Author's note: I don't really know how I feel about this fanfiction. Well, I do--I find it boring, over-dramatic, and awkward. However, I'm posting it anyway, because I'd like to improve it. So make sure you leave reviews and give me some constructive criticism!

~

Meriadoc Brandybuck bolted down the road faster, he was sure, than he had run in years. He was late for elevensies, something that just wasn't done. Pippin no doubt already had everything set out and was anxiously awaiting the arrival of his company, standing by the door or peering out the windows…

Merry hated being late.

Soon, he entered Tuckborough and raced up the path until stopping, quite out of breath, before the front door of the Great Smials. He'd barely raised his hand to knock when the door swung open, revealing Pippin Took's accusing face.

"You're late," Pippin informed him, albeit rather cheerfully.

"Sorry," Merry panted as he stepped inside. After pausing to catch his breath a little, he added, "My mother decided it was a good time to discuss the inheritance."

"Well, you'd better come in. The tea's getting cold!"

"Now that would be tragic."

The two hobbits quickly sat down to their meal--Merry's first that day--and began eating.

"Merry," Pippin said suddenly, "do you know who was asking after you?"

Quirking an inquisitive eyebrow, Merry questioned through a mouthful of bread, "Who?"

"Estella Bolger."

At the name, Merry stopped piling food onto his plate. "Estella?" he repeated. "Asking after me?"

A grin spread across Pippin's face at his friend's obvious bewilderment. "That comes as a surprise? You're always stopping her in the street."

Merry actually flushed a bit at that. "I didn't think it was all me stopping her. I though she was beginning to do a bit of stopping herself. Anyway." He stopped and straightened his jacket in an attempt to regain some dignity. "Anyway…erm…"

Laughing, Pippin interrupted, "Anyway, you fancy her."

Merry smiled at that. "I suppose I do. Pretty obvious, is it?"

"You're clear as glass." Pippin gulped down a cup of tea, then asked, "Why don't you do something about it?"

"Pippin!" Merry exclaimed in exasperation. "You don't just "do something about it!""

"Then what do you do?" Pippin retorted.

"Well, there's making each other's acquaintance--"

"Done."

"--and courtship--"

"What do you call what you're doing?"

"You're not letting me talk," Merry said crossly.

With a pleasant smile, Pippin replied, "You talk enough."

Merry shook his head and said seriously, "You know, Pip, I don't really know what to do about Estella."

At that, Pippin shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe you could ask her to dinner?"

Nodding slowly, Merry responded, "Yes, food. The way to any hobbit's heart."

The two friends say in companionable silence for a long while, finishing the meal in their own time. Eventually, Pippin said quietly, "Merry, I was thinking the other day."

"That's a change."

"About Frodo."

"Oh." Merry sighed. "What about Frodo?"

"Well, nothing important, I suppose. I know he's in Valinor, and it's wonderful there and all, but I can't help wishing he would come back."

"I know, Pip."

"And I was thinking maybe someone could have done something so he wouldn't've gotten so sick every year."

Merry looked at his friend a little mournfully. "But only the elves could help Frodo. And they were all in Valinor, and…we've talked about this before."

Pippin looked troubled. "It's just…I'm not selfish, am I, Merry? For wanting Frodo to come back?"

Shaking his head and smiling, Merry assured him, "No. I miss Frodo, too."

"Good. Sam's been telling me I should be happy for him."

"Don't believe a word of it. Sam wants him to come back just as much as either of us." After a second, Merry added, "And who knows? He hasn't been gone long…maybe he'll decide he likes the Shire better after all."

Pippin rolled his eyes. "I'm not stupid. If it's good enough for the elves, then I'm sure it's like paradise for Frodo."

"You're probably right."

The hobbits sat together and talked for quite some time until the sun began to dip below the trees. Merry glanced out the window and remarked, "I'd better start back home if I want to get there in time for supper."

Pippin responded to this with a nod and rose to his feet. Walking Merry to the door, he asked hesitantly, "You won't be going back to Brandy Hall on Wednesday, though?"

