hands, belonging to someone dear, not really important just exactly who, hands pouring over him, grasping him. Merry smiled and tended to his important bit of Frodo. He found it so different -- with eager Pippin it was still more a matter of how to delay, of teasing. But with Frodo it was kindling, trying this, trying that, to find the pace and the pressure that would wake him, pull him out of himself and into the warm bliss Merry so desperately wanted him to share.

At least Frodo had given in to the wanting, too, no matter how little he felt he deserved it, because he was gasping, and his voice had a strange rough edge to it. Merry felt him flinch. "Yes, oh, more, please, please. Harder, Sam. Oh, Pippin. Merry. Merry. Harder."

Merry had to slide and move as he felt Frodo turn, rolling on to his side, and he took his mouth away as he rearranged himself. Pippin was coiled at Frodo's back now, one of Frodo's hands reaching back to him, and Sam's face was against Frodo's neck. Merry could see already the marks he was leaving on Frodo's pale skin.

"Merry, please."

He took Frodo in his mouth again and was rewarded with a salt-sweet drop and a new hardness. From this angle, he could glimpse Frodo's flushed face and bruised lips if he opened his eyes. He swept his fingers across Frodo's too-sharp hip, around the curve of Frodo's cheek and found Pippin there before him. Someone, perhaps more than one someone, was moaning softly...

Frodo raised his head. "Pippin. I want... Please, oh, Pippin." It was an odd kind of communication, feeling only by the hum and jerk of Frodo's body what Pippin's fingers were doing. There was a pause in which Merry heard the slide of the bedside table's drawer opening and the clink of glass. Merry found a way to move aside a bit and still wrap an arm around Pippin's thigh. Frodo was moaning now and his hand flailed down and dug through Merry's hair, pulling sharply. His leg was heavy and limp across Merry's side.  Pippin was pressed as close to Frodo as could be, slowly moving, and Merry matched his own stroking and sucking to what he felt Pippin do, Merry's eyes closed tight, willing himself to melt into Frodo, to give and to be and to share. "More, Pippin, more. Oh, please. Please."

Merry wasn't sure what had become of Sam and felt for him with one hand, finding he had moved up the bed. Frodo was crying out without words now, almost sobbing, his voice muffled, probably by part of Sam. Merry heard Pippin say, "Yes" and "Frodo, Frodo." And for a long time as Merry stroked and tongued to Pippin's rhythm, Frodo was tense and poised, pushing back against Pippin with steadily growing ardor and alarming strength. Merry had to hold on tight, even brace himself, caught in the wild fierce rhythm. Tears came to Merry's eyes as Frodo cried out again, and again, wordless, and came, pushing into Merry's throat, pulling hard on Merry's hair, his hand in a tight fist. "Aah, Frodo," Merry heard, and this time the strangled voice was Sam's. And Merry held on to Frodo's hips and felt them buck and shake and tasted streaming Frodo even as those hips pulled back to grind against Pippin. He heard Pippin's familiar cry.

As they quieted, he let Frodo slip from his mouth, cradling the softness in his hand as he laid his head on Frodo's sweaty stomach, shifting a bit to ease his shoulders. He looked up to see the others all woven together. Frodo's eyes were closed, tears and more tears sliding from under the dark lashes, his head resting on Sam, his chest silently heaving under Pippin's splayed hand. Merry reached for himself and closed his eyes where he lay, curled in Frodo and Pippin's legs, knowing it wouldn't take much for him to finish, but then his hands were gently pushed aside by Sam's, curling around him and stroking. Soon Merry, too, felt the flood of release and bliss. Sam somehow arched down to kiss him again, wetly and deeply, and all Merry could do was whisper, "Thank you."

How long they drifted there together, warm and sticky and empty, Merry didn't really know, but eventually he felt Frodo stir and sit up against the headboard, and fumble for a pillow. Sam stirred, to let him move, and cuddled close again immediately, his head in Frodo's lap now. Frodo drew Pippin up next to him. Then Merry settled between Pippin's knees, careful of his ribs, smelling Frodo on Pippin's skin, and sweat, and the olive oil -- a scent of Gondor, not of home. Frodo reached for Merry, touching the tears on his cheeks, and Frodo's  look was wild and stunned. Merry could see red splotches and the marks of Sam's teeth on his shoulders and neck. He imagined there would be bruises by morning. Then Frodo turned to Pippin, fingertips brushing his face with the same stunned wonder. Pippin was crying, too.

Frodo's head sagged back against the headboard, and he seemed to try to rally as he took a ragged breath. "Sam," he said, "I want our bed."

And Sam wiped his eyes and sat up, leaned across Frodo's body to kiss Merry, kiss Pippin. He gathered Frodo into his arms, picked him up, and left the room. Merry noticed he left the door open and thought disconnectedly for a minute that he would certainly never have to bother again with closing their bedroom door. He rolled to Pippin and held him as tightly as he dared. He felt Pippin shake again in a muffled sob.

"Merry, he wanted so much. I hope I didn't hurt him. You felt it, I know. Oh, Merry."

"It's all right, love." He petted Pippin until he stilled. Merry hung, floating, in a quiet place, far from sleep, but released and grateful. Pippin finally drew a calm breath, close against Merry's shoulder.

"I hate it, what happened to him out there. It's not right."

"I know, love. I know. But we're doing what we can, is all. We're doing what we can."



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