Chapter Five: Lost and Found

A/N: Many thanks to my wonderful beta!

Merry and Pippin rode along briskly until well past noon, both Hobbits trying to wipe the image of the dead Man from their minds. They finally stopped to rest and take a quick meal; Pippin ate only a few bites as he was still feeling queasy.

"Merry," Pippin began. "About what happened earlier--"

"You did wonderfully, Pippin, I'm proud of you." Merry was sincere in his praise, but almost asked Pippin why he had allowed Deken to touch him. Unfamiliar jealousy filled the void in Merry's heart. "I'm glad you don't have the stomach for killing, but he deserved it for calling you what he did." And for touching you.

"That's not what I meant." Pippin paused and looked away shyly. "About the kiss..."

"Let's just forget it, all right," Merry said sharply, rising to his feet. "It was a stupid idea anyway."

"Your idea," Pippin reminded him. "Tell me Merry, did you push me away because you were enjoying it more than you thought you would?"

Merry opened his mouth to voice a vehement denial, but stopped himself. "It doesn't mean anything. I know you've kissed lasses and enjoyed it, but it never went any further than that. Kissing feels good. Most of the time, it hardly matters who's kissing who." Merry didn't believe his explanation any more than Pippin did. He felt hollow and lost inside and couldn't understand what possessed him to make matters even worse.

Pippin picked up a small stone and threw it into the trees in obvious frustration. "Then why use it as some sort of test to see how you feel about being with me?"

"You've got to get over this, Pippin," Merry said, purposely avoiding the question. "It really will destroy our friendship if you don't."

Pippin blinked away a few desolate tears and stood unsteadily. "If that's what you want, Merry," he said numbly, "it's forgotten--once and for all."

Merry could almost see Pippin drifting away from him even though they were standing just a few feet from each other. He heard himself screaming inside his head: 'Take him in your arms, you idiot! Tell him how much you love him and how much you need him! I need you, Pippin!' All Merry managed to say out loud was, "Good." He gave his cousin a masculine slap on the back that caused Pippin to stumble forward a few steps. Merry mounted his pony and gestured with a nod of his head for Pippin to do the same.

Pippin rode next to Merry and did a remarkable job of pretending that his heart had not just been torn to pieces by the Hobbit who supposedly loved him best. Pippin even made up a song before they arrived in Bree:

Farmer Hobbit was shearin' his sheep

The warm sun a'warmin' and he fell asleep

He kept on shearin' and he cut too deep

Now Hobbit's got no fur on his feet....

"That's horrible," Merry laughed.

"Does that mean you don't want to hear the other twelve verses?" Pippin's broad grin didn't carry to his eyes and he spared Merry the rest of the song.

Merry felt tears stinging his own eyes. He wiped his nose vigorously on his sleeve to cover it up.

They arrived in Bree and took a room on the upper floor because, according to Merry, "The beds are enormous. You can really stretch your legs out." Pippin smiled agreeably, but seemed indifferent to everything including their accommodations.

The Big Folk paid them little mind and the Bree-hobbits gazed at them with more than a little awe, some whispering about Merry's earlier skirmish with the now-dead ruffians.

Merry and Pippin sat in the common-room, enjoying several pipes of Old Toby and a pint each of The Pony's best. They talked about the weather, the ale, the pipe-weed, the possibility of purchasing larger beds for Crickhollow, and the upcoming harvest. Their talk was cheerful, but superficial, lacking the cozy familiarity they normally felt in each other's presence.

When the strain of acting like everything was back to normal got too much for Pippin, he rose from his chair. "We should turn in if we're going to get an early start tomorrow morning."

Merry forced a smile. "I'll follow you up in a tick." As soon as Pippin was out of sight, Merry lowered his head and banged it on the table.

"Something wrong, Master Brandybuck?"

Merry looked up into the kind, ruddy face of Butterbur. "Just everything, that's all."

Butterbur nodded sympathetically. "I guess you'll be needing another pint then?"

"Please." Merry felt a few tears roll down his cheek and he wiped them away roughly. Barliman patted him on the shoulder on his way to the bar and brought back a brimming tankard a moment later.

So many things had changed for the worse since the last time Merry had sat here. When he left the Shire to find Pippin and bring him home, he could not have predicted the absolute destruction of everything good between them. Merry tried to convince himself that it was Pippin's feelings for him that were to blame, but secretly Merry knew it was his own deceit that had so completely eroded their friendship.

