A/N: Wow. This started out as a one-scene idea of Pippin talking to Gimli after being rescued and somehow it turned out a bit…longer. Anyway, I don't know how good or interesting this is, but I just wanted to try something a little different from what I'd already written. As always, if I've mixed anything up or written something you don't think quite works, please let me know. Comments are very welcome.

Summary: Pippin awakes on the fields of Cormallen and finds that, though many things have changed, some things always stay the same. (no slash, violence, etc.)

Disclaimer: These characters and places do not belong to me. I'm just playin' with them.

Thirteen Days After, One Day Before

By Zebra Wallpaper

"Really, Pippin," Merry controlled his voice and kept it light, "Do you plan to sleep all day?"

Pippin's eyes opened lazily, but the lids appeared too heavy and slipped down again.

"Pip?"

Then Pippin sat bolt upright, eyes wide and terrified, his chest hitching in and out in great trembling breaths.

Merry reached out to take Pippin by the shoulders, but it was Aragorn's hands that held him steady.

"Easy, Little One. You are being crushed no longer. You may breathe as much as you desire."

Pippin's eyes darted anxiously about as his brain struggled to make sense of where he was. Then he spotted the wizard, standing quietly near the back of the tent. Before anyone could stop him, he had leapt from the cot and, stumbling over sleepy limbs, had thrown himself against the wizard's feet.

"Gandalf," he cried, "Oh, please forgive me yet again!"

Gandalf reached down and picked up the trembling hobbit. "Peregrin Took," he said not unkindly, "Whatever grievance do you think you have committed now?"

"I died." Pippin whispered and went limp in Gandalf's arms.

All waited until finally the wizard looked up at them with a wry smile.

"I do believe the lad has fainted."

~~~~

When Pippin was revived a short time later, it was with far less drama. Indeed, the only others he saw when he awoke were Merry, who sat beside him, and Aragorn, who watched him intently from a few steps back. Gandalf had thought it best if he himself were not within eyeshot of the newly recovered hobbit, although he stood near enough outside the tent to still hear what went on within.

As Merry saw Pippin's eyes open once more and begin to focus, he leaned forward and gently placed a hand on his cousin's arm.

"Hoy, Pip. You gave us quite a fright."

Pippin was noticeably calmer this time around. "What has happened, Merry?"

"My dear Took, we've won the war."

"Have we?"

"Yes. Quite completely."

"But Frodo…"

"Frodo is fine," Aragorn interrupted, sitting on the edge of Pippin's cot and feeling at his forehead, "Frodo and Sam lie in a healing tent not far from here. They are unharmed."

Merry smiled. "Although Frodo, scatter-brained Baggins that he is, seems to have misplaced one of his fingers."

"Misplaced…" Pippin gazed at Merry with a painfully confused expression on his face but then it changed slightly as he looked back to Aragorn. "How am I still here?"

"You very nearly weren't. When Master Dwarf found you beneath a pile of the fallen, no breath could be detected between your lips, nor beat within your heart."

Merry shuddered, but Pippin sat up straighter. "Gimli found me?"

"He did indeed."

"But if I had no…no breath or, or no…" Pippin was becoming quite flushed in his excitement and Aragon pushed him carefully back down to his pillow. He looked up at the ranger with eyes as fearful as a rabbit.

"Well, Pippin," Aragorn sighed and adjusted the hobbit so that his shoulders did not lay so awkward, "Just as we thought you had been lost in the fields and then we found you buried yet whole, so it was that when we thought all life had been lost from you, we found it buried deep within you. There is perhaps more blood of the Bullroarer in your veins than you realize."

Pippin took this in quietly, then looked to Aragorn with wonder. "How do you know about the Bullroarer?"

Aragorn laughed. "Master Merry here has been enlightening us all with tales of your past while you lay sleeping. We know more about you now than you would probably care to imagine. And I should say that we look forward to hearing this famous singing voice of yours once you are feeling up to it."

Pippin did not smile. "How long have I been asleep?"

"Near fourteen days, though this one is hardly begun."

"Fourteen days!" Pippin blanched.

"You've missed seventy-four meals, Pip." Merry laughed. "I've been keeping count."

"Seventy-four…" Pippin repeated and then scrunched his eyes shut, as if willing the astounding number out. He opened them again, a bit calmer. "May I see Frodo?"

Aragorn shook his head. "He and Sam have not yet awoken. They lay as you have, in the deep sleep of healing."

"May I see Gimli, then? I should like to thank him, I suppose."

"Master Dwarf has gone with a small company to bring back more supplies. He will return by this evening. I am certain he will be glad to find that you are awake."

Merry leaned in then, determined to garner Pippin's attention and steal him away from his gloomy expression. "Would you like to eat something, Pip? You've got a lot of catching up to do."

Pippin looked uncertain. "Will you bring it to me? Or can I fetch it myself."

"Well, I should like to bring it to you, if you'd let me. I don't know if you ought to be walking just yet…" Merry trailed off, looking to Aragorn for guidance.

Aragorn looked at Pippin. "Would you like to try walking to the ration tent? It is not far."

"Oh, yes!" Pippin swung his legs over the cot but was startled by their stiffness. "I don't think I should ever want to lay in this bed again."

"Far better than where you were laying before." Merry muttered, hurt that his offer to bring breakfast had been refused.

Then Aragorn maneuvered Merry so that he stood close to the somewhat wobbly Pippin.

"Help him," he instructed, "Let him walk, but if needs your assistance, do not hesitate to give it."

Merry nodded gravely and the two began to walk together, arm in arm. Pippin paused, just as they were about to leave the tent. He turned and addressed Aragorn.

"What of Beregond? He did…fall…then?"

"Beregond healed as you have and has since gone with a company of men back to Minas Tirith to help organize our return."

"Oh," Pippin smiled weakly for the first time, "Then it is a happy day all around."

"Indeed."

