I'm so sorry that this update took so long! After my bro installed Broadband, he had to wipe the computer's memory, reinstall Windows, and reinstall Word and then kept hogging the damn thing!

Anyhoo, my thanks go to: angelsflame265, Camellia Gamgee-Took, pipinheart, Ice Ember, Xena, Coolio02, anon, r-z and Jenni

Thank you for your support in this venture, it's really helped me to write more. But, alas, here the story ends. I can honestly say that I never expected it to be anything more than a one-shot, so I'm very happy ending it here. I have decided to close up with a Gandalf scene, just to round things off. The events in this scene take place several days after the events I the last chapter. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: I do not own LOTR.

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Completely at ease, Gandalf closed his eyes and relaxed in the gentle wintry sunshine. He knew he would probably have to move very soon, but that thought did not particularly bother him. Just like the hobbits he'd been protecting since he first came to Middle Earth, the white wizard was quite happy to enjoy the now and ignore the little voice that asked, "What about later?"

The camp was moving out. The great mass of people at Cormallen was beginning the journey back to Gondor, as the King was anxious to return to his city. Gandalf had been working hard all day, directing and assisting with all of the hassle and hardship that accompanied such an undertaking. Eventually his long years had made themselves known, so he'd broken away from the rapidly uprooting camp to snatch a few moments of peace in this beautiful wooded glade. He was sure his peace wasn't going to last long, but for now he was quite content to sit and listen to the wood- it's many tones and undercurrents of life.

He suddenly became aware that he was no longer alone. Deepening his consciousness, Gandalf reached out to the intruder……and met a fiery green life thread, full of laughing rhythms and lilting chirrups. He grinned and settled back as Pippin made his way towards the sheltered glade.

The young Knight of Gondor trotted through the trees, his bright green eyes restlessly roving from one place to another, searching for his friend. It was nearly time to depart and there was no question in his or the King's mind of the wizard being left behind. He stopped as he entered the glade and grinned at the object of his search. "So there you are Gandalf! I was beginning to think you'd flown off with the eagles!"

Gandalf harrumphed, hiding a smile in his beard. "I am not some errant hobbit-child late for supper, Master Took. I am responsible, mature wizard and I am quite capable of looking after myself."

"Of course you are," Pippin said, airily. "Now let's go before the King decides I'm taking too long and starts to consider my suitability as a hat stand!"

Gandalf chuckled. "One of the Tooks, a hat stand? I couldn't let that happen Pippin, Merry would never forgive me."

Pippin pursed his lips thoughtfully as Gandalf strode up beside him. "You know, I never considered that. Maybe I could risk not taking you back to camp soon enough- Merry would be sure to avenge my being made into a piece of furniture."

Gandalf grinned. "Unless, of course, he remembered that you deliberately disobeyed his orders and took a stroll with a certain horse chieftain?"

Pippin nodded, face mock-serious. "As ever, you are right Gandalf. It is best that I don't risk the King's wrath- Merry might not be quite as quick as I hoped in rescuing me."

Laughing, Gandalf clapped him on the shoulder. "Come then, Pippin, let us return."

As they walked through the still wood, Gandalf became aware that Pippin seemed a little out of sorts. He was keeping very close to the wizard and every so often would shudder involuntarily, as if attacked by a sudden chill. He touched the hobbit's shoulder to get his attention and then focused his gaze into Pippin's eyes.

"Is there something wrong, Pippin? Tell me truthfully."

Pippin looked up at the white wizard and nodded, as if deciding something. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then opened them and stared into Gandalf's face. "I…I did not sleep peacefully last night Gandalf," he said, looking suddenly more vulnerable, younger, more tweenager than soldier.

Gandalf knelt to look closer at Pippin. He had a horrible feeling that he knew what had disturbed Pippin's slumber. "The palantír?"

"Yes." Pippin sniffed as tears began to form at the corners of his eyes. "It all happened again Gandalf, the lights, the pain, the voices inside my head. I couldn't think properly, I couldn't move. All I could do was listen to his message over and over."

Pippin suddenly grimaced and his eyes became vacant. His next words were harsh and guttural, completely unlike his natural light tones. "Tell Saruman that this dainty is not for him. I will send for it at once. Do you understand? Say just that!" He winced and staggered sideways. Gandalf reached out and pulled the young hobbit into him. Pippin sobbed, clutching at his robes as if they were a lifeline. "It was so horrible Gandalf. I wanted to die…"

"Never say that." Gandalf's voice was sharp, cutting through Pippin's sorrow. "Never say that Pippin. Never regret that you are here, that you have life, that you are loved. For you are loved Pippin, and you always will be."

Pippin burrowed deeper into Gandalf as the wizard tightened his grip on the hobbit. "Hush now, my lad. Hush now. I am here, as are you. He whom you heard in the seeing stone is gone forever; he can have no hold over you. You must vanquish this darkness, as you have done over and over again. You are safe, Pippin."

The tweenager snuffled and pulled away from his friend. "Thank you, Gandalf." Suddenly he stood tall with his back straight as his indomitable spirit came to the fore, a Knight of the City again. "However, I won't be safe if we dawdle around here any longer. The King still might turn me into a hat stand."

Relieved, Gandalf smiled and stood. "Come then, Knight of Gondor, let us go."

Pippin smiled back and they set off together towards the edge of the wood.

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Merry watched his cousin emerge from the wood with Gandalf behind him. He saw the wizard bend to address Pippin and then turn to stride off, most likely in search of Shadowfax. He himself ran over to his cousin.

Pippin grinned as he approached and opened his arms. Merry grinned back as he enveloped his cousin in an affectionate hug. "What took you so long cousin?"

Pippin wrapped his arms around Merry, sighing contentedly. "Wizards, you know," he said lightly. "They take so long to walk the most absurdly short distances."

Merry laughed and pulled away, turning to walk towards the slowly forming line of people, horses and carts. "Come along Pip, we've got to convince Cousin Frodo to ride to Gondor in one of the carts with Sam. And find a mount for you, I'm sure Gandalf will be none to pleased having to lug you around again and Stybba can't take both of us."

Pippin caught up with his cousin and put an arm around his shoulders. "Oh, I shouldn't worry about that Merry, I'll persuade Shadowfax to take me. After all, who could resist the charm of a Took?"

THE END

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Yes, the end. Once again, thank you to all those who have reviewed so far, please review again and tell me what you think of the last chapter!