West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Pippin is worried. Merry is stubborn. And there is never enough time.
This story was written for the 'Silver Scream' Challenge at the hobbit_smut Live Journal community.
There were some people, thought Pippin, who considered Tooks to be a bit of a handful. He surveyed the strewn bedclothes, the open window, the silent form leaning in the window embrasure in front of him. There were some people who thought Tooks were trouble, that they had be protected from themselves, watched, and generally kept an eye on. All he could say to that, he mused, as he moved forward, all he could say to that, was that it was blindingly obvious that those people had never met a Brandybuck.
He moved softly up to where Merry was shivering in his thin nightshirt, and placed a careful hand on his shoulder. He wasn't sure if it should worry him when Merry didn't jump.
"Merry? What are you doing?" he asked. Although really, it was blindingly obvious what Merry was doing. The Window faced East. The cloud and shadow that spilled out of the Black Land stained the clearness of the early dawn, it darkened everything, it darkened even Pippin's thoughts as he gazed at it, so who knew what Merry must be feeling? He wished Merry wouldn't do this to himself. He'd already done all he could.
"Come back to bed," he tried, and curled the hand on Merry's shoulder under his hair until it was tickling the back of his neck. Even the not so subtle implication seemed lost on Merry though, and that really worried Pippin. He closed his fingers and tugged, lightly. This time Merry sighed, and let himself be led away.
Scarce hours earlier he had been wandering in a black dream, lost to the world and everything in it, scarce hours earlier Pippin had thought he might even die. And now that Aragorn had healed him, now that he had him back again, Pippin wasn't about to let him go. He wasn't, and that was that. He had been scared, Pippin admitted to himself, scared worse than anything, at the blankness in Merry's eyes, but it was over now, wasn't it? Aragorn had brought him back. They had talked, and they had both had a nice smoke, and Merry had been fine. Hadn't he?
Well, there was time, here in the Houses of Healing. There was time to mend this, if it needed mending. Wasn't there?
"How long do we have?" Merry asked quietly, the next morning, as the four of them sat peacefully in the garden after Legolas and Gimli had told their tales. "How long do we have before the storm?"
The breeze that blew in stiffly from the west, gusted hard, and gaily blew the tips of Gimli's braids about. He smoothed them down and laced his hands across his chest.
"I don't know, Master Meriadoc. We have won a great victory, that is surely enough for now."
"Is it? You said it yourself, dear Gimli, that the faces of Gandalf and Aragorn were grave. I don't think we've got that long at all. Not at all."
"All we can do is wait and see."
The company lapsed back into silence, a comfortable one, if not comforting. Pippin watched as Gimli leaned back against the solid stonework with a grunt of approval, and saw him cast his eye up to Legolas where he perched on the topmost part of the wall. It was a loving glance, Pippin thought, but a worried one. Legolas, for his part, was staring out with eyes as blind as Pippin had ever seen them. Another cry of a bird came, long and echoing, sort of thin-sounding, and Legolas shivered. Pippin found he had turned cold, even in the bright sunlight. Legolas hadn't shivered like that even in the deepest snows of Caradhras. It disturbed him that a gull's cry should create such a profound effect in his friend.
He looked again at Gimli, who was watching Legolas still, his face appearing more seamed than usual, his cheeks almost completely hidden in his beard. What must it be like, thought Pippin, to suddenly have to consider a friend's eventual leaving? What must it be like?
He reached out all of a sudden and grasped Merry's hand where it lay next to his on the wall. It was warm, and faintly calloused. Pippin didn't look across but he felt Merry squeeze his fingers in return, as Pippin clutched them tight. It was probably tight enough to hurt, in fact, but Merry did not complain. And it was probably selfish of him, but Pippin discovered he was quite grateful for that.