~~~~

The two hobbits ambled carefully out of the tent, neither noticing the wizard, who observed them quietly from the shade. He noted that Merry did an admirable job of supporting his cousin without making it obvious that he did so. When Pippin faltered, he caught him swiftly.

Pippin turned his face to look at Merry's then.

"Merry! How did you come to be here? When I left you, you were in your own sickbed at Minas Tirith."

"Why, Gandalf sent for me."

"He did?"

"Yes! When they found that you were still alive, he sent word for me to come if I was able. And so I did. I rode in the supply cart, just like another barrel of rations, though I daresay it didn't bother me one bit for I knew that I was coming to see you again. I hardly recall the journey, I was so happy."

"And then what? Did you watch me sleep for fourteen days on end?"

"Nearly," Merry laughed, "Though sometimes I did pop in on Frodo and Sam to see if they had woken yet, but they still haven't. There's been an awful lot of sleeping going on here of late. Not by me, mind you. I've been kept quite busy running errands, fetching water and the like. I made sure, though, my Pip, that I lay right beside you every night so if you woke, it wouldn't be alone."

"Oh, Merry," Pippin looked sorrowful, "I'm happy that you're here."

"You don't look happy." Merry couldn't help but comment. It bothered him that Pippin wouldn't smile.

Pippin put a sad little kiss on his cousin's cheek. "Well, perhaps then I'm just glad."

Merry nodded and then motioned that they ought to move on. As they passed the various tents, he rattled off to Pippin exactly what went on in each. He'd had quite enough time and duty to learn the workings of the entire camp.

"There is where your man Beregond lay until he healed just last week. Many men of Gondor and the Mark still lay there. And here is the tent where all the bandages are washed and prepared for the next day's use. There are more bandages inside than I have ever seen in my life and many pretty lady healers who will kiss your smallest wounds to make them better and you don't even have to ask. And there is the ration tent just up ahead. There isn't much variety to speak of, but it is enough to hold you when your stomach aches from staying empty so and there is a queer brown bread that is nearly tasty. And the tent just beyond it there is where Sam and Frodo lie. See all the attendants? They are waiting for the honor to serve him. He is quite near royal now, but the goose hasn't even bothered to wake up and know it yet."

"Merry," Pippin whispered, "Could you take me to see Frodo?"

"But he sleeps, Pip. There isn't much to see."

"I know, but…well, it is silly, I suppose, but I should like to just see him so that, well, so that I know that he is really here."

"Alright," Merry nodded, "I'll take you, though we shouldn't linger long, as I think you ought to eat something soon."

Legolas was conversing quietly with one of the healers when they entered the tent. When he saw Pippin, a warm smile fell over his face.

"It is good to see you awake, Master Hobbit."

Pippin did not seem to hear him as all his attention was focused on Sam and Frodo. He stepped closer to them, looking from one to the other, taking in every detail silently. He reached out toward Frodo's mutilated hand, but stopped himself before he touched it.

"Oh, it's ghastly!" he cried, turning away, "They don't even look like hobbits anymore! It's awful!"

Merry stood terrified and watched as Legolas put his arms about the youngest hobbit.

"There, now, Pippin, you must keep your voice down. Remember what has been done to them and that it is remarkable for them to be here at all. They are recovering with great speed."

Pippin fell silent, but looked miserable as Legolas lead them from the Ringbearer's tent.

Outside, Merry, not knowing what else to do, urged him to carry on with what they set out for.

"You really need to eat, Pip. You'll feel better, I'm sure."

"I am not hungry, Merry!" He stumbled and fell to his knees in the dirt and Merry forgot to catch him, in shock of having been yelled at.

