"The Hobbit of My Affections"
A/N: This story is a romantic adventure between Merry and Pippin, so if such things offend you...you know the drill. This story is rated R for violence, language, and adult Hobbit situations. Though I generally stick to literary canon throughout this story, I see no reason not to borrow from the films as well, particularly when there are so many wonderful performances to inspire me.
Disclaimer: All these wonderful characters and their universe belong to J.R.R. Tolkien. I'm just having fun in the Professor's extraordinary playground.
Chapter One: If You Can't Trust Your Ex-Tavern Maid...
May 1, 1420 S.R.
It was the day of Sam and Rosie's wedding and the Party Field was teeming with dancing, drinking, and cheering Hobbits dressed in their most colorful silks and ribbons. The pavilions were festooned with streamers and May flowers, covering tables laden with the finest fare the Shire had to offer. And the Elven mallorn that was the new Party Tree was shining with fresh golden blossoms. It was the happiest day Hobbiton had seen in a long while, and Peregrin Took was happier than most.
At least he had been, up until about two minutes ago....
Pippin's father, Thain Paladin II, stared at his only son and heir in such a way that told Pippin he needed to be doing something very particular at that moment, but his father expected him to guess what that something was. "Go on, then."
Pippin looked befuddled, signaling that he needed a bit more information than that.
"Dance with her," his father said, as if that was supposed to explain everything.
Unfortunately, it did. Pippin groaned. "This is supposed to be a day of celebration. Why should I ruin it by dancing with Diamond?" Diamond of Long Cleeve was a rather pretty Hobbit lass, but she possessed only enough wit to know a quality jewel when she saw one.
"Because your mother and I wish it," his father replied impatiently. "And despite all of your strange adventures, her parents are quite keen on the match."
Pippin snapped his head around in alarm. "Match? You haven't--but I'm only thirty!" Even though Pippin had achieved world-wide renown and towered over every other Hobbit except Merry, he still wasn't 'of age' and couldn't entirely avoid parental interference.
"True, but it's not too early for an engagement." Tookish engagements were notoriously protracted. The longest engagement in the history of the Shire had been between The Old Took and Adamanta Chubb which lasted twenty-eight years. His father patted Pippin on the back and pointed to a group of Hobbits standing under the neighboring pavilion. "Young Meriadoc is thinking about settling down with Estella Bolger. Saradoc tells me that the delicate negotiations between the Brandybucks and the Bolgers are heating up this very day."
Pippin felt like the wind had been knocked out of him. Merry was getting married? Even his father seemed a little concerned at his son's suddenly dazed expression, but felt a lively dance was the only thing for it. He nudged Pippin in the direction of Diamond, who chose that moment to turn around and wave at him madly. Pippin took a few steps forward, but then recovered his senses. He turned to the left and headed towards the other side of the field.
He watched the dozens of pairs of dancers spinning around on the green, but had no desire to join them. He glanced over to a group of Hobbit lasses surrounding his cousin Merry and a reluctant Frodo. It would have been the most natural thing in the world for him to join them, telling his own stories of his time in the service of Gondor (the lasses never got sick of hearing them), but Pippin felt isolated and awkward.
Everyone but him seemed so ready to move on with their lives. Sam was married and now Merry's parents were in 'negotiations'. He glanced over at his cousin Frodo, who had excused himself and was now quietly chatting with the groom and Pippin's sister, Pervinca. Pippin wished he could be like Frodo, living a bachelor's life and not answering to anyone's demands. He quickly reminded himself how Frodo had suffered because of the demands of others, but at least now he could rest in some semblance of peace. Pippin started when he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"Now then," said a sweet and friendly voice, "I'll not have such a long face at my wedding, if you please."
Pippin couldn't help but smile at the sight of the prettiest Hobbit bride he'd ever seen. "Sorry, Rosie."
"Now you'll have to dance with me as punishment." She tried to look severe, but failed.
Pippin laughed softly and put his arm around her waist, as Rosie placed her hand in his. "Hardly punishment. You just saved me from having to dance with Diamond."
Rosie rolled her eyes, but they still twinkled with joy as Pippin spun her around the green to the tune of a lively jig.
"I know what your trouble is." Rosie sniffed Pippin's breath and frowned. "You smell sober."
"I am," he replied sadly. "Mostly."
"Well, I'm insulted," Rosie said with a playful smile. "I had fully expected you and Merry to be well into your cups by now."
"Merry's a bit too busy with Estella Bolger to drink with me." Pippin said it with venom, then immediately regretted it. "I'm sorry, this is your day."
Rosie gave him a consoling pat on the cheek.
Partly to change the subject and partly to understand the inner workings of the Hobbit heart, Pippin asked, "How did you know--that Sam was the one for you?"