Merry finally admitted to himself that he had enjoyed Pippin's kiss more than he could remember enjoying anything, but terror gripped him again. To acknowledge such a shocking thing and to take Pippin for his own would likely change the course of his life. And poor Estella! Merry had practically proposed to her, but how could he marry her in good conscience now that he knew his heart belonged to Pippin?

Merry was beset with grief for the sudden passing of his old life and the ache of longing for the one he truly loved. He pushed away the untouched pint and ran up the stairs to their room, lest he start bawling in front of the Breelanders. He lit a candle and undressed to his linen shirt and breeches. Merry watched the rise and fall of Pippin's chest as he slept, wondering where his precious part of Pippin's soul was hiding. A little choked sob escaped his throat.

That tiny noise somehow rose above the sounds of clinking tankards, raucous laughter, and bawdy tunes to wake Pippin. "Merry? What's the matter?"

At the worry in Pippin's eyes, the first real emotion he had seen in them for days, Merry broke down in tears. "I miss you."

All of their arguments instantly forgotten, Pippin threw the covers aside and reached for him. Merry practically jumped onto the large bed and fell into Pippin's warm embrace. Merry rested his head on Pippin's shoulder, while Pippin stroked his yellow curls tenderly. "I'm right here, Merry."

"No, you're not," Merry cried. "Not in here." He poked his chest.

Pippin gazed at Merry in alarm. "What do you mean?"

Merry rubbed the tears out of his eyes and sat across from Pippin, grasping his young cousin's hands. "When you were born and Aunt Eglantine let me hold you, I remember looking into your eyes. They were a sort of dark blue, like the night sky, not green like they are now. My mother told me that all babies have midnight blue eyes as a reminder that they're a gift from Elbereth Herself; stars that She let fall so that they could live on Middle-earth."

"You haven't told me that story for ages," Pippin said, poignant tears welling in his eyes. "I thought you'd forgotten."

Merry touched his cheek. "I could never forget that as long as I live. What I didn't tell you was at that moment while I was looking in your eyes, I felt this essence enter me. It was a little part of your soul, like a birthday gift from you to me. I didn't tell you about it because I didn't think I had to."

Pippin smiled. "No, but I would have liked to have heard the story anyway. But I still don't understand what happened."

"I can't feel you anymore." Merry began to weep anew. "It happened when I pushed you away. I became so aware of you inside of me it frightened me and then you were gone. Am I--?"

"Of course." Pippin placed Merry's hand on his heart. "You're always there. I'd never let you go no matter what came between us."

"I lied to you." Merry spread his hand over Pippin's chest as if to will his part of Pippin's soul back inside of him. "It was the finest kiss I've ever been party to." Merry paused waiting for Pippin's spirit to fill his soul again, then he looked in Pippin's eyes, panic-stricken. "Nothing's happening."

Pippin stroked Merry's face gently and placed a soft, lingering kiss on his lips. A small, sweet breath left Pippin's mouth and glided into Merry's as if Pippin was breathing life into his cousin. Merry closed his eyes and inhaled deeply and felt the glorious, familiar presence fill the empty space in his heart. Pippin had used the power Merry had so feared to make him whole and happy again. How could he have ever thought Pippin could do otherwise?

"Better?" Pippin asked.

Merry responded with a kiss as passionate as their first, his tongue teasing Pippin's willing mouth open. Pippin groaned with delight as their tongues intertwined. Merry tugged gently at Pippin's silken curls as Pippin ran his hands down Merry's back and the curve of his hips. Merry sat further back on the bed and pulled Pippin into his lap. Pippin withdrew slightly, panting. "What are you doing?"

"Do you want me to stop?" Merry asked in a husky whisper.

"Not really, no," he replied and kissed Merry again. Pippin cried out in pleasant surprise when Merry reached underneath his nightshirt and pulled it over his head. Merry ran his hands over his bare flesh, his fingers circling around Pippin's nipples, then he flicked each with his tongue in turn. Pippin buried his fingers in his cousin's hair, instinctively grinding his pelvis against Merry's. With a gasp, Merry threw his head back and Pippin leaned in for another sultry kiss.

"Does this mean you're in love with me?" Pippin asked triumphantly, already knowing the answer.

Merry wrestled Pippin unto his back and smiled adoringly at his young cousin. "More than that; it means that I belong to you and you belong to me. That's the way it's always been, but you just figured it out before I did."