"Well, then…what do you want?" Merry asked feebly.

"I don't know," Pippin put his head in his heads, "I suppose I just want to go back to sleep."

"A good suggestion," Legolas agreed, picking up the hobbit carefully.

Pippin felt ashamed at being carried, but he was too exhausted to protest. "But I've been sleeping for fourteen days," he mumbled.

"Thirteen days. And likely one more hour will not harm you."

The trio returned to Pippin's tent just as Aragorn was leaving. "Is everything alright?" he questioned, pausing in the doorway.

"Yes," Legolas nodded around the bowed curly head, "I think Master Pippin was just not prepared to see his kinsmen…changed."

Aragorn looked sharply at Merry, "You have taken him to see the Frodo?"

Merry flushed guiltily. "I…I didn't know it would upset him so…"

"It is alright, Meriadoc," Gandalf said, stepping forward, "You have done no wrong. He will grow used to things as they are in time. Now let us give our friend some room to rest."

With that, Pippin was deposited sulkily on his cot and Legolas and Aragorn left to go about their duties. Merry made to sit by Pippin's bedside, but thought better of it and instead took a seat just outside the tent, close enough to hear if Pippin needed him, but far enough to give the hobbit some peace.

To Merry's surprise, Gandalf sat down beside him on the grass.

"Give him time, Meriadoc. He has had a lot to take in this morning."

Merry nodded grimly as he traced his initials idly in the dirt.

"He is of a rare sort," Gandalf continued, "One who holds faithfully in sunny outcomes, no matter how dire the situation."

"And when things don't turn out exactly as sunny as he expects, he doesn't know how to react." Merry finished glumly.

"Yes."

"It bothers me, though, Gandalf. He hasn't laughed once. He hasn't really smiled. He doesn't feel like Pippin."

"I'm sure that is how he feels seeing Frodo and Sam. No one who has gone through trials such as they have is going to be exactly the same as they once were. That is true for you as well, Meriadoc. But give it time and they will likely become closer to what you remember."

Merry dug deeper and harder into the dirt for a bit until his letters just became abstract trenches, then sat back with a sigh.

"I wish he'd at least eat something."

Gandalf laughed. "He would be more like Pippin if he did, wouldn't he?"

"Yes. But it's more than that. There's an old saying in the Shire, you know."

"The only hobbit without an appetite is a dead hobbit?"

"Yes, exactly." Merry had forgotten how familiar Gandalf was with the ways of their kind.

"Well," the wizard sat back and lit his pipe, "I suppose an exception could be made for hobbits who have been crushed by mountain trolls while defending all the good in the world and just barely lived to tell the tale."

Merry crossed his arms over his knees and laid his head upon them. "I suppose."

Gandalf smoked his pipe deeply and looked over the battered, cheerless hobbit. "Perhaps you should get yourself something to eat," he suggested, "and by the time you're done maybe Master Took will be ready for you to bring him something."