Merry patted Pippin's shoulder. "As always, no. You ask me that every week, you know."

Unembarrassed, Pippin replied, "I know, but I like to make sure. Anyway, I worry about the road at night."

"There's nothing to worry about. And even if there was, I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself."

"Still."

Merry dismissed the conversation with a wave of his hand. "It doesn't matter--I'll stay the night, like I always do and always will, every Wednesday for the rest of my days. Is there something you'd like me to swear on?"

Pippin swung the door open and pointed. "Leave."

With a grin, Merry stepped outside and waved, calling, "See you Wednesday, Pip!"

~

Hobbiton was bustling when, several mornings later, Merry strolled down the main street. Things in Buckland were too much for him at the moment--his father was ill (again), and his mother was driving herself, and everyone around her, mad with worry and premature grief (again). The cousins were all arguing about the Master of Buckland's fortune and title, and Merry, being the most logical choice for becoming the recipient of both, was starting to get unpopular among his extended family. A chance to escape had been much needed.

Merry had spent the night at the Green Dragon Inn and it had taken him the better part of the morning to cure himself of a potent hangover. The sun, for once, seemed to be doing some good, and for some time he just let himself wander the streets.

"Hello, Merry," a voice said, breaking through the unobservant haze he suddenly found himself in.

Blinking, Merry found himself face to face with an extremely pretty hobbit. "Estella!" he blurted. "Hello. Er…how are you?" He cursed himself for that. Proper, yes, but stupid. And why did he always stammer around her? A hobbit of his age?

He remembered Pippin's advice as she answered that she was fine, thank you. Merry cleared his throat and asked, "Estella, would you like to have supper with me?"

Estella smiled. This amazed Merry--she actually smiled. "I'd like that. Only, I'm very busy this next week. It would have to be tomorrow. If that's all right?"

Merry opened his mouth to say, yes, yes, anything, when he realized that the following day was Wednesday. He and Pippin had supper every Wednesday. Had for years, and it was an engagement that was not broken. For anything.

But…wouldn't Pip understand? As his best friend, shouldn't he? And it was him that had suggested supper with Estella, after all.

Merry smiled at her. "Sounds great."

The hobbits conversed for a few more minutes, or perhaps it was longer, because Estella's sister did seem awfully annoyed when she finally managed to pull her sister away.

After another night in the Green Dragon Inn, Merry was ready for a little peace. A party of dwarves passing through the Shire also stayed the night, and while it was good to have news from distant lands, it was also good to have sleep, which was impossible to obtain with seven very inebriated dwarves in the common room.

In the morning, Merry set out (quite exhausted) towards the Great Smials to inform Pippin of the alteration in their plans. Of course it crossed his mind that his cousin might not appreciate this alteration, but he dismissed it.

It was a dismissal he regretted.

"Tonight?" Pippin's face was incredulous. "You're having dinner with her…tonight?"

Merry shifted uncomfortably. "That's not a problem, is it?"

For a moment, Pippin didn't say anything, but then he burst out, "What's so wonderful about her, Merry? What's so great about her that you spend every moment thinking about her?"

Blinking, Merry began, "Well, I…don't, really--"

"Whatever happened to being friends 'til we're both dead in our graves?"

"Pippin, it's just one supper! It's hardly the end of our friendship!"

"It's one supper now," Pippin retorted. "But what about in a few weeks time when the two of you are even closer?"

"I didn't know it was such a problem--"

"You said nothing ever comes between us! Choosing Estella Bolger over me is not nothing!"

"Pippin, just let me explain--"

Pippin opened the door with a vicious twist of the knob. "Leave."

"Pippin!"

"Leave!"

Merry sighed and trudged out the door, grabbing at his jacket to keep it from being caught when Pippin slammed it shut behind him. For a second, he stood there, hoping his friend would reconsider, but the door remained tightly shut and the windows empty of Pippin's apologetic face. He kicked at a clod of dirt and departed from Tuckborough, wondering how in the world he was ever going to enjoy the ill-favored supper.