She giggled blissfully. "Oh, that was easy. One day, almost four years ago, I looked around the Green Dragon and asked myself who I loved the best. It was Samwise Gamgee, of course."
"You loved him all that time and he never knew?"
She grinned wryly. "For a while there I thought I'd be the one to ask him to marry me."
Just then, the tune and their dance ended. Pippin looked down at his feet. "You and Sam are very lucky to have finally found each other."
Rosie looked up at him questioningly, then a light of understanding filled her eyes. "You're pining, aren't you? That's why you're sulking so." She gently turned him around to face the crowd. "Tell me, Pippin, who do you love the best?"
Pippin glanced at Rosie then back at the throng of happy Hobbits. Why not tell Rosie? After all, if a Hobbit lad couldn't trust his ex-tavern maid, who could he trust? After a long pause, he said, "Over there."
Rosie followed his gaze to a threesome consisting of Estella Bolger, Diamond of Long Cleeve and Merry. The lasses were obviously enthralled with one of Merry's stories. "Not Estella, surely?"
"No," he said quickly.
"I'm certain it isn't Diamond, but I know for an absolute fact that she adores you."
Pippin raised an eyebrow.
"Well, she adores the money you'll eventually inherit." Rosie turned to him in confusion. "But that only leaves--" Her eyes grew wide and she put her hand over her mouth. She pulled it away just long enough to whisper, "Merry?"
Pippin nodded miserably.
"Does he know?" she hissed.
"Of course not!" He turned away from her, ashamed.
Rosie put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "It's alright, Pip. Remember that time when you and Merry drank your weight in ale; Merry was passed out in back and you got sick all over yourself. Do you remember what I said when I cleaned you up?"
Pippin cringed at the ignoble reminder of his humbler days, but grinned in spite of himself. "You said, 'I can't afford to be judgmental, I wouldn't have any customers.'"
Rosie stood on her tip-toes and hugged him tightly. "No worries, Pippin, your secret is safe with me."
Many hours later, Sam and Rosie managed to sneak away to Bag End without too much fanfare, but many of the guests still remained. There was just enough food left for a midnight feast and the hardier Hobbits wouldn't think of letting it all go to waste.
Estella Bolger and most of the prettier lasses were not among the lingerers, so Merry found himself quite alone. Strangely, Pippin was nowhere in sight. Merry made an intensive search of the field and finally found his young cousin sitting against a rock, staring out into the darkness. What was stranger still was that he had no drink in his hand or pipe in his mouth. Merry nudged him with his foot.
Pippin whipped his head around and shot his cousin a look of annoyance. Merry ignored it. "Where have you been all day?"
Merry snickered. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were avoiding me."
Pippin's expression darkened further. "You were busy courting Estella. I didn't want to interrupt."
"Since when has my being with a lass ever stopped you from interrupting?" Merry's laugh died in his throat when Pippin just continued to pout. "Why are you acting like this?" Pippin's behavior was completely unlike his usually carefree and cheerful self.
He shrugged. "I'm just trying to adjust to all these changes, that's all."
"What changes?" Merry asked, beginning to get a little annoyed himself.
"Marriage. Not so much Sam's, but I hear you're getting ready to marry Estella Bolger."
Merry laughed. "Who told you that?"
"My father." Pippin allowed himself a slight smirk as he performed his best imitation of The Thain: 'delicate negotiations between the Brandybucks and the Bolgers are heating up enough for a right strong cup of tea.'"
Merry rolled his eyes and sat next to Pippin. "There's nothing settled yet, and won't be for quite some time; but you've always known I fancied Estella." Merry paused. "It doesn't change anything between us, if that's what you're worried about."
Pippin turned and forced a smile that Merry decided to accept as genuine. With a conspiratorial grin, Merry leaned over and whispered in Pippin's ear. "I nicked a great firecracker earlier. I thought we might stick it inside a cabbage and light it. We haven't blown up any vegetables for ages."
At first Pippin gave Merry a disapproving look. They were gentlehobbits and warriors, after all. Perhaps they should be above such childish pranks. But they both still had a mischievous, boyish streak that each hoped the other would never lose. Pippin laughed and sprang to his feet. "What are we waiting for?"
Merry smiled broadly. Everything was back to normal.
"That was the finest cabbage explosion I've ever been party to." Merry was slurring his speech and weaving to and fro as he and Pippin finally made their way to Bag End.
Pippin took his cousin's arm and did his best to keep Merry from falling over. "I know, I was there." Pippin's ardor for Merry was dampened slightly--but only slightly--by the fact that Merry insisted on belching in his ear.