The idea sounded as reasonable as anything at the moment to Merry and so he set off for the ration tent, hoping to acquire some of that queer brown bread before it was all eaten.

~~~~

Gandalf had been smoking quietly for quite sometime when he heard a small voice call out from inside the tent.

"Hallo?"

The wizrd remembered the hobbit's reaction the last time he spoke to him and so he thought it better to perhaps wait to reply. He smiled when Pippin called out again.

"I know you're out there."

Annoyed at getting no immediate response, Pippin began to crawl off the cot.

"Well, I know someone's out there, anyway," he muttered to himself. He could see clearly the form of some big person sitting, silhouetted through the canvas of the tent. As he reached the doorway and saw who it was, he faltered.

"I'm, I'm sorry," he murmured and started to back away.

Gandalf spoke without turning to see him. "When did the demeanor of the Tooks change from one of impertinence to one of apologetic?"

Pippin didn't know how to answer. Luckily, Gandalf did not seem to expect him to.

"Come, my dear hobbit," he said in a softer tone, patting the grass beside him, "Tell me why you do not rest."

Pippin sat down gingerly, but then found himself distracted. He had been aware that his body was aching and felt a dull soreness to the touch, but only in the sunlight now did he realized that he was covered in fading bruises. He ran his hand over his arm in wonder.

Gandalf reached to stop him and took his small hand in his.

"It's just all so strange, Gandalf. It's…it's not how I imagined it would be."

"Things seldom turn out to be exactly as one imagines them."

"No…I know." Pippin bowed his head and felt his ears flush to the tips. "I had just hoped that they might be as they were before." He knew even as he said it that what he asked was impossible, but it felt somewhat better to have said it.

Gandalf released his hand and Pippin sat back with a sigh, casting his eyes about the encampment.

"I should like something else to do," he said flatly, after a bit, "I do not wish to lay still with my thoughts any longer."

"There will be plenty to occupy your mind and time once you have resumed your post in service to the king."

Pippin brightened at this. "When shall that happen?"

"When the king sees that you are fit enough to serve. A weak soldier is of no use."

"Well I've had rest enough for an entire company of soldiers!"

Gandalf was surprised by the stubborn refusal in the hobbit's voice. There was an anger to it that did not seem Pippin-like at all. He decided to change tactics slightly.

"Meriadoc has gone to have what he could find as a day meal for himself and you as well. Would you like me to take you to him?"

Pippin took a deep breath. "Would it be alright, Gandalf, if you could save my food for Frodo?"

"Peregrin Took, do you mean to say that you believe we would not have already set aside the best of our supplies for the Ringbearer and his companion?"

Pippin hung his head again. "No. I'm sorry."

Gandalf winced when he heard the lad utter such a phrase to him for the third time that morning.

"The more you apologize, my dear hobbit, the less willing I am to believe that you are well."

The words 'I'm sorry' began to slip off Pippin's tongue again, but he managed to stop them with some effort. Instead, he looked to the wizard with an expression on his face quite astounding, as it lacked even the smallest hint of humor.

"They don't look like hobbits, Gandalf." Then, more to himself, he murmured, "They look so thin."

Gandalf softened. "Have you not noticed that you yourself are…less than hobbit-like these days?"

Pippin looked down at himself, obviously surprised to find that this was true. As he examined his hardened form, his response seemed to be not one of mirth or relief, as Gandalf had hoped, but one of irritation. He clenched his small hands into fists and turned his gaze silently to the dirt.

"Master Merry has been quite concerned for you."

"He shouldn't worry about me!" Pippin snapped. Immediately, his shoulders slumped, ashamed at his outburst. "I'm sorry." He scrunched himself up when he realized he just said what he had been told not to say anymore. But Gandalf didn't seem angry. He seemed more sad.

"There is nothing to be sorry about."

Pippin shook his head, but said no more on the topic. Instead he climbed to his feet and rubbed his dirty hands upon his breeches. "May I go for a walk?"

The wizard squinted at the sunny fields and the busy soldiers that moved all across them and considered. "So long as you stay where we can see you, I don't suppose it can do you anything but good."

"How do I know where you can see me?"

Gandalf rose to his feet then and looked down at the tiny hobbit.

"As long as you can see us, we can most definitely see you."

With a solemn nod, Pippin set off, legs shaky but determined in the yellow grasses.

~~~~

After Pippin had gone, Gandalf watched his slightly stumbling progress for a bit, then moved on to one of his frequent checks of Frodo and Sam. Aragorn was in the tent and Gandalf nodded to him and then knelt to examine closer the mercifully peaceful faces.

"They still sleep," Aragorn informed him, "Although I believe they may awaken within a day or so. Frodo more likely sooner, it seems."

Gandalf nodded. The glint in his eyes belied his pleasure at this news.

"What of the hobbit Pippin?" Aragorn asked then, "Merry says he is refusing to eat."

Gandalf smiled wryly. "For hobbits, there is no greater crime. I fear he is finding himself more like the soldier who's been through the war than the hobbit awakened from a long slumber."

"I told Merry as much, but it did not seem to comfort him. It pains my heart to see them distraught so at a time when they should feel nothing but gladness and relief."

"It will perhaps take time. They are not a kind used to great loss, even when the result is in their favor." Gandalf took a seat then and his eyes seemed to grow distant. "As for Meriadoc and Peregrin, I wonder if their distress between each other is not rooted in their past more than their present."

"I had suspected there was more to this than what I could see plainly."

"Indeed." Gandalf looked to the Ranger and his face seemed unusually tender. "What are your feelings on Master Peregrin, your impressions of him on the whole?"

Aragorn smiled and cocked his head as he thought about it. "He is a spirited lad, no doubt about that. And cheerful. Good natured. Impulsive, though not evilly so. Clever and inquisitive…quite trying at times. I had believed much of this came as a symptom of his youth, though having heard the tales of his forebears, I must wonder if family bloodline does not have much to do with it."

Gandalf had once again lit his pipe while Aragorn was talking. "All of this is true," he agreed. "And what do you think of him in light of the fellow hobbits in our company?"

"Why, he is far less serious, although that is a label I hesitate to lay on any of them. He is more bold, yet far less reasonable. He would have you believe he is the most capable of them all, although he is in body somewhat more fragile."

Aragorn's sharp eyes picked up the slight change in the wizard's posture. "Ah, so that is it, I see. This is the something in the hobbit's past I have just touched on."

"There were…" Gandalf hesitated, wondering how to distill years of painful memories for his dear hobbits into a simple explanation, "several occasions when it was believed that young Peregrin would not likely make it through the night."

