Author's note: This is the non-slash version of the fic. Have some pipe-wind, throw back a pint, and relax!! The author's note regarding the *one thing* I would not change is at the end. Cheers! ::drinks own pint, chokes, and passes the rest of the drink on to reviewers::
Many thanks to Violet Raven for beta-ing!
Dedicated with much love to Emily, a true Brandybuck with a scary Tookish streak. This one's for you!
Merry had never been more aware of blood. He was keenly aware that it was all around him, pounding within him, throbbing in his ears. He could feel it in the beating of Eowyn's heart where she pressed against his back. He could see it in the flush of the cheeks of the banner-bearers who rode beside them, faces young and determined. The huge horse beneath him jostled him, making him accidentally bite down on his lower lip, and he tasted the coppery flavor of his life's fluid. It unnerved him. It brought back unbidden memories of crimson leaking from the arrow wounds of Boromir, of the dark-stained cloak of Frodo that bunched as he writhed with the pain of a Morgul wound, of the black and steaming liquid that gushed forth from the orcs that Merry himself had felled. It forced him to think of blood slicked fields and bright red bandages and blades and axes and war and-
"We're almost there," Eowyn's voice whispered close to Merry's ear, making him jump involuntarily. "Look. There is smoke in the air."
Merry didn't want to look, he didn't want to see the gray clouds of ash and smoke rising, he didn't want to know or see where they were headed, but he decided that he must. He had to be prepared, at any rate, because whether he liked it or not he had wanted to fight and now he certainly was going to. He raised his eyes skyward. And blanched.
The land ahead was choked in darkness. Huge clouds of black smoke vomited forth from an unseen inferno. The land raised above him into a hill that the cavalry had not yet climbed so he could not see the furnace that fed the fire but he knew what it was. It was the white city of Minas Tirith, the city that Boromir had so often talked about but never reached, the city that Aragorn had decided against them going to so long ago at Amon Hen, the city that for so long had seemed nothing more than a dot on ancient maps. The city where Gandalf had taken Pippin. And it was burning.
Merry felt his insides lurch and he was glad of Eowyn's slight but strong arm around his waist as he swayed in his seat, dizzy with shock and fear. "Its on fire," he heard himself state dully. "Pippin..."
Little, naive, brave, beautiful Pippin, trapped in a city of flame, alone. In a flash like a horrible dream Merry saw him, running blindly through burning streets, tripping over the dead, sprawling face forward onto hard stone, his bright green eyes tearing at the poisonous fumes. And if there were flames and torches there would be orcs, thousands of orcs, with their foul blades and their hateful eyes and Pippin was alone, all alone. What would they do to him, a tiny hobbit in a war that was too big for him?
Blood...blood on the steps of the citadel...
"Forth! Onward, up the hill!" From the head of the cavalry Theoden King lead the way up the hill, green and white banner blazing. Merry felt Eowyn's breath quicken, and her arm tightened almost painfully at his waist. Heart pounding, Merry stroked his hand over her gauntlet. It was more for his own comfort than hers; a panic was beginning to well up inside of him; his mind was screaming at him.
The clanging of swords and the dull thud of blade upon armor could be heard.
Merry swallowed hard. They were nearing the summit of the hill. Now flickers of orange light could be seen against the darkness. Meriadoc Brandybuck, aristocratic hobbit from the Shire, was heading into battle. He had wanted this, or rather, he had thought he did. At the time it had seemed that everyone was doing something to help and he was nothing, just dead weight and useless until someone found some errand or another for him to do. He wanted to help, wanted to make some sort of a difference. That was part of it, at any rate. Secretly he had always hoped that riding to Minas Tirith would allow him to find Pippin again. In his daydreams during the long ride to Gondor Merry often saw himself at the front of the Rohirrim, taking part in a charge that would save the city of Minas Tirith and change the tide of war. Then he would come upon Pippin on the city streets and take him by surprise, perhaps just walk up nonchalantly and say "Well, hullo Pip, fancy meeting you in a place like this." Pippin would be so surprised that for once he would have nothing to say, so Merry would simply kiss him on the cheek and pretend to walk away casually. But now...
The Rohirrim reached the top of the hill and any shred of hope that Merry had went flying into the wind that laughed in his face. The army at the bottom of the hill was massive, a sea of evil greater than one ignorant hobbit could have ever imagined. Merry wanted to scream; he wanted to shriek and cry and weep. How could his Pippin survive all of that? And even if he could, what was the chance that Merry would live to see him again? All at once death seemed an enormous probability.