The lamplight cast a lovely golden glow on Merry's curls, Pippin decided, as he dressed. Which made it a little bit of a shame that he had to go on guard duty now, so late at night. In fact, it was more than a bit of a shame, it was a great enormous crying shame that he had to leave such glory all unplundered, and alone. As he sat with his feet dangling over the side of the too big bed, he quickly leaned over and brushed his lips against familiar heavy brows. He smiled when the eyes opened, liquid, and dark as summer pools.
"Sorry," Pippin murmured, "I didn't mean to wake you."
"Wasn't asleep, Pip," said the faint voice in return, and Pippin frowned. That didn't sound like his Merry. It might be late but Merry never sounded so thin, so exhausted, at any hour. He knew it had only been one day since his injury and healing, but still... He leaned in a little more and let his lips meander down Merry's skin in warm patterns, until he could nip eagerly at Merry's throat. For his pains, he got a faint sigh, and an obliging lift of the chin. That wasn't right at all.
Pippin leaned back, and cocked his head. "What's..." he began, but Merry interrupted him.
"You'll be late, if you're not careful," he said, still sounding a little far away. "It's your duty not to be late, you know."
"I know my duty," said Pippin, almost cross. After all, it wasn't like he was still the irresponsible tween who'd left the Shire all those months ago. He slid to the floor and reached for his belt, buckling it around his livery.
He stopped then, thinking. It wasn't as though Merry was the cheerfully enthusiastic organiser of their adventures any more either, was it? He missed that Merry. He looked back at the barely visible lump under the bedclothes, and found he desperately wanted to crawl back in, wrap Merry up, and never let him go. But they didn't always get what they wanted, did they? He fingered the hilt of his sword and thought about conflicting responsibilities. Time. They still had time. And then, inevitably, he went to do his duty.
"I thought I'd find you here!"
Bergil's high-pitched voice carried well, in the late morning air, and it was all Pippin could do not to wince, as he turned to greet the lad with something like his customary good cheer. Pippin had the headache - late guard duty had been followed by a short and hurried sleep, in which he had dreamed he was running from a dragon. But however he ran, hither or thither, through a great dark wood, the dragon's fiery breath had always been inches away from his heels. It hadn't been restful at all and upon waking, his mood hadn't been helped to find the bed empty, and the sheets cold.
"Bergil, you'll have to excuse me, but this will be my first and second breakfast, and I know you wouldn't want me to miss such an important appointment."
The boy laughed and fell into step, as Pippin made his way down the stairs and into the refectory.
"I knew it was, for you see, I have discovered your ways, Master Perian."
"Oh, and such complicated ways they are, after all!" Pippin retorted, attempting humour, and knowing it weak. He could still feel his irritation from earlier dragging at him, and for no reason. Why should Merry stay until Pip woke? There was no need. And yet, even as Pippin piled his plate high with enough food to satisfy even the hungriest hobbit, he knew he but masked his worry with his temper, and badly at that.
"Have you heard?" Bergil interrupted his thoughts with the obliviousness of the young, and Pippin smiled at him, wondering if any other would find the irony in that thought from him.
"What is it?"
"The army is to march on the Black Gate in two days time. King Éomer and Lord Imrahil were called to a counsel of captains, and there it was decided. Will you march too?"
Pippin felt cold, his breakfast suddenly feeling stuck in his mouth, until he made himself chew and swallow deliberately. He looked at Bergil, who was looking bright-eyed and hopeful, and yet - was that a shadow in his eyes? The news meant that Pippin would be leaving, as would Beregond, and he answered the unspoken question in Bergil's eyes.
"All soldiers of Gondor will march, Bergil. We will do all that is asked of us, of course."
"Of course," Bergil echoed, and turned away for a plate of his own.
Time. There was never enough time for anything these days, Pippin decided.
"Merry, what exactly are you doing?"
Pippin stopped in surprise with the handle of the door still in his hands. The light was dim, the shadow spilling from Mordor not withstanding, sunset had fallen and Merry had not even lit a candle to illumine the dull glow from the windows.