Aragorn understood. "And they do not forget that?"

"They do not. Meriadoc especially, I fear, will not easily relinquish his worry for his precious cousin, though time may yet negate the need. Much to Peregrin's dismay."

"It is never pleasurable to be pitied."

"It is not."

"I regret there is not more that we can do, other to make sure he continues to get well."

"That will be the best thing that we can do, but to do so with as little fuss as can be managed. And when our companions here wake, it will only be for the better, as it will likely take the feeling of focus off him and direct his thoughts elsewhere."

"And good for them as well, let's not forget."

Gandalf smiled. "That goes without saying."

~~~~

Aragorn emerged from the tent and returned a nod to the greetings of his many subjects who were walking past, noting each of them by name, knowledge that seemed to come to him more by inborn means than learned. His thoughts were elsewhere, though, as his eyes skimmed the camp and surrounding fields until at last they settled on what he was looking for: a small figure many yards distant.

He made short work of it and soon approached the hobbit, being careful to stand so that he did not cast his friend in shadow.

"Is this field much to your liking, Master Pippin?"

"Oh, hallo, Strider." Pippin squinted up at him. He looked out at the field and then sighed. "It's quite nice in a peaceful sense, though it is a bit bright."

"Perhaps you would be better in the shade."

"Perhaps," Pippin agreed but made no move.

Aragorn set his jaw grimly then and got down to business. "I'm sorry to disturb your peace out here, but I should like to check how you are faring. You are clearly fast improving, but it is wise to be certain that there is no cause for future trouble still hidden from our eyes."

Pippin looked up at him pointedly then. "Did you heal me, Strider?"

Aragorn knelt and placed his arms gently on the hobbit's shoulders. He spoke as he began carefully inspecting his body, "You did most of the work yourself. I admit I am still astounded by the resiliency in your form. Though Meriadoc told me it was so, I did not believe him until I saw it."

Pippin grimaced. "So he's told you, then, of my past…troubles?"

Aragorn shook his head. "He told me nothing of the kind. Only that you have proven to be a brave fighter in your time. It should not have surprised any of us, though," he smiled, "it goes along with your spirit."

Pippin seemed quietly pleased at this statement, even more so as it appeared Aragorn was done with his examination.

"Am I better, then, Strider?"

"It would seem so. But that depends. How well do you feel?"

Pippin's first instinct was to lie and claim that he felt perfect, but he realized that this was a kind of a test.

"Well," he said hesitantly, "it hurts a bit when I walk and breathe too hard and when I press my bruises, but if I am not thinking about it, then I do not seem to notice."

Aragorn nodded, pleased.

"If you continue to progress at this rate, Peregrin son of Paladin, then I should say you will be ready to resume your duties by as early as tomorrow."

Pippin's face lit up at this, breaking into his first genuine smile of the afternoon.

"Oh, Strider, I should like that very much."

"As should I. Many of our company are still unfit for proper duty yet and we need as many hands as we can get. I suggest, though, that if you are to take your leisure outside that you do it somewhere where there is a bit more shade. Sun sickness will do no good to your recovery."

Pippin nodded enthusiastically and as Aragorn headed back toward camp, he noted that the young hobbit moved casually toward a tree and then sat down in its shade.

~~~~

Merry returned from a lengthy, mopey lunch just in time to find Gimli raging over Pippin's empty cot.

"What have they done with the hobbit?" The dwarf fumed, "Something has happened while I was away and they have not told me!"

Merry set down the tray that he had fixed for his cousin and frowned at the rumpled sheets. "Well, he was here a little while ago." Then he turned back to the dwarf. "He's come awake, you know."

Gimli's face broke from anger to a mixture of both relief and fear. "Has he now? And does he speak?"

"Oh, he speaks well enough, alright. Well enough to tell us what he does and doesn't want, well enough to order us away when all we want to do is help."

"Master Hobbit," Gimli startled Merry, scooping him up under the arms and spinning him around, "This is joyous news!"

Merry wavered as he was set back to the floor and Gimli clomped him happily on the back, which did not help his balance much. "Well, he did ask to see you," he grumbled, sitting hard upon the abandoned cot, "I suppose he'll be glad enough to talk to You."

Gimli, in his glee paid no notice to the hobbit's injured tone. "So where is he now? Surely he is not allowed to just walk about the camp in his injured state?"

"He was walking well enough before." Merry said, standing. Despite his hurt feelings, he too was now curious to find Pippin's whereabouts. "Perhaps he's gone somewhere with Gandalf."

"Well, do not dawdle, my good hobbit, we must find him!"

And so, the two set off around the camp, working methodically from tent to tent all the length of the camp. They saw no sign of hobbit nor wizard until the very last tent they came to, where they found Gandalf and Aragorn sitting over the remains of their lunch, enjoying a smoke together.