A tiny gasp escaped Merry's lips and he clung to Eowyn's arm in terror, pressing back against her as if she was his mother and could somehow make the nightmare disappear. She held tightly to him, anchoring him to reality.
"Courage, Merry," she whispered. "Courage for our friends."
She squeezed his hand reassuredly. Courage. Yes. Courage. Merry had to be brave. He could not lose his wits now. He had to do this. For Pippin. For Frodo. For his home. He had to do this.
Nodding slightly, Merry took a deep breath and let his eyes close briefly. His heart still pounded in his chest but slowly, slowly the desire to run in horror began to leave him. The panic lessened as he listened to the war cries of the orcs on the battlefield below and was replaced with a great feeling of sadness. Death awaited him, and he had lived so short a time and accomplished so little. He would never again see the Brandywine River or take an ale at the Green Dragon or be scolded by Gandalf. He would never see another sunrise or swing from an apple tree or taste clean water. He would never be able to hold Pippin again or whisper to him little stories meant to elicit a smile. He would never see Frodo again, or Sam, or quiet Aragorn. There was so much Merry felt he hadn't done that he could have, and so much he would never get to do.
And yet...there was a feeling of peace inside him as well. He knew it was hopeless but some stubborn hobbit part of him kept thinking that perhaps the suicide ride of the Rohirrim would keep Minas Tirith from being over taken immediately. Perhaps Merry's death would help to save Pippin.
King Theoden rode out in front of his troops brandishing his spear. He shouted words as he rode back and forth, readying his men for their final ride. Merry felt Eowyn tremble and "Whatever happens," she said, "stay with me. I'll take care of you."
Merry felt a great surge of love for this disguised lady of Rohan who had shown him such kindness over such a short period of time. She would not die alone, at least, for Merry decided then that he would protect her to the last, if he could. She deserved that much, so fair and brave she was.
"Death!" A chant sprung up among the troops. "Death!"
Goodbye to the Shire, and the fields ever-green...
Goodbye to the sky and the air free and clean...
Farewell Frodo....I hope you'll be proud...
"Death!" Tears burning at the backs of his eyes, Merry took up the call, raising his sword like all the others.
Goodbye my dearest Pippin...
"Death!" Now Eowyn too took up the call.
The cavalry charged on.
What Pippin always remembered about the aftermath of the battle was the silence. As he followed Gandalf around the muddied and torn field he thought that there should be more noise, more groans and sighs, more signs that some still lived however many were injured. But there was only silence. The dead army even moved in silence, their feet and armor making no noise. Gandalf too was speechless; he walked deliberately, taking in everything.
"There's so much destruction...." Pippin muttered as he surveyed the broken bodies of soldiers of good and evil alike, the corpses of the giant Mumakil that lay like gray hills in the smoke, the ruins of the orc towers, and the fragments of destroyed buildings. "Is everyone dead then, Gandalf? Is their no one out here....who's.....who still..." He swallowed. It all seemed so pointless to him. Why did so many have to die? Why was there so much hate and suffering? Was there no other way to end this war? He didn't understand. Gandalf did not answer, and Pippin wondered if the wizard was thinking the same thing.
Heartsick, the hobbit wandered the battlefield, looking without hope into the dull eyes of the dead. Several soldiers walked here and there, mostly remnants of the valiant Rohirrim. They too scanned the bodies on the ground, occasionally breaking out into fits of rage or tears as they recognized one of the dead faces. Death was more a pain for the living than the deceased, it seemed.
Presently Pippin stumbled upon someone he vaguely recognized; the captain of the Rohirrim, Eomer his name was. He was gazing around as if lost, his eyes seeking something on the ground. Pippin watched him for a while, wondering if he should say something. The man looked towards the hobbit and for a split second it seemed that Eomer saw and took comfort in seeing the Halfling alive. Then his eye caught something amongst the deceased and all comfort and color fled from Eomer's face.
Pippin dared not look to see whom Eomer had lost. Instead he turned quickly and ran in the opposite direction. The stench of blood and smoke overwhelmed Pippin's senses. His head reeled and for a moment he was afraid that he would faint and be mistaken for one of the many dead. Suddenly his foot caught on a broken helm and he was sent sprawling onto his hands and knees, tearing the sensitive skin on his palms. The hobbit remained in that position for a moment, taking great shuddering breaths to calm himself. Gradually Pippin became aware that he was mumbling something over and over again, and he was only slightly surprised to realize it was "Merry, Merry..."
There was a light touch Pippin's shoulder and a moment later the hobbit was hauled to his feet by Gandalf, who was smiling grimly. "Bravely now, Peregrin Took," said the old man softly. "There are many to be looked after."