Pippin giggled gleefully. "And you're supposed to be the clever one." He unbuttoned Merry's shirt, then tossed it aside. Even though Pippin had seen Merry's bare chest before, he gazed at him awestruck, fingers lightly exploring his skin. "All mine," he said with tears in his eyes, as if he could hardly believe such a wonderful thing was possible.

Merry kissed away the tears now streaming down Pippin's cheeks, then began exploring every inch of Pippin's torso with his lips and tongue. Then Merry hovered above Pippin with a torturous grin as if deciding what to do next.

Pippin put his hands on Merry's hips and drew him back on top of him. "Don't tease me, Merry."

Merry's grey eyes clouded over, suddenly serious. "I don't think I'm ready to do that thing you mentioned a few days ago," he said breathlessly, thrilled at the feeling of Pippin growing hard against his straining groin, "but there are other things we could do in the meantime--if you want to."

"Anything and everything," Pippin moaned, arching his back and pressing his pelvis hard into Merry's.

Merry started to rock Pippin back and forth, the gentle pace soon quickened when Merry felt Pippin's full arousal. Pippin gasped out his name and threw his arms around Merry's neck. Merry took Pippin's legs and wrapped them around his waist. They locked eyes, Pippin melting at the self-satisfied expression on Merry's face as he brought him to a shattering orgasm.

"MERRY!" Pippin cried out louder than he should have, but it was drowned out by the clamor in the common room directly below them. Pippin kissed Merry's neck, then reached down to cup his cousin's rump through his breeches. "Say my name," Pippin hissed, mirroring the rapturous look on Merry's face.

"Pippin," he groaned, increasing the pace of the rhythmic swaying "Oh, Pippin! PIPPIN!" Merry arched his back as he climaxed explosively. Merry lay panting with Pippin still beneath him. Pippin giggled, quite please with himself indeed.

Merry yawned. "I need a nap--and a bath."

Pippin still had his legs wrapped around Merry's waist and was loath to let him go. "But you said you'd show me everything."

"I suppose I did." Merry removed his damp breeches and cleaned them both up quickly. Then he told Pippin to lie down on his back. Merry started kissing Pippin's lips and neck then made his way downward, to his chest and stomach. "This is something Estel--I mean, a certain Hobbit lass did for me once." He looked up at Pippin, who seemed a little dubious. "Trust me, you'll like it."

Pippin liked it so well he almost fainted when Merry finally reached his destination. When Pippin recovered, he reciprocated eagerly. They spent most of the night pleasuring each other until they finally fell asleep in each other's arms, exhausted.

Early the next morning, Merry awoke with his hand in a puddle of sticky fluid. He grimaced and wiped his hand on a corner of the sheet that wasn't already covered with semen. "Pippin!"

Pippin started awake. "What!"

Merry tried to look severe, but broke out in a lopsided smile. "Look at the mess you made last night."

"The mess I made?" Pippin replied indignantly. "I seem to remember you having something to do with it."

"Not me. Everyone knows you're the messy one." They laughed and wrestled, finding more puddles to roll into, and laughed even harder. Merry finally pinned Pippin down and licked the tip of Pippin's nose. Pippin pulled Merry down for a deep, good-morning kiss, but his cousin pulled away and jumped out of bed.

"Merry!" Pippin cried in aggravation. "Why did you stop?"

Merry gave Pippin a quick kiss as consolation. He then grabbed a towel and put it around his waist. "If we start up again we won't get out of here before afternoon tea and I want us to reach Crickhollow by the day after tomorrow."

After a welcome bath, they sat in their private parlor and had what they had hoped would be a leisurely breakfast, but Nob, the normally friendly Bree-hobbit servant, shot them evil stares all through the meal. He gave them surly grunts in response to their requests and threw the dishes down on the table so hard that there was more food on the floor than on the cracked plates.

Finally, Pippin took his arm and said in his easiest manner, "Something's eating at you this morning, Nob. Why don't you take a seat and tell us about it so we can enjoy our breakfast."

Nob pulled away and glared at him with undisguised revulsion. "You want to know what's eatin' at me? It's unnatural what you was doing last night."

Pippin turned to Merry with panic in his eyes. Merry felt his face flush with embarrassment mixed with anger. "What business is it of yours?"

"As it's my job to clean up after you, I'd say it's very much my business. And you both fine, gentlehobbits and all." Nob spat on the wooden floor. "Going against nature, that is. You'll both come to a bad end because of it, mark my words."

"How dare you--!" Merry sprang from his chair and reached for Nob, but the Bree-hobbit stumbled backward.