Immediately, Gimli crouched and looked under the table and then looked back at them with a firey expression.

"Where is the hobbit? Where have you stashed him?"

Aragorn looked up at the dwarf, amused. "Well, we were going to hide him in our pockets, but we thought that might be the first place you would look."

Gimli replied with a huffy grunt and turned to Gandalf expectantly.

Gandalf nodded and rose solemnly. He moved to the opening of the tent and gazed out at the open fields.

"Ah," he said, spotting the small form immediately, "I believe you will find him under that great oak."

Without another word, Gimli began to tromp in the pointed direction. Merry hesitated before he followed. He looked up at Gandalf with a look of wonder on his face.

"Did he walk all the way out there himself?"

"Meriadoc, do you think he would have it any other way?"

Merry grinned and stuck his hands in his pockets. "He's amazing, isn't he, Gandalf?"

The wizard put his hand on Merry's shoulder. "Much like a few other special hobbits I have been graced to know."

~~~~

Pippin's sharp ears picked up the sound of someone approaching from behind. He immediately scrambled to his feet, lest anyone think that he had grown tired and spread the word about. Then he took a deep breath and prepared himself for another bout of tiresome questions and inspection from someone who would be well-meaning but would cause him to feel like a helpless child made of egg shells.

He turned. He saw who was approaching and he froze.

The dwarf paused as well, uncertain.

They stood frozen several feet apart and waited.

"Gimli?"

"Master Hobbit?"

Then, with an energy and feeling Pippin didn't know he still retained, he broke into a run and leaped at the mighty dwarf, wrapping him in a hug and bursting into tears simultaneously.

"Oh, Gimli," he cried, "Gimli! Gimli!"

Gimli's arms wavered about, not certain where they were supposed to go. It was not the reaction he was expecting.

"Gimli!" Pippin continued to sob, "Oh, Gimli, Gimli, Gimli…"

The dwarf's hand managed to find the hobbit's head and he patted the soft curls gingerly.

"There, now, Master Hobbit," he started, but he didn't know what else to say.

This was the greatest thank you he had ever received.

~~~~

Merry watched the reunion from afar and decided not to join them. Instead, he turned and went back to the tent and addressed Aragorn and Gandalf firmly.

"Pardon me, but do you know were I may find Lord Eomer?"

Aragorn shook his head. "He is not in the camp at this time. Was there something immediate that you needed?"

"Well, no, I suppose not," Merry looked at his feet and dug his toes into the dry ground, "I was just going to ask him that I be given back my regular duties tonight. I had asked earlier for lesser ones when I heard that Pippin was going to wake, but it no longer seems I'll be needed as I had thought."

Gandalf looked at the hobbit sympathetically and patted the bench beside him. "Please take your rest and have a smoke with us. You will not be missed for a short time and, too, you must take heed that you not over-worry yourself. You are still in a late stage of recovery as well, do not forget."

"How is your arm, Merry?" Aragorn asked as the hobbit took a seat. "I have not had a chance to inspect it for some time."

"Oh, it is all right," Merry said and hesitated. It was odd to be the center of concern again after he had spent so many of his past days as the care-giver, though it felt nice, especially since his cares were received with so little gratitude of late. "It, well, it does bother me a bit at night sometimes. When I've been sleeping, though perhaps it is a dream of a sort. It feels so awful cold again but when I go to touch it, it does not really feel that way at all."

Aragorn nodded. "I fear that may take a long time to fully dissipate. Such is the nature of your wounds."

Merry chewed the end of his pipe thoughtfully.

Gandalf eyed the serious-faced hobbit and smiled. "Aragorn has had some good news for us. I think you will be pleased to hear."

"Oh?" Merry looked up.

"He believes our last two sleeping companions may be waking and rejoining us within the next day."

"Oh, Strider, that's wonderful!"

Aragorn laughed and was glad to see the light return to Merry's face. "They may come a bit later, yet, but I do feel that it will be soon in any case."

Merry gazed down at the table, the smile still on his face. "Oh, I should very much like to talk with Dear Frodo and Sam again. I have so much I want to ask them."

"There will be a celebration, of course," Gandalf said thoughtfully, "and a banquet in their honor."

"Really?" Merry sat forward eagerly, "What do you plan to serve?"

"We were just speaking of this before you joined us," Gandalf winked, "how fortunate we are now to get exactly what we decided we needed: a hobbit opinion."