"Gandalf," Pippin started, dashing a hand across his watery eyes. "It looks like everyone is... is dead. There's so many of them...."
"Yes," the wizard said, laying a gnarled hand to the hobbit's shoulder. "There are." Then his eyes caught sight of Eomer, and his eyes clouded over. Gandalf sighed. "And it looks as if Theoden, Lord of the Mark, is among them. You keep up hope, my lad. I must tend to the dead."
With that Gandalf strode away, leaving Pippin alone to master himself. He stood for a while blinking like an owl in the sunlight, watching as Gandalf bent to Eomer and then summoned soldiers to bear the bodies the Captain wept over: Theoden King, who looked peaceful even from where Pippin stood, and a young soldier with blood in his long flaxen hair. Then Pippin realized with a start that it was no mere soldier at all, it was a maiden, her face pale and drawn yet lovely still. Pippin felt staggered; had even the women of Rohan died for the aid of Gondor? He had no time to dwell on it, for Gandalf had turned and with a forehead creased with lines of worry and grief he beckoned to the hobbit and called "Come, my lad. We must return to the city."
With a final glance around him, the smallest guard of the citadel nodded and began to follow the grim procession. Suddenly he halted, and on a whim bent to the ground and removed the glove from his right hand. He let it fall and dug his naked fingers deep into the abused earth, pulling up a good handful. Then he stood and closed his eyes for a moment, letting the soil slip through his fingers.
"Like the gardens of the Shire," he whispered, surprised. "I hope they reach the white shores...." Pippin opened his eyes and tossed the remaining dirt into the air. It caught in the wind and scattered over the battle field; Pippin wondered why he had done it.
"Peregrin..." Gandalf was calling him again, more firmly this time. Pippin followed with downcast eyes.
He had not gone four steps when something caught his eye. To his right lay one of the huge Mumakil, and in the curve of its body was a pile of dead orcs. The ground about them was dark with their foul blood; broken shields and crudely made weapons lay scattered, the only tombstones the wretched monsters would likely get. But amidst the carnage of the scene a garment, grayish green and of fair make, had been cast aside like so much refuse. Pippin stared at it in wonder for a moment. An elvish cloak, one of the nine the elves had given the Fellowship when the left Lothlorien. How had it ended up here, hundreds of miles away from the golden wood? A sinking feeling of premonition washed over Pippin as he turned and started over to it. As he grew closer he could see plainly a gloved hand sticking out from beneath the pile of orcs. A hand as tiny as Pippin's own ungloved one.
Pippin broke into a run. He did not hear Gandalf call his name, this time impatient and irritated, nor feel when something sharp nicked his ankle. He saw only Merry, the one who had always been there to say something encouraging, who had always held his arms out in exasperated fondness whenever Pippin would wake in the middle of the night, who smiled so sadly and sweetly at his younger cousin who 'didn't understand the 'bigness' of the real world', who was so proud and strong and gentle all at the same time, trapped beneath a crushing pile of carrion foul.
"Merry!" Pippin cried, pulling frantically at the orcs. They were heavy but somehow Pippin managed to roll them off and away. "Merry!" Merry lay still, so very still; he did not move even when Pippin lifted him and cradled his cheek against Pippin's chest. He was pale, with black bruises under his eyes and bright blood at his mouth. Pippin's heart screamed out in pain.
"Merry! Its me!" The world seemed unreal, like a dream, no, like a horrible nightmare that Pippin longed to wake from but couldn't. "Wake up!" he pleaded. "Its Pippin!"
A heartbeat and then Merry's dark lashes stirred and his eyes opened painfully. "Pippin..." he murmured, his voice distant. Then his eyes focused on Pippin's face and he smiled ever so slightly. "I knew you'd find me....."
Tears of relief streamed down Pippin's face as he stroked his elder cousin's cheek. "Yes. I'm here now. Everything is going to be alright, Merry."
"Pip...." Merry's face suddenly contorted in pain and he jolted, writhing in Pippin's arms and gasping like a drowning man. "So cold.....can't feel my arm....I'm so cold..."
A sob escaped Pippin's lips and he clung to his companion, planting a kiss on his cousin's forehead. "Its alright, its alright!"
"...stabbed him, Pip.....Pippin....Pippin!" Merry flailed his left arm wildly; the right remained limp by his side, and his eyes took on a glassy sheen. "Pippin.....are you going to leave me?! Pip!"