There was another long low scraping sound, that set his teeth on edge, and Pippin peered into the gloom, trying to see more than the dim outline of his cousin. He was a clouded shape by the window, his hair a messy aureole in the roseate light. Slowly, Pippin made his way over to Merry, all thoughts of a cheerful supper flying out of his head, and faintly troubling thoughts of calling for the healers, or Gandalf, replacing them. His chainmail made a faint clinking noise as it moved, a sound that Pippin had not even realised he'd stopped hearing until it came to him again, all sharp in this strange silence. He pulled off his gauntlets, black like every other part of his livery, and the soft leather whispered against his skin. When he twined his fingers in the hair at the nape of Merry's neck, he found it as soft as ever, and it took him a few seconds to fathom that Merry was in his armour too, and it was his leather collar that felt stiff and uncompromising against his hands.
A long silver shape glinted dully in the gloom.
Pippin sat beside him, leaning a little into all the cushions they had piled into the window niche, and he tried not to feel the prickle of foreboding. This was the Houses of Healing and Merry would be healed. Was healed. This was...
"I'm all right, Pip. I'm just preparing."
The long slow metallic rasp came again, and this time Pippin watched as Merry ran his sharpening stone down the blade of a strange sword. Absently, it occurred to him it was perhaps a little long for a hobbit.
"Where did you get that then?" he asked softly and Merry looked across its shining length, his eyes darting to him and away...
"There's a lot of war-gear that's been... recovered. I didn't think anyone would mind. I wanted to be ready."
The stone glided smoothly again, the noise grating at Pippin's nerves.
"But, my very dear Merry, ready for what?" He reached out and held Merry's hands before he could scrape the sword again, they were cool in his palms, the right considerably more so than the left, and his heart thumped as he thought about that.
"For when we march, Pip. I know you've heard. For when we march on the Black Gate."
And Pippin realised that he'd just run out of time. There was no time left for healing, or anything else. No time at all.
There was a still quiet centre to the courtyard, amidst all the bustle of preparation. Many of those hurrying about, touting weapons, armour, and the myriad supplies any army on the move requires in large quantities, still somehow managed to offer deference to the little group in the centre. It was as though they were all listening, despite the loud shouts, and the clattering of oxen as they pulled their drays. Perhaps that was not surprising, Pippin thought, finding himself in an agony of impatience, wishing he knew what was being said, finding his heart thumping wildly in time with his guilt. After all, if the new King of Rohan, and Gandalf the White chose to spend their valuable time here in the courtyard, not to mention their equally famous companions, then it was surely not so surprising that people should want to listen. He only wished that he could join them in that activity, and that his guard post this day was not quite so far away from the small group of quiet figures clustered around the object of their attention.
It bothered him that he could do no more than observe, but this was his duty post, and he had to do his duty. Pippin could only hope that Merry understood that. Would understand his reasons. Would... Would forgive him.
He thought back to the morning's activities. The visits he had paid. The attention he had drawn. There would be no second chances, no-one who would ignore another bag this time, hung at a stirrup or otherwise. He had even asked permission to visit Lord Faramir, and had prevailed upon the Lady Éowyn, although both had been deemed too unwell still to leave the Houses of Healing.
In fact, thinking about it, Pippin could think of no-one whom he had not bothered, excepting perhaps Strider, who was without the city, and hard even for a boon companion such as himself to find the time or permission to call upon. He just hoped that it would all prove to be enough.
The crowd swirled a little and Pippin caught his breath, and then stood even straighter, if that were possible. A small figure broke from the group and made its way across the courtyard in a hurried walk. He found he was breathing fast as the figure faltered once, before continuing on. Pippin bit his lip and then stared, trying to catch his eye.
Dark lashes framed slate grey eyes that stayed downcast and blind as Merry pushed his way past. His shoulder roughly barrelled into Pippin as he moved on, jolting him painfully, despite the wide open doorway and clear path. Pippin sucked an indignant breath past lips now gone numb and cold. But he stayed silent. This was his duty. This was his charge. Surely Merry would understand.