"Quite wise of you there," Merry agreed and immediately got down to business. "Now of what do we have to choose from?"

~~~~

The three talked cheerfully of celebration plans and alternate banquet menus until the sun started to set and it was time for dinner. They emerged from the tent and Merry suddenly remembered his cousin who had been so weighing on his mind previously. He shaded his eyes, gazed across the field and spotted them immediately: two forms sitting side by side near the base of the tree, one stout and dark, the other wiry and fair.

"I don't even think they're talking to each other," Merry frowned, "Why don't they come in and join everyone for a proper dinner?"

"Let them have their time, Meriadoc," Gandalf said, turning him away with a hand placed gently yet firmly on his back, "They will come back when they are ready to."

So, reluctantly, Merry accompanied Gandalf and Aragorn to the ration tent and, with much of the rest of the camp, they had a peaceful meal. Merry was bright and talkative, but he stored a nagging worry in the back of his mind that seemed painfully justified when, toward the end of the meal, the dwarf appeared in the tent with the limp hobbit in his arms.

"My apologies, Aragorn," he said, making his way directly to the king, "but I seem to have exhausted him without realizing it. I should have insisted he return sooner. He has fallen quite heavily to sleep and I do not have the heart to rouse him."

"That is alright, Master Dwarf. You have done no wrong. He has dealt with much in his short first day and he will need all the rest now that he can get. I will take him to his tent. Thank you, Gimli."

The dwarf handed over the small charge and bowed his head respectfully. Then he made his way to a quiet table and lit his pipe to think. The expression on his face told everyone around him that he was not yet ready to talk and would be better left alone with his thoughts.

Merry got up without a word and followed Aragorn as he carried Pippin back to his tent.

"Is he really alright, Strider?" he asked calmly, "Please tell me the truth if he isn't."

"He is fine, Master Merry, exactly as I have said." Aragorn placed Pippin carefully on his cot and they both seemed to notice at the same time the ruddy tears stains on the little hobbit's face, but neither spoke of it. Aragorn tucked the blankets loosely around his body and continued. "It is quite good that he has retired early. He will need plenty of rest if he is to serve proper duty tomorrow at the celebration."

"Do you really think he will be ready to?"

"I think he would be ready to battle me for my kingdom tomorrow, if that were what he set his mind to do. Come now, Merry. Finish your meal in peace."

"Oh, I was done already." Merry shrugged and took his accustomed place on the cot beside his cousin. "I will stay here. In case he wakes. I think I might actually be soon to sleep myself."

Aragorn nodded. "You are a noble soul indeed, Meriadoc."

He left them then and Merry moved somewhat closer to his sleeping cousin, inspecting him for any signs of further trouble. When he was satisfied, he snuggled up against him and, before another worry could cross his mind, he had fallen fast asleep.

~~~~

Merry awoke just before dawn to the sound of Pippin's stomach growling. He sat up and found that it had awakened Pippin, too, who stared back at him with anxious eyes.

"Merry," he whispered with a hint of wonder in his voice, "I think my stomach has finally woken up."

Merry rubbed his eyes and smiled sleepily, "Trust a Took body part to sleep later than the rest."

Pippin smiled but his eyes still looked desperate.

"Oh, Merry," he whined, "Is it too late to get anything to eat?"

"Too early, more likely," Merry said, shaking the last of the sleep out of his head and looking into the bluish twilight that surrounded them, "But stay here. I'll find you something, and if I have to nab it, I will."

Leaving his cousin to silence his empty stomach in the dark, Merry made his way quickly across camp and slipped into the ration tent, which he was pleased to find unmanned. He inspected the stores and found several crates of good quality fare that had obviously been set aside for a special purpose, Frodo's banquet no doubt. Those he carefully avoided, although he couldn't help but let his eyes linger over what could only be fresh pears and grapes.

"Oh, Frodo, you're a lucky fellow," he whispered out loud to himself.

Then he returned his mind (and eyes) to task and set about fixing up a tray of cheese and cursed dried fruits he had grown so sick of and a good helping of that odd Gondorian brown bread. He felt Pippin would surely find that to his liking. And since it seemed only fair, he fixed himself a tray as well. He had, after all, left a rather large crust of bread uneaten when he had abandoned his dinner to sleep beside his cousin.

He balanced the two trays carefully, along with a half filled bottle of wine and an extra loaf brown bread just for good measure, and, walking excruciatingly slow to hold their balance, made his way back to the tent where Pippin eagerly awaited and pounced at first site of the food.

"I never thought I should be so glad to see such charmless fare again!" he cried and immediately began tearing chunks from the cheese and the bread and stuffing them into his mouth, two hands at a time.

"Easy, Pip," Merry laughed and sat down on the cot with a large grin upon his face, unable to hide his joy at the sight before him. "You might choke if you continue not to chew and if you died after all this, I fear that would take the pleasure right out of it."

Pippin nodded and slowed down a great deal by his standards, but not much by anyone else's. He made short work of his tray and Merry's as well. Merry didn't mind. He would not have stopped him for the world.