"No, no!" Pippin cried, horribly frightened now. "I'm going to take care of you." His words sounded hollow even to his own ears; words he had heard spoken before to reassure the dying. Gently Pippin laid Merry down on the ground, taking care not to jostle his injured arm, then he snatched the elven cloak and spread it over his cousin's prone body. There were people approaching now, Gandalf, perhaps, and some others by the sound of the footsteps. Pippin wanted to shout at them to stay away. He had an irrational fear that if they came and took Merry away he would never see him alive again. Of course, there was a greater chance that Gandalf could help somehow, but at the moment Pippin could not think clearly. He desperately wanted his cousin to jump up and laugh and tease him for falling for 'his act' once again. But Merry's eyes had fallen closed and he did not stir again.
"Merry," Pippin whispered, resting his forehead on Merry's. It was cold and damp with sweat. "I love you." He placed a gentle kiss on chill unresponsive lips; he could taste blood on them. "You have to *wake up* so I know that you love me too. Merry......Merry, please."
Still nothing. There was a hand on Pippin's shoulder. He choked back another sob and raised his tear filled eyes to gaze into the face of an elf.
"Legolas..." The hobbit stated before letting his head drop down onto Merry's chest. They were going to take Merry away, they were going to take him away and bury him and he would be dead, dead! And sure enough strong hands were pulling Merry away from Pippin's clutching arms.
"No!" Pippin cried, leaping up and snatching wildly. "No, don't take him from me!"
It was Aragorn who cradled Merry in his arms, and he did nothing more but cast Pippin an undecipherable glance before striding away quickly towards the city. Pippin made to run after him but was stopped as Legolas stepped around to kneel in front of the small halfling.
"You must let him go," said the elf, putting his hands on Pippin's shoulders. "He can help him-"
"You can't take him from me! I told him I wouldn't leave him! I promised!" Pippin babbled." You'll bury him! You'll bury him!!"
Legolas stared at him. Behind him Gimli stood solemnly, tears shining in his eyes.
Gandalf, however, stood calmly."Peregrin Took!" He boomed. Pippin sobbed and shot the wizard a glare full of uncharacteristic anger. Legolas blinked, startled. He had never seen such a fire burning in the young Took's eyes. Surely Gandalf was being too harsh on him.
"We will do nothing of the sort!" Gandalf went on. "You must control yourself! You will not be allowed anywhere near Meriadoc as long as you are in this irrational mood! I bid you be calm! Aragorn can help, but only if you allow him the time and space he needs. Peace, my lad!"
For a moment the anger swelled in the hobbit's green eyes, but then all at once it faded and he dissolved into silent but bitter weeping. He let his arms hang limply at his sides and despite all the armor and the sword at his side he looked very much the emotionally drained tweenager he was. Legolas was overwhelmed with pity and he gathered Pippin into his arms, holding him as he cried and soothing him by brushing a hand over his curls.. Gandalf let out a sigh.
"I see now that it was indeed wise to let them come on this journey," the wizard mumbled, "but at what cost to their own livelihood?"
"He is overwhelmed, Mithrandir," Legolas said. "His mind is confused by the pain in his heart."
"He is young," Gimli said pointedly.
"He is not young," Gandalf replied sharply. Then his tone softened a bit and he continued sadly, "Not anymore. And I fear I shall forever regret that it was my doing."
"No..." Pippin's soft voice said. He pulled away from Legolas, and he looked up at Gandalf dignifiedly. "Whatever made me grow up..." He swallowed and dared a glance to the east where a tongue of flame could be seen dancing in the sky. "It was not you, Gandalf." He took a deep breath. "I think that I'm alright now. I need to see Merry." Then a bit of the old Pippin snuck back as he looked back at Gandalf sheepishly and added "Please?"
Gandalf's lips curled into a small smile. "He will be in the Houses of Healing. I shall take you personally, Peregrin Took. I've business there as well."
"Merry! Merry! Merry!" Pippin bounded down the stony streets, nearly knocking over the soldiers who guarded the doors to the House of Healing. He had manage to walk calmly enough alongside Gandalf for most of the time but once he laid eyes on the straw roof and smoking chimney he had bolted off on his own, running as fast as his feet could take him. Gandalf had sighed loudly, but otherwise hadn't protested much. Pippin was glad for that. Every moment of not knowing how or where Merry was seemed like an eternity.
"Merry!" Pippin cried again as he entered the house. He quickly sobered, however, as he realized how many sick and injured there were. The front room was full of moaning soldiers and the busy women who tended them. There was blood on the floor (Pippin nearly slipped more than once) and every now and again a piercing shriek would come from some corner of the room. Pippin guiltily averted his eyes. He could do nothing to help them aside from giving them his pity.