"So you were!" Merry stopped and eyed Pippin, apparently trying to figure out which one of the three he was seeing was the real one. "And you still got a bit a' cabbage stuck in your hair." Merry closed one eye and reached towards his cousin with a dangerously wavering hand. He managed to snatch the singed leaf of cabbage along with a few strands of Pippin's curls.
Pippin cried out and rubbed he scalp, but he couldn't help laughing. For a few brief moments it did feel like things were back to normal, but then he remembered what he had told Rosie. There was no going back now. He had revealed his love for Merry and now the feelings he had tried to suppress all these years were sitting on the surface of his mind, like knives resting on his skin.
He turned the brass doorknob on the round green door and helped Merry inside. Merry stumbled down the hall, occasionally bumping into the rounded walls until he found their bedroom.
Merry tried to pull off his leather doublet, but he had neglected to undo the ties down the side, so he just got himself tangled up in it instead. He turned to Pippin with a comically panicked expression. "Help me, Pip, my clothes are trying to strangle me." Pippin obliged. As he removed Merry's doublet and mail shirt, he tried his best not to become too aware of his nearness. It was all he could do not to reach under Merry's linen shirt and hold him close while he stroked his bare skin.
Even when Merry was at his least attractive (like now), Pippin adored every inch of him, from his breath that was strong enough to kill a troll, to his singed eyebrows. Before tonight, Pippin had thought that once a heart was broken in two, the damage was done, but every time Merry brushed up against him, the wound cut still deeper.
Merry eyed Pippin suspiciously. "I jus' noticed that you're not nearly as drunk as you ought to be."
Pippin grinned. "I wanted to keep my wits about me tonight."
"And what do you need with wits at this time of night?"
"It's morning," Pippin corrected him. "Time for you to go to sleep."
Merry looked as if he was about to protest, but then turned and half fell, half crawled into bed. Pippin pulled the blankets over him.
Merry buried his face in the pillow, but Pippin was still able to hear him say, "Love you, Pip," before he started snoring.
Pippin backed away from the bed and slumped into a chair behind him. His heart contracted agonizingly, the pain now spreading to his whole body. His throat burned until he allowed himself to release the wracking sobs that had been building up inside him.
Merry awoke with the warm, late morning sun beating down on his head. He had often wished that Bag End didn't have quite so many windows, and today was no different; particularly since his skull was pounding. He was alone, but Merry assumed that Pippin had risen earlier and decided not to disturb him. Or had Pippin slept at all? He seemed to remember a strange dream in which Pippin had been crying inconsolably because Merry's head had turned into a cabbage.
He stumbled into the study, not entirely sure if he was sober yet. "Good morning, Frodo," he croaked.
Frodo was working on the Red Book, but paused and turned. Instead of a polite, 'Good morning, Merry,' Frodo laughed heartily. "I would ask you if you've seen yourself in the mirror yet, but it's obvious you haven't, otherwise you would have stayed under the covers."
Merry chuckled at Frodo's remarks in a way that made it clear that he didn't find them the least bit amusing. He patted his hair and realized that a great deal of it was sticking up straight in the air. "I need a cup of tea," Merry said on his way to the kitchen.
"And a bath," Frodo called after him, still laughing. "As soon as possible!"
Merry put the kettle on to boil and stuffed a buttered piece of bread in his mouth as he came back into the study. "Where's Pippin?"
Frodo's smile faded. "He left. I assume he went back to Buckland."
"Left?" Merry said, stunned. "Without saying goodbye?" He looked out the window hoping to see Pippin strolling up the path, but he only saw Sam and Rosie sitting in the garden holding hands. "But we were supposed to stay here for another week."
"It is quite mysterious," Frodo replied. "Whatever his reasons he was very close about them. He was up even before I was. He cooked us all breakfast, then wrote several letters, but I don't think he posted any of them. And then he left."
Merry shook his head in consternation. "He was acting very odd yesterday, but we had no quarrel that I know of."
"Pippin did seem rather preoccupied." Frodo smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry Merry, I'm certain he'll confide in you eventually."
But Pippin did not. The next day, just before afternoon tea, Merry, Frodo, and Sam all received letters from Pippin. The red seal on Merry's had been broken and clumsily resealed with yellow wax. It read:
I have decided to join our friends in the South and hope to be of some little use to them for the remainder of my days. I cannot reveal my reasons for leaving you and the Shire, for they would bring grief and disgrace on Family and Friends.
Remember me kindly.
I am and always will be,
Merry laughed as if that would render Pippin's letter a particularly good prank, but when he saw Sam lower his head sadly and tears well in Frodo's eyes he knew it was no joke. Merry swallowed and found a great lump in his throat that threatened to choke him.
Pippin was gone.
Endnote: I paraphrased my favorite line from Ed Wood in this chapter: "He can't afford to be judgmental, he wouldn't have any friends."