"Who cares what he thinks, Merry?" Pippin said with forced calm as he put a restraining hand on Merry's shoulder. "Let's go home."

"That's right," Nob said, "take your evil ways back to the Shire and leave decent Bree-folk alone."

Before Pippin could stop him, Merry caught Nob and lifted the Bree-hobbit by his shirt front far enough off the ground so Merry could look him straight in his dull eyes. "Say one word to anyone and I'll kill you. I have spies everywhere, I'll know." Merry dropped the trembling Hobbit to the floor. Nob half-crawled, half-ran back downstairs.

Pippin gazed at Merry with renewed desire in his eyes. "I didn't know you had spies."

"I don't, but that thick-headed rascal doesn't know that." No longer hungry, they left their breakfast and retrieved their packs.

"I wonder if our friends will react like that when we tell them." Pippin sighed, suddenly afraid. "If we tell them."

Merry kissed him and stroked his cheek. "We'll tell Frodo and Sam at least and hope for the best."

The last leg of their journey took a full day longer than originally planned, but Merry and Pippin were anxious to savor their last hours together with no fear of discovery before they were subjected to the prying eyes and ears of the Shire.

Merry left Pippin at Crickhollow to get them settled while Merry continued on to Brandy Hall. Merry sent one of his young cousins with a message to Frodo, letting him know they were safe. He then gathered a few provisions and something special for Pippin.

When Merry arrived home--their home, he thought happily--Pippin had drawn a hot bath for them both. Fortunately, Pippin had also prepared a cold supper for them as well, as neither of them had the energy to cook after the relaxing soak. They slept wrapped in each other's arms until late evening.

Merry awoke to find Pippin gazing up at him. Merry pulled back a few of Pippin's stray curls from his face and kissed him on the forehead. "I have a surprise for you."

Pippin raised his head expectantly. "Well, don't leave us in suspense!"

Merry reached under his pillow and pulled out a pretty blue jar. Merry swallowed nervously. "It's the oil my mother puts on her feet. I suspect it'll do as well as grease and smell better besides."

Pippin sat up as his breathing started to come in short gasps. "You're going to take me now?"

Merry winced. "I wish you wouldn't put it quite that way, but yes--if you're ready."

Pippin tore off his breeches and shirt, and threw them across the room. He then climbed on top of Merry and showered him with kisses.

Merry laughed. "I guess you're ready."

Since the description Pippin had related was so vague, their first lovemaking effort consisted largely of trial and error. Merry was grieved that he hurt Pippin so much at first, but the pain eventually melted into pleasure for them both.

"I'd marry you if I could, Pippin," Merry whispered as they lay together afterward.

"Don't talk about things we can't have," Pippin murmured into Merry's chest. "I don't want to think of anything but you and Crickhollow."

Merry stroked Pippin's hair to comfort him, but Merry knew that someday the world outside would intrude on their little paradise. For now he was content to inhale the sweet aroma of Pippin's hair and skin and enjoy the feel of his arms around him.

During the next week, Merry and Pippin planned a small Homecoming Party in between consummating their love in every room of their little cottage (not to mention several times in the garden). By mid-afternoon on the day of the party, Sam and Rosie Gamgee drove up in a little carriage with Frodo; Merry helped Rosie from the carriage and led the three of them inside.

Pervinca Took galloped into the garden on a pony a moment later, wearing boy's breeches underneath her skirts.

"No wonder you don't have a husband," Pippin said with a grin as he helped Vinca out of the saddle.

Vinca socked him in the arm, then burst into tears and hugged her brother tightly.

Pippin patted her on the head affectionately. "I missed you too, Vinca."

"I wouldn't go near Tuckborough for another year or two, Pippin," she sniffed, "but Papa's sure to forgive you eventually."

Pippin gave her a wry smile. "That's encouraging."

Vinca put her hands on her hips and regarded her brother with feigned exasperation. "So, when are you going to tell me why you caused all this trouble?"

Pippin looked into his sister's eyes hoping he had made the right decision by inviting her. "Come inside and we'll tell you everything."

The six Hobbits sat in Crickhollow's cozy parlor and chatted about things that mattered not at all, then they sat down to afternoon tea in the garden. Merry and Pippin were the perfect hosts, providing their friends with a delicious meal, as well as the best ale and wine in Buckland.

After they all had their fill, they returned to the parlor, but the meaningless chatter did not follow. They sat in relative silence as the tension emanating from Merry and Pippin became palpable. Frodo, Sam, and Rosie were far too polite to say anything, but Vinca had no such reservations. "Are you going to tell us this big secret or let us sit here until we burst?"