Candles flickered in the faint draft from the windows. The same mild breeze stirred the white gauze that hung there, diaphanous and fragile. It also stirred the lazy steam that curled from the pot near the fire, sending the appetising smell of stewed meats and rich juices to the waiting nostrils, causing them to twitch a little, and the mouth to water, but no other discernable movement.
The candles' flame bent and wavered, seeming to dance, as anxious eyes flickered around the room in nearly ceaseless thought, and the golden light picked out the gleam of chain mail on the chair, and the glow of white threads stitched into the dark livery slung near it. It gilded the white stone of the walls into golden cream. It touched everything with a hint of magic, with the hushed stillness of a dream.
Until the door opened with a crash that shattered the sleeping serenity with painful suddenness. Pippin looked up, knowing he'd been waiting for this, knowing too that almost he'd given up hope. Merry looked sullen and heavy, he swayed a little, catching the doorframe in one hand - still his left, Pippin noted - and stared across the room. The moment swung and teetered.
"Well?" Merry asked, his voice harsh.
"Are you going to apologise?"
Well, thought Pippin. That was the thing now, wasn't it. Was he going to apologise?
"I don't know," he said honestly.
Merry stood there, breathing heavily, his gaze unfocused and Pippin noticed that he wasn't in armour any more. His linen undershirt was untucked and there was a button missing. His heart thumped as he followed the sight of creamy flesh down below the less than snow white linen. He dragged his eyes back to Merry's face, his cheeks heating at the utterly incongruous thoughts that were flitting across his mind.
"Would it help if I apologised?" he offered.
"You had no right!" Merry almost shouted, abruptly animated, his shoulders heaving. "I should be marching with my King, I should be marching with the Fellowship! I shouldn't be left behind!"
"You should come on in, and try not to ruin everything by being you."
"I should..." Merry whispered, and swayed again, more noticeably this time, and tried to catch himself once more. But this time he used his right hand, without thinking, and even as it grasped and failed, and he began to fall, Pippin moved. He darted across the room, and caught Merry as he toppled, so his shoulder thumped against his chest, a feverishly hot weight, and instinctively Pippin's arms wrapped themselves around his middle, bracing them both as they stood in the doorway.
Merry raised his head and glared at Pippin from under his brows, and Pippin tried a smile, a small one, as he realised that at least half the problem was nothing to do with Merry's injuries. A sweet and yeasty smell cut through the odours of stew, and hot beeswax, and Merry's breath was sharp and metallic.
Well now, what else was a soldier to do in the face of disappointment, thought Pippin. Or a hobbit either, for that matter.
"Come and sit down before you fall down," he suggested, trying for cheerful practicality, and ignoring his unease.
"You had no right," Merry muttered again, but allowed himself to be led to the bed and pushed until he half sat, half lay across the white counterpane.
"I'm sorry," said Pippin, and he was. Not for telling, but for the whole situation. For everything that had made him tell. For...
"Merry? It's for the best, you know. ...Oh!"
And Pippin suddenly found himself pulled down onto the bed by determined if clumsy hands, and looking up at stormy eyes, and beloved yet nearly unfamiliar features, as Merry rolled over and then leant down onto his chest. Pippin felt a flicker almost of fear then, as sinewy strength pinned his body, before he was being kissed, roughly, almost sloppily, and the taste of beer was in his mouth then too, and he found himself whimpering a little at the heat of the sudden onslaught.
Not about to argue with a situation that he'd missed for too long, despite his unease, Pippin reached up and grasped Merry's arms, his back, kneading at the hard flesh. He pushed off the linen shirt, and let his hands wander where they might, as he closed his eyes and pushed back into Merry, delving into his mouth. Merry nipped at his lower lip, hard, and Pippin would have gasped had his breath not been already stolen away.