In the next room he was happy to find Faramir, who was sitting up in bed dozing. He looked pale, but he was alive and when Pippin shut the door Faramir opened one eye and smiled at his rescuer before falling back asleep. At the opposite end of the room Eomer with his head bowed beside a bed where the blonde soldier-maid lay on her side. The lady's shoulders were shaking and as Pippin grew closer to her he saw that she was sobbing silently. One arm was thrown over her white face, but the other laid by her side, moving just a little. She did not look up as Pippin passed her, but Eomer raised his red-rimmed eyes to meet Pippin's. He nodded and then bowed his head once more.
The next room was very quiet. There were many beds arranged in two lines, one along either wall. Most of the figures in the bed were motionless; they seemed to be in a deep sleep. There were a few women in the room who bustled around like honey bees, tending to the sick. Pippin did not see Merry. The panic he had managed to chase away began to creep back. Why could he not find his Merry?
One of the women brushed past carrying an empty pitcher and Pippin called to her. "Excuse me-"
"No time to speak, master hobbit. The Black Shadow lies heavily on these poor souls. They need healing and we must tend them until the King is ready to work his magic. "
"The King?" Pippin asked, but the woman had already disappeared through the door. "The Black Shadow...Merry...."
Pippin jumped. Gandalf had come in while he had been talking to the healing woman and now the wizard was at another door and motioning that Pippin should follow him. The hobbit hurried after the swift Istari, through the door and down a short hallway into another area of the House.
There was Aragorn, bent over a small figure who had been laid on a bed that seemed to engulf him. His skin was as pale as the sheets that covered him, but even as Pippin entered the room the figure stirred and groaned lowly.
"Merry!" Pippin cried, ready to leap onto the tiny figure in his joy. Gandalf stopped him with a gesture and Pippin fidgeted anxiously, impatient to see his companion again. Aragorn mumbled a few more words then touched Merry's forehead with his fingertips.
"Come back, Meriadoc of the Shire. Let darkness be gone and trouble you no more. Come back!" the ranger said in a commanding voice. Pippin watched him with wide eyes. Merry groaned again and his fingers twitched ever so slightly.
"Go to him, my lad, "Gandalf said, giving the young Took a push towards the bed. Pippin did not need to be told a second time. In a thrice he reached the bedside. Aragorn took his hand and set it over Merry's. Then he stepped aside.
"Call him, Pippin," Aragorn said with a reassuring smile.
Pippin nodded and bent low so that he was only a few inches away from his cousin's ear. "Merry! I'm here now, your Pippin's here. Wake up, Merry!"
A second passed. The bed creaked with the hobbits' weight. Gandalf's robes fluttered slightly as he shifted. Pippin's armor clinked cheerfully. The injured moaned nearby. Mount Doom rumbled miles away. Outside a bird crooned.
Merry's hand tightened gently on Pippin's. His eyes opened and he smiled.
Pippin had never heard a more beautiful sound in all his life.
"Fancy meeting you in a place like this." Merry's eyes were like rain washed crystals of moonlight.
"Oh...." He breathed. "Oh, Mer...Merry......" With a sound that was part giggle part sob Pippin flung his arms around his friend and mumbled nonsense through relieved tears.
"Pip...." Merry's good hand rose to brush Pippin's tear stained cheek. "They said you were dead."
"They said you were taken, gone. I-I saw you, on the battlefield and then the Shadow-" He shuddered and said no more. Aragorn cleared his throat.
"Think no more of it," he said. "Keep your mind from evil things. The battle is won. You need not look further than tomorrow. Peace be with you both." He smiled again then left to lend his healing hands to the other sick and wounded. Gandalf lingered for a moment, looking at the two hobbits on the too-big bed, both in armor they never should have had to don, both care-worn and exhausted, both enthralled with one another. Finally the wizard smiled.
"I think you have performed any and all necessary duties today, the both of you. I shall send someone to bring you more comfortable garments. Then pray you both, get some rest! The Valar only know you deserve it." The last was said with a chuckle as Gandalf shut the door behind him. Night came to Minas Tirith, and as the smoke above the city cleared, the star of Earendil shone brightly.
(Author's notes: I decided to leave Pippin's kiss on the battlefield because it worked in a platonic way as well. Pippin is kissing Merry to be sure that he is still breathing. It is a mark as friendship as well as love and I did not want to remove it because I saw nothing wrong with it. If I offended anybody, I apologize. ::bows::
Comments, questions, criticism, your first born, all are welcome! ^_^)