The others started to snicker; even Merry and Pippin cracked a smile.

"Yes, please tell us," said Frodo lightly, "or you'll be sweeping up pieces of Hobbit from now until Yule."

Merry and Pippin stood and looked nervously at each of their friends in turn. Pippin took a deep breath and wondered if this would be the last time he would see such open smiles on their faces. "I'm sorry for leaving like I did and worrying all of you so. The reason I left the Shire was because I couldn't--" Pippin faltered and looked to Merry for courage.

"Go on, Pip," Merry said. "It'll be all right."

"I left because I couldn't tell Merry that I love with him." Pippin stopped to gauge his friends' reactions. Vinca looked rather stunned, but Frodo and Sam just smiled encouragingly. Rosie looked as if she was about to squeal with delight. Pippin became bolder and took Merry's hand. "But then Merry came after me and now we're--"

"Sweethearts," Merry supplied.

Rosie could no longer contain her glee. She sprang off the sofa and hugged Pippin so enthusiastically she almost knocked them both over. "Oh, I do so love happy endings!"

"Begging your pardon, Pippin," said Sam, "but when Rosie told me why you left...."

Pippin shot Rosie an annoyed glanced. She just shrugged sheepishly.

Sam continued, "What I mean to say is that it don't come as any great surprise to those who know and love you well."

"Quite right, Sam." Frodo put a hand on each of his cousins' arms. "And we're very happy for you both." Pippin was about to give Rosie another withering look when Frodo smiled. "I figured it out on my own after we received your letters, Pippin. I'm glad you found each other, as it were, but you must be careful."

"We know," said Merry darkly.

"We'll be careful, Frodo," said Pippin.

"I sincerely hope you are." Frodo seemed reluctant to bring the subject up on what was turning out to be a most happy occasion, but he must have felt it his duty. "You both know as well as I do that there are those who do not love you as we do and would take no little pleasure in your disgrace." Pippin and Merry nodded knowingly. As heirs to two of the most important families in the Shire, they both naturally had a few jealous rivals.

Frodo paused and said with a foreboding tone, "And there are still others who would fear your love and would see you both driven from the Shire altogether."

Merry and Pippin regarded each other anxiously, but their gloomy thoughts were interrupted by a slightly confused Pervinca:

"When you say 'sweethearts', do you mean that the two of you hide in the bushes to kiss each other and things like that?"

Merry tried not to chuckle, but failed.

"Well," said Pippin, his cheeks turning a bright red, "we don't usually hide in the bushes, but yes, that's what we mean."

Vinca wrinkled her nose in disgust. Before Pippin could regret inviting her, she said with sardonic grin, "Why would Merry want to kiss you?"

Merry burst out laughing and Vinca looked quite pleased with her little joke.

"Then you don't mind?" Pippin asked. "You'll keep it secret?"

"First of all," Vinca replied, "I hate funerals. Papa would kill you both if he found out. Secondly, I have never cared what either of you do as long as you wait until I leave to do it."

Pippin glanced at Merry guiltily. Merry started to whistle softly and looked up at the ceiling.

Vinca scowled. "Honestly!"

"Oh," said Sam innocently, "that's what you were doing when the two of you went to the cellar to fetch more wine, then came back all mussed and empty-handed." Rosie grasped Sam's arm and exploded into a fit of giggles. Sam went as red as a beet and started snickering himself.

"Thank you, Samwise Gamgee, for the picture that just formed in my head." Vinca's distaste softened into giggles. "Now I need more wine to wash it out and I'd rather marry Ted Sandyman than go down into that cellar!"

Merry was blushing furiously, but happily joined in the absurd conversation. "Frodo, I wouldn't sit in that chair either."

Frodo jumped out of his chair and almost rolled over with laughter. "I suspect the two of you have defiled all of Crickhollow by now!"

Pippin went to his sister and covered her ears. "Every last inch of it."

Hobbits didn't normally talk about such intimate matters, particularly in mixed company, but they were hardly normal Hobbits and it certainly wasn't a normal Hobbity situation. The merriment helped ease the awkwardness of all of them having to adjust to Merry and Pippin's new relationship.

Merry went to the cellar--alone this time--and everyone had as much ale and wine as they could drink. After supper, Vinca (well into her cups) quietly admitted to Frodo that Merry and Pippin made a fine couple indeed.

The End