Then they were wrestling, pushing forward and back, tumbling over the bed in a passion that might almost have been violence, if there had been any other victims than hard-pressed buttons and their inoffensive clothes. When Pippin reached for rigid heat, palming his way across skin almost burning to the touch, he surprised a cry from Merry's throat that could almost have been pain, and he might have stopped then, in the strangeness of the moment, if his hand hadn't been grasped and pulled and forced.
When Merry's release came, that too could almost have been forced, his mouth screwed up into a kind of agony, and Pippin held him as he shook with it, and then gathered him into his arms as he cried. His mind was filled with questions, with another kind of pain, but he said nothing, instead he waited, and wondered, until Merry's tears ceased at last.
The only noise was the slight hiss of the fire. Merry lay with his face turned into Pippin's chest, arms loosely wrapped around his middle. Softly, Pippin ran his fingers through Merry's hair, lightly pulling at tangles, watching the strands glow in the candlelight.
"Merry? I really am sorry, you know, but you're not well enough to..."
"Do you know what it feels like to be left behind?"
Pippin strained to hear the low voice, as Merry stirred briefly, but did not look up.
"Frodo nearly managed it, all those months ago, and it made me so afraid. And after all that, in the end he and Sam still went on alone. And then you left me, off with Gandalf into the heart of the fire, and then Théoden King... I know that everyone meant well, that it was inevitable, that it wasn't my fault, or yours, but I was still left behind."
Pippin felt him shift then and reach for his other hand where it lay on the rounded corner of Merry's hip. Merry's fingers still felt cool, even after all their passion.
"And now you're off again. Into certain death. Without me," he continued, softly.
Pippin felt wrung. He bowed his head until his chin was nestled in Merry's brightly glorious hair. How could he say that he'd thought of that, thought of it every minute of every hour for the past two days. How could he say that knowing Merry would still be here, safe in Minas Tirith, while he marched to do his duty, was the only thing that kept him going?
He took a breath, and banished all that. It wasn't something he wanted to speak of, it made his fears all too real.
"Merry? I'd like to think of it as not exactly certain death, you know. Just rather likely death."
He winced a little as Merry clutched his fingers so tight that they almost ached.
"Anyway," Pippin continued, "Hobbits are rather small compared to, say, a troll. I'll be easy to miss. And you came out of your battle all right, didn't you?"
He wriggled down into the bed a little more, until his face was level with Merry's and then wondered if Merry would be able to see the shadow in his face, the way Pippin had seen one in Bergil's. Merry's eyes were clearer now, but still as changeable as ever, like clouded grey skies, and his nose was a little pink. Pippin leaned forward to kiss it quickly and then smiled.
"You've done your duty, dear Merry. You must let me go to mine."
"I know." Pippin watched Merry's lashes dip briefly, veiling his gaze, and his chest rose in a faint sigh. Then Merry looked up and smiled too, perhaps not with conviction, but Pippin was glad to see it none the less. "But I don't have to like it."
Merry let go of his hand then and, instead, slowly swept his fingers up along Pippin's flank, delicately tracing the planes and rounded angles of his body. It made Pippin shiver, and reminded him of important unfinished business.
"Three days. We've only had three days together, Pip. It's not enough time," Merry said, his voice low.
"No. But it's what we've been given. And we should make the most of it, don't you think? After all, I leave at dawn."
Merry looked up, finally, and Pippin was glad to see something like a determined fire back in his eyes at last. He felt warmed, just to see it there, as it had not been for days. He made no protest this time when Merry placed one hand on his chest and slowly pushed him back onto the bed.
"You're right, Pip. The departing soldier should have a proper farewell, I think."
"Well, if you insist, I expect I can rise to the occasion."
Merry bared his teeth in a grin that Pip decided he would see as happy, and leaned forward. It wasn't much, Pippin thought, as he melted into Merry's so very welcome embrace, it wasn't much time at all. But, in the end, did that really matter?
Three days. It had to be enough.
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