~

Pippin lost very little time between slamming the door in Merry's face and leaving the Great Smials through one of the other numerous doors. Being surrounded by family was the last thing a distraught hobbit needed. And so he went to the one place where no one would look for him. No one who cared, anyway. Mostly out of habit, he belted on a dagger before he left. One did not go into the Old Forest without one.

Despair had driven Pippin into the Old Forest before--incessant taunting from his sisters, a particularly harsh punishment--but those times now paled in comparison. What was it about females? The hobbit remembered when Sam had married--he'd had no time for his friends anymore. Maybe he was being silly and overreacting, but he didn't want that to happen with Merry. He could barely remember a time when Merry wasn't there, and their separation four years ago had been hard. Pippin had not gotten through that only to be replaced by a woman.

It didn't take long to reach the fence that marked the end of the Shire and then beginning of the Old Forest. Pippin climbed over it and continued running through the trees.

Suddenly, something caught at his foot and send him sprawling, face first, on the ground. For several moments, he laid there, spiting dirt out of his mouth. A tear trickled out of his eye and dripped onto the ground.

Pippin sniffled and pushed himself up against a tree, put his head on his knees, and cried.

For a long time, he didn't move, but then he heard a dragging sound off in the shadows. He wiped at his eyes and to his feet slowly, glancing around. The noise continued, but he couldn't find a source. It sounded as though it was coming from behind him…

He turned around quickly and shrieked at the sight of an emaciated orc. There was hardly time to contemplate its appearance, however, as its arm was swiftly bringing a dagger towards his heart. He leapt aside at the last moment, but still caught the knife in his shoulder.

What was an orc doing so near the Shire?! His mind screamed at him as e rolled away from the creature. With a grimace, he pulled the dagger from his shoulder and drew his own, then pointed both at the advancing orc. The one thing he noticed was that it looked like it was on death's doorstep. Skin hung from the bones in folds, and it was dragging one of its legs. Pippin didn't know why it kept coming towards him--it was unarmed now--

At that moment, it lunged at him and forced him to the ground. Pippin stabbed wildly and felt a row of something sharp sink into his arm. A hand forced his head against the ground, but Pippin kicked as hard as he could and the grip loosened enough for him to scramble a few feet away and start to get to his feet again. He saw that the orc was bleeding profusely. Pippin stumbled back against a tree, thinking it wouldn't be able to rise again.

It surprised him, though, and leapt forward. Pippin managed to plunge his dagger through the orc's throat just before it slammed his head against a rock and everything went black.

~

Merry should have been enjoying himself. He was in the company of someone he adored and was about to eat a meal, but while he could still see Pippin's wounded face in his mind, it was impossible.

Unfortunately, it was all too clear to Estella that he was unhappy. Her efforts to deal with it thus far had been admirable, but finally, she sighed and asked, "Merry, is something wrong?"

He glanced at her and sighed. "I'm sorry, Estella. I…"

"Does it have something to do with Pippin?" she questioned, raising an eyebrow.

Merry stopped, surprised she'd guessed. "Yes. How did you…?"

Smiling, she said, "I know you two can barely be separated." She stood up, and he quickly did the same. "Go ahead. Whatever you did, go set it right."

Merry snorted and looked at his feet. "I suppose I've just ruined everything, haven't I? That could have…been between us?"

At that, she laughed, startling him. "Have a little faith in yourself, Meriadoc!" With another smile, she added, "You haven't ruined anything. We'll just continue where we left off some other time."

"Well…thank you. For dinner, too, even though we haven't actually started…"

"Go!"

"Right." Merry touched her hand briefly and rushed out the door.

~

After finding that Pippin was no longer in Tuckborough, Merry had a feeling that he'd be in the Old Forest, and so that was where he went. There was a trail of some sort, but it didn't look like anything Pippin would have made. Merry followed it anyway with a feeling of dread growing in his heart.

He came to a particularly thick bunch of trees and stopped short. On the ground before him was a withered looking orc covered in blood, and underneath it, barely visible, was Pippin.

Merry let out a strangled cry and rushed over to the bodies. The orc was obviously dead--the hobbit saw that it had a knife through its throat as he heaved it off his friend.