"Do you feel better now?" he asked as Pippin set down the half-consumed loaf of bread to pour himself a second draught of wine.

"Mmm," Pippin nodded and smiled. "Aren't you going to have anything?"

Merry eyed the gnawed brown bread Pippin offered and shook his head. "I think I'll wait for breakfast."

"Breakfast!" Pippin's eyes lit up. "Do you think we might have eggs?"

"Well, more often it's been just bread and meat like all the other meals, but they have managed to get a few rather sorry looking eggs from time to time, I've noticed. If you ask Strider, I'm sure he'll make sure that if they have any you will get some."

"Only if you can have some too." Pippin said firmly.

"Thank you, Pip," Merry smiled, eyeing the two ravaged trays, of which he'd not taken a bite, "You always were so generous."

"Anything for you, Merry." Pippin beamed and then set about wrapping the remains of the loaf in a napkin so that he could snack on it in bed without leaving too many crumbs between the sheets. He took the bundle in his arms and crawled over by Merry on the cot and settled himself in.

Merry, who hated crumbs in the blankets more than anything, said nothing, but blew out the candle and snuggled in tighter.

They lay in the darkness for quite some time and Merry started to drift off, believing Pippin had done the same, but then the younger hobbit interrupted the silence with a soft groan.

"Oh, Merry."

"Even you can't possibly still be hungry, Pip."

"No," Pippin let out another little moan, "My tummy aches."

"Well it serves you right. What did you expect?"

"Ohhhh…"

Merry rolled his eyes and, reaching around his cousin, began to gently rub the troublesome belly. "Does that feel better?"

Pippin nodded. He cuddled up closer to Merry and after awhile, he became so quiet that Merry thought for certain that at last he'd finally gone to sleep. Then he noticed the odd hitching of his small breaths and realized with some dismay that the lad was crying.

"Now, it can't hurt that much," Merry admonished him, hiding the worry that had begun immediately to boil up inside of him again.

"No," Pippin whimpered, "it's not that…" Then he turned around and buried his face in his cousin's shoulder. "Oh, Merry," he sobbed, "I'm so glad that we're still together. I do love you so."

"Pippin, if you cry anymore today…" Merry started to tease, but his voice cracked, as he was now in tears himself. The two clung tightly to each other and wept with release and love and pent up fear. After a time, they could no longer tell whose tears belonged to whom.

~~~~

Legolas entered the hobbits' tent bright and early the next morning. He paused only momentarily at the disarming sight of dirty dishes and food crumbs scattered all about the floor then threw back the door flaps, allowing the full light of the morn to enter.

Merry sat up half-way and squinted and Pippin grumbled and buried his head beneath the pillow, a lump of now-stale bread, freed from his hold, fell to the ground.

"I have been sent to rouse you, little ones. You are to have your breakfast and then report for duty immediately thereafter."

"So early?" Merry complained, yanking Pippin out from beneath his pillow by the collar.

"Yes, of course," the elf smiled, "for the Ringbearer has awoken just a short time ago."

Merry came fully awake then. "Hear that, Pip? Frodo's up!"

Pippin looked a little frightened at the news, but at least it seemed as though he had woken for real and would not be returning to his pillow.

"Quite good," Legolas nodded to himself and clasped his hands, pleased that his task was sufficiently completed. "Please dress and report swiftly," he called over his shoulder as he left, "Your aid is greatly desired."

Merry hopped from the cot and began collecting the empty dishes into a pile he set safely out of the way. Then he dragged his cousin from the cot and lead him over to the small washstand.

"Come on, Pip. I don't think it'll do to keep old Strider waiting on today of all days."

Pippin nodded and began to wash mechanically. A light smile came over his face as he watched his cousin dress in his handsome green and white uniform and speed returned to his limbs as he dressed in his own sable and silver.

He hesitated, though, as he picked up his small helm. His breath caught uneasily inside his lungs as his body seemed to recall what had happened to him that last time he'd been wearing it.

Merry startled him out of the memory as he snatched the helm away and started to laugh, turning it over in his hands.

"You Tooks have all got such big silly heads."

Pippin grabbed the helm back and put it on with a grin. "We need them to house our large intelligent brains."

Merry stood back and appraised his fierce cousin who looked quite well in the uniform of Gondor and even managed to wear the heavy mail as if it weighed nothing.

"Frodo will be quite shocked, I think, and galled to find that Little Pippin Took now stands far taller than him."

Pippin could not mask the smile that spread from his one ear to the other and seemed to swell visibly with pride as he stepped forward and placed his hands on Merry's shoulders. Their two helms clinked as he placed a small kiss on either side of his cousin's face and laughed his musical child-like laugh that had been absent for too long. "What happy days these have become!"

And as Merry watched the little soldier march off happily to his duties, he knew that at last Pippin believed it.

The End