Pippin was bleeding in too many places, but the blood on his head, at least, seemed to have stopped flowing. Cradling his friend, Merry murmured in a trembling voice, "Oh, Pip, why did you come here?" He tried as best he could to bandage the wounds on Pippin's shoulder and arm, but both were covered in grime, and he doubted it did much good. The orc worried him, too. If there was only one, no more harm would come of it…but the Shire was not prepared to deal with any more than that.

One thing was for certain--they couldn't stay where they were. Buckland wasn't far, and Merry figured he just might be able to carry Pippin there.

He lifted his friend as best he could, saying, "Come on, Pip, we'll get you cleaned up…" It was meant more to reassure himself. Pippin seemed to be alive--for now--but it was hard to tell how badly he was hurt, and he wasn't waking up…

Merry choked back a sob and started walking. Pippin was heavier than he'd expected, and he knew he'd have to stop more than once before he reached Brandy Hall. But Pip could die in that time and it would be his fault…

Then he wouldn't stop. He'd drop dead at the door to his home if he had to, but Pippin was not going to die.

That very thing nearly happened. What seemed like an eternity later, Merry stumbled into Brandy Hall and called out to his mother, who took charge immediately. Pippin was placed into bed, his wounds were cleaned and dressed, and an armed party of hobbits was sent out to search for any other orcs that might be lurking about. Food forced its way into Merry's hands and his mother attempted to get him to rest, but he ignored both and insisted on sitting with Pippin.

Merry pulled a chair up beside his friend's bed and took his hand, then bowed his head and waited for some sign of life.

He was never sure how much time passed, but eventually Pippin shifted slightly, which Merry snapped his head up at. Pippin's eyelids fluttered and opened slowly, and he dazedly gazed at his surroundings.

"Merry?" he asked softly.

"I'm here, Pip."

Weakly, Pippin said, "I can see that. Why are you crying?"

Merry touched his face and realized it was wet. Laughing slightly with relief, he said, "I didn't even know I was. And…well…I'm just glad you're all right."

Pippin nodded and closed his eyes. He seemed to be sleeping, but then he said, "I thought you were with Estella."

"I was. But I left. I…I had a bad feeling. Turns out it was right." He paused and laid a hand on Pippin's forehead. "I'm sorry, Pip. I'm so sorry."

"I forgive you," Pippin replied immediately. "And...Merry? I didn't mean what I said."

"Let's just forget it."

"No," Pippin insisted. "I want to say this. I know you'd never forget about me just because you got married, and I shouldn't have said what I did, because it's not true."

Merry laid his head on the pillow next to Pippin's. "Don't apologize."

"Why not?"

"I told you. I'm just happy you're alive. But what happened? There was an orc…"

"Oh, that's right. I'd almost forgotten." Pippin thought for a minute. "Er…there's not much more to tell, really. It just came up behind me. I think…maybe…it was going to eat me. It looked like it was dying." With an uncertain note in his voice, he added, "I killed it, didn't I?"

"It was quite dead."

"I thought I'd never have to kill anything again. I didn't want to."

Merry held his friend's hand more tightly, and the two of them were silent for awhile. Then, suddenly, Merry sat up and gave Pippin a stern look. "Stay out of the Old Forest, Pip." With a smile, he continued, "Unless, of course, you're with me."

Pippin opened his eyes and caught Merry's glance. "You don't have to take care of me, Merry."

"Yes I do."

"Why?"

Merry looked at Pippin for a long time. There was still something of the childish innocence in his face, which Merry marveled at. They'd been through so much, but somehow, it hadn't jaded him. Pippin was still, when it came down to it, the same hobbit he'd been before the ring, the war, the death, all of it. Finally, he began, "Because… Pippin?" It seemed, in the interval of silence, that his cousin had fallen asleep. Merry smoothed his hair out of his face and murmured, "Because you're my dearest friend, and I can't bear the though of anything happening to you."

With those words, he got to his feet and crept out of the room, softly shutting the